How to Unclog a Tub Drain: Step-by-Step Guide

Clogged tub drains can be a frustrating issue that many homeowners face. A slow or completely blocked drain can result in standing water, unpleasant odors, and even water damage if left untreated. In fact, according to the National Association of Home Builders, clogged drains are one of the most common plumbing problems reported by homeowners. Fortunately, there are several effective methods you can use to unclog your tub drain without having to call in a professional plumber. In this article, we’ll guide you through each step of the process, from identifying the cause of the clog to using the right tools to clear it out. Whether you’re dealing with a minor blockage caused by hair and soap scum or a more serious issue involving mineral buildup or foreign objects, our comprehensive guide will help you get your drain flowing smoothly again in no time.



Dealing with a clogged tub drain can be a frustrating experience, especially if it happens frequently. Whether it’s a slow drain or a complete blockage, it can disrupt your daily routine and cause inconvenience. In most cases, you may be tempted to call in a professional plumber to fix the issue. However, before you spend a hefty sum on hiring a plumber, there are some steps you can take to unclog a tub drain yourself.

In this comprehensive guide, we will provide you with all the necessary information and insights you need to unclog your tub drain successfully. We will cover the common reasons why tub drains get clogged, the tools required for the job, and a step-by-step guide on how to do it yourself. Additionally, we will give you some preventive measures to avoid clogging in the future.

By the end of this guide, you will not only be equipped with the knowledge to unclog your tub drain but also save money by avoiding unnecessary plumbing expenses. Let’s get started!

Reasons for a Clogged Tub Drain

Hair Buildup

Hair Buildup

One of the most common reasons for a clogged tub drain is hair buildup. When we wash our hair, loose strands can easily fall out and accumulate in the drainpipe. Over time, this debris can gather and create a blockage that prevents water from draining properly.

To prevent hair buildup, it’s essential to use strainers. Strainers are inexpensive and easy to install, and they effectively keep hair and other large debris from entering the drainpipe. They come in various sizes and shapes, so it’s essential to select one that fits your bathtub drain.

Another way to prevent hair buildup is by using a brush. A brush with stiff bristles can help remove hair that might be clinging to the sides of the drainpipe. By using the brush regularly, you can avoid the accumulation of hair and dirt that leads to clogs.

If you already have a clogged drain due to hair buildup, you may want to try chemical drain cleaners. These products are specially designed to dissolve hair and other organic materials that might be causing the blockage. However, it’s important to exercise caution when using these chemicals as they can be harmful to your skin and eyes. Always read the instructions carefully and wear gloves and goggles to protect yourself.

In general, it’s best to avoid using chemical drain cleaners if possible and instead opt for natural remedies like vinegar and baking soda. If none of these methods work, it may be time to seek professional plumbing services.

By taking preventive measures like using strainers and brushes and avoiding excessive use of chemical drain cleaners, you can easily avoid hair buildup and keep your bathtub drain clear and functional.

Soap Scum

Soap Scum

Soap scum is a common reason why your bathtub drain may get clogged. It’s a build-up of the soap, minerals, and other materials that accumulate over time. If left untreated, it can cause significant damage to the pipes and fixtures.

Fortunately, there are ways to remove soap scum from your tub drain using everyday household items. Here are three effective methods:


Vinegar is a natural cleaning agent that can dissolve soap scum build-up. Mix equal parts of vinegar and water in a spray bottle and spray the solution directly on the affected area. Let it sit for a few minutes and then scrub away the soap scum with a soft-bristled brush or sponge. Rinse thoroughly with warm water.

Baking Soda

Baking soda is another natural cleaner that can help remove soap scum. Mix baking soda and water until it forms a thick paste. Apply the paste to the areas affected by soap scum and let it sit for 15-20 minutes. Scrub the area with a brush or sponge and rinse thoroughly with water.

Commercial Cleaning Products

If the vinegar or baking soda methods don’t work or you prefer to use a commercial product, there are many cleaning products available specifically designed to remove soap scum. Choose a cleaner that contains a surfactant, which will break down the soap scum. Follow the instructions on the label carefully, and always wear gloves and protective eyewear when using these products.

In conclusion, removing soap scum from your tub drain is an essential part of maintaining your plumbing system. Whether you choose to use natural or commercial cleaners, regular cleaning is necessary to prevent clogs and prolong the life of your bathtub drain.

Mineral Buildup

When it comes to clogged tub drains, mineral buildup can be a common culprit. Over time, minerals such as calcium and magnesium can accumulate in your pipes, reducing water flow and leading to clogs. If left untreated, mineral buildup can cause serious damage to your plumbing system and even require costly repairs. Fortunately, there are several ways to address this issue.

One effective method for removing mineral buildup from your tub drain is to use white vinegar. This household staple is both affordable and eco-friendly, making it a great choice for those who want to avoid harsh chemicals. To use white vinegar, simply pour a cup of it down your drain and let it sit for at least 30 minutes. Then, flush the drain with hot water to rinse away the buildup.

Another option for removing mineral buildup is to use citric acid. While less commonly used than white vinegar, citric acid can be highly effective at breaking down mineral deposits and restoring water flow. You can find citric acid at most home improvement stores or online retailers. To use it, mix one tablespoon of citric acid with one cup of hot water and pour the solution down your drain. Let it sit for about 15-20 minutes before flushing the drain with hot water.

If you’ve tried these methods and still can’t unclog your tub drain, it may be time to call in the professionals. A licensed plumber will have the expertise and specialized tools needed to tackle even the most stubborn mineral buildup. In addition, they can provide valuable advice on how to prevent future clogs and keep your plumbing system running smoothly.

In conclusion, while mineral buildup can be a frustrating problem to deal with, there are several effective solutions available. Whether you choose to use white vinegar, citric acid, or professional plumbing services, taking action sooner rather than later can help you avoid costly repairs and keep your plumbing system functioning at its best.

Foreign Objects

Foreign Objects

When it comes to clogged tub drains, foreign objects are often the culprit – items like toys, toiletries, or even jewelry that accidentally get washed down the drain. If you suspect a foreign object is causing your tub drain to clog, don’t panic. There are several tools you can use to safely remove the obstruction and get your drain flowing smoothly again.


A plunger should be your first line of defense when trying to remove a foreign object from your tub drain. To use a plunger, start by filling the tub with enough water to cover the bottom of the plunger cup. Next, cover any overflow holes or additional openings in the tub with a wet rag. Place the plunger over the drain and apply firm, rapid pressure to create a vacuum. Release the plunger after a few seconds and repeat the process several times until the foreign object becomes dislodged.

Plumbing Snake

If the plunger fails to remove the obstruction, a plumbing snake may be necessary. A plumbing snake is essentially a long, flexible wire with a hook on the end that can help break up and remove any obstructions deep within the drain lines. To use a plumbing snake, insert the snake into the drain and rotate it while slowly pushing it forward. When you feel resistance, stop rotating and gently pull the snake back to retrieve the foreign object.

Wet/Dry Vacuum

If neither the plunger nor the plumbing snake is effective, consider using a wet/dry vacuum. This tool is especially useful for removing hard-to-reach obstructions that are stuck deep within the drain. Start by turning off the water supply to the tub and disconnecting the overflow plate. Insert the vacuum hose into the opening and turn on the suction. As the vacuum begins to pull out the foreign object, use a bucket to catch any debris and dispose of it properly.

In conclusion, foreign objects can cause serious clogs in tub drains. However, with the right tools and techniques, you can easily remove these obstructions and get your drain flowing smoothly again. Whether using a plunger, plumbing snake, or wet/dry vacuum, be sure to follow all safety guidelines and take appropriate measures to avoid future clogs.

Tools Required to Unclog a Tub Drain

Tools Required to Unclog a Tub Drain

One of the most frustrating experiences is taking a shower or bath only to realize that the water is not draining as quickly as it should. While there can be different reasons for this problem, the good news is that you can often fix it yourself if you have the right tools. Here are some of the essential tools required to unclog a tub drain:


A plunger is perhaps the most common tool used to unclog a tub drain. It works by creating suction and pressure that dislodges any blockage in the pipe. You can use a plunger by covering the overflow hole with a wet cloth or towel and applying pressure up and down on the drain opening.

Plumbing Snake

If the plunger doesn’t work, you may need to try a plumbing snake. This long, flexible tool can reach deep into the pipe and break down any stubborn blockages. To use a plumbing snake, insert it into the drain and rotate it while pushing it further down until you feel resistance. Then pull it out slowly while still rotating it to catch any debris.

Wet/Dry Vacuum

A wet/dry vacuum can be useful if you need to remove excess water from the tub before attempting to clear the drain. You can use it by placing the hose over the drain and turning it on. The suction will remove any standing water, making it easier to see and access the blockage.


A bucket is handy when you need to catch and dispose of any debris that comes out of the drain. It’s also helpful to have a bucket nearby in case you need to remove any excess water from the tub.

Rubber Gloves

Finally, rubber gloves are essential to protect your hands from any harmful chemicals or debris that you may encounter during the unclogging process. They also provide a better grip when using tools like the plunger or plumbing snake.

In conclusion, having these tools on hand can help you tackle the problem of a clogged tub drain. However, if you’re not confident in your ability to unclog the drain yourself or if the blockage is severe, it’s best to call a professional plumber to avoid causing further damage.

Step-by-Step Guide to Unclog a Tub Drain

Remove the Strainer

Remove the Strainer

The first step in unclogging a tub drain is to remove the strainer. This is a common area where hair, soap scum, and other debris can accumulate and cause blockage. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Gather Your Tools: You will need a screwdriver, pliers, and gloves for this task.

  2. Remove the Screws: Look for the screws holding the strainer in place. They may be located on the top or bottom of the strainer. Use the screwdriver to remove them.

  3. Lift the Strainer: Once the screws are removed, you should be able to lift the strainer out of the drain. If it’s difficult to remove, try wiggling it back and forth gently while lifting.

  4. Clean the Strainer: With the strainer removed, you can now clean off any accumulated hair or debris. Use your gloves and pliers to remove larger clumps of hair, and rinse the strainer with hot water to remove any remaining buildup.

  5. Replace the Strainer: Once the strainer is clean, simply replace it back into the drain and reattach the screws.

By removing the strainer and cleaning it regularly, you can prevent clogs from forming and keep your tub drain flowing smoothly.

Use a Plunger

Use a Plunger

A plunger is an essential tool for unclogging tub drains. It works by creating suction and pressure, which dislodges the blockage and allows water to flow freely again. Here’s how to use a plunger effectively:

  1. Cover the overflow hole: Before you start plunging, cover the overflow hole with a cloth or duct tape. This will help create more pressure and suction, making it easier to clear the clog.

  2. Fill the tub with water: Next, fill the tub with enough water to cover the head of the plunger. This creates a seal that allows the plunger to work more effectively.

  3. Apply pressure: Place the plunger over the drain and start plunging up and down vigorously. The goal is to create suction and pressure to dislodge the blockage. Keep plunging for at least a minute, or until you hear the water draining freely.

If the clog doesn’t clear after several attempts, try using a plumbing snake or call a professional plumber for assistance.

It’s important to note that when using a plunger, you should avoid using chemical drain cleaners as they can be harmful to both your plumbing system and the environment. Also, regular maintenance, such as using strainers and cleaning the drain regularly with vinegar and baking soda, can prevent clogs from forming in the first place.

In summary, using a plunger can be an effective way to unclog your tub drain. By following these simple steps, you can save money on expensive plumbing services and keep your bathroom functioning properly.

Try a Plumbing Snake

Try a Plumbing Snake

When all else fails, it’s time to break out the plumbing snake. A plumbing snake is a flexible coil that can be inserted into your drain to remove clogs. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to use it:

  1. Insert the snake: Carefully insert the snake into the drain until you feel resistance. This means you have reached the clog.

  2. Begin rotating and pushing: Slowly rotate the snake while pushing it down into the drain. This action will help break up the clog and push it through the pipe.

  3. Remove debris: Once you feel the snake has reached the end of the clog, carefully retract it while continuing to rotate it. The debris should come out with the snake.

It’s important to note that if you feel resistance at any point during this process, do not force the snake any further. This could potentially damage your pipes and cause more problems in the long run. Instead, try using a plunger or seek professional help.

In addition, it’s recommended to clean the snake after each use to prevent any potential buildup or bacteria growth. Simply wipe it down with a cleaning solution and let it dry before storing it away.

Overall, a plumbing snake can be a useful tool in your arsenal when dealing with a stubborn tub drain clog. Just remember to use caution and follow these steps carefully for the best results.

Vacuum Excess Debris

Vacuum Excess Debris

If your plunger and plumbing snake attempts have been unsuccessful in unclogging your tub drain, it’s time to bring out the wet/dry vacuum. This tool is great for removing excess debris that may be causing the clog.

Before beginning, make sure you have a bucket nearby to catch any water that may come out of the drain. Also, wear rubber gloves to protect your hands from the debris.

To use the wet/dry vacuum, first, remove the vacuum’s filter to prevent it from getting clogged with hair or other materials. Then, turn on the vacuum and hold the nozzle over the drain. The suction should pull out any remaining debris stuck in the drain.

Once you’ve finished vacuuming, dispose of the debris properly. Do not pour it down another drain, as it can cause clogs elsewhere in your plumbing system. Instead, throw it away in a trash bag.

Using a wet/dry vacuum can be an effective way to clear a stubborn tub drain clog. However, if you’re still having trouble, it may be best to call in a professional plumber to help.

Preventive Measures to Avoid Clogged Tub Drains

Preventive Measures to Avoid Clogged Tub Drains

Clogged tub drains are a common household problem that can be easily prevented with some simple measures. Here are some preventive measures you can take to avoid clogs in your tub drain:

Use Strainers

One of the easiest ways to prevent clogs is to use strainers. Hair, soap scum, and other small particles can easily accumulate in the drain, leading to blockages. A strainer will catch these particles before they enter the drain, preventing clogs. Make sure to empty the strainer regularly to ensure it continues to function properly.

Regular Cleaning

Regular cleaning is essential to keep your tub drain free of clogs. You can use natural cleaning solutions such as baking soda and vinegar to clean the drain. Pour a cup of baking soda down the drain followed by a cup of vinegar. Let the mixture sit for about 30 minutes and then flush the drain with hot water. This will help remove any buildup that may have accumulated in the drain.

Minimal Use of Chemicals

Chemical drain cleaners may seem like an easy solution to a clogged drain, but they can actually cause more harm than good. These harsh chemicals can damage your plumbing system and even cause corrosion. Instead, try using natural solutions like baking soda and vinegar or a plumbing snake to clear out clogs.

By taking these preventive measures, you can avoid the hassle and expense of dealing with clogged tub drains. Use strainers, clean your drain regularly, and avoid using harsh chemicals to keep your tub drain functioning properly for years to come.
To sum up, a clogged tub drain can be frustrating and time-consuming to deal with. However, with the right tools and techniques, it is possible to unclog a tub drain effectively. Remember to identify the cause of the clog before starting the treatment, use appropriate tools for each situation, and take preventive measures to avoid future clogs. By following these simple steps, you can save money on professional plumbing services and keep your bathtub running smoothly. Don’t let a clogged drain ruin your day- take action today and enjoy a clean and functional tub!

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