How to Unclog a Bathtub Drain

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Unlike clogs of kitchen drains -- which can get stopped up by all sorts of gummy foods -- bathtub drain clogs are usually caused by hair. It catches on the strainer and accumulates, and eventually a film of soap builds up that is dense enough to stop water from flowing. If your tub drain stops completely, you can get temporary relief with a plunger, but eventually, you'll have to pull out the hair. An ingenious drain cleaning tool can help make this an easy task.

Start by Plunging

If the water has completely stopped, get things going again with a plunger, which works best if there is about an inch of water in the bottom of the tub. Fit the plunger tightly around the drain opening, and pump sharply. That usually loosens things up enough for water to drain, but if it doesn't, apply duct tape around the cover plate on the side of the tub to block the overflow holes; then plunge again. The tape prevents air from escaping and focuses the force of the plunger on the clog.

Access the Drain

Much of the hair may have collected around the drain strainer, but to get it all, as well as the material that's deeper in the drain, you have to remove the stopper. The procedure depends on the type of stopper you have:

  • Remove the nut from the top of a drop stopper by unscrewing it. Lift the stopper off the threaded shaft. 
  • Lift a pop-up stopper that is part of a lever mechanism attached to a cover plate on the side of the tub. Once the stopper has cleared the drain opening, pull it horizontally to remove the rocker arm from inside the drain. 
  • Unscrew a spring-loaded push/lock stopper while holding the sleeve it fits into steady with the other hand.

If your tub doesn't have a visible stopper, it probably has a weighted metal drain stopper connected to a linkage inside the tub, behind the lever. To remove it, unscrew and remove the cover plate, and then lift out the lever and the linkage.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

You may be able to pull out the hair that has collected around the drain entrance with your fingers after unscrewing and removing the stopper. If it's difficult to pull, use needle-nose pliers to grip it. You may also have success using a piece of 12-gauge wire with one end bent into a hook.

Get hair out from deeper parts of the drain with an inexpensive tool called a hair snare. It's basically a long flexible plastic strip that follows the contours of the drain. Barbs in the sides of the strip catch hair and pull it out of the drain when you extract the tool.

For all but the most troublesome drain blockages, the hair snare eliminates the need for an auger -- or snake -- but don't hesitate to use an auger if the drain doesn't clear. Push the auger into the drain and crank the handle to work the auger head through the obstruction. If you can't get the auger into the drain through the strainer, insert if through the overflow tube after removing the linkage.

The Finishing Touch

It's best to avoid caustic chemicals -- they take time to work, and, because they produce heat while working, are bad for plastic pipes. If you want to treat the drain with a deodorizing disinfectant to control odors, pour in 1/3 cup of baking soda followed by 1/3 cup of vinegar. Let the mixture foam and sit overnight, and then flush with hot water.

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