How to Unclog a Bathtub Drain

Updated by Lynda Stevens

Everyone wants to get that alone time after a long tiring day. As bathtubs are emblems of relaxation, we all want to go home and spoil ourselves by soaking in a clean tub with a working drain.

If only bathtubs could talk, it might have complained about the mass of hair  and bits of soap bar that’s been building up on its throat. And finally, all the elements going down the tub has taken a toll on the drain, and now you face a tub with standing water with eeky traces of soap suds.

If you have been there before and you’ve tried a number of tricks and nothing worked, then read on as we discuss step by step how to unclog a bathtub drain effectively.

Learning how to unclog a bathtub drain with standing water will certainly give anyone a sense of accomplishment. But learning is different from doing the actual thing because there are tendencies that we don’t follow or understand the instructions right.

So we break down this great tutorial video of Erik Rosko into easy and simple steps to help you learn how to snake a bathtub drain.

What You Will Need

  • Snake (Drum Auger ¼” x 20” cable)
  • Screwdriver
  • Gloves
  • Paper towels
  • Grease (optional)

Step-By-Step Breakdown

1. Ready Your Snake

Drum auger, or commonly called a snake, is one of the efficient ways to unclog a bathtub drain. It can be purchased online or in any local hardware store at an inexpensive price. You can even just rent one from Home Depot.

This user-friendly device usually has a long cable in it which is 20 feet long to let you snake down the drain. If it sounds complicated to you, don’t worry as it is very simple to use and it doesn’t require any battery or electricity.

So first, check if you are familiar with the twist and turns of your snake. There’s a latch that locks the cable so you may want to try it before putting on your gloves.

2. Unscrew The Overflow

The common mistakes of people who are learning how to unclog a bathtub drain with standing water is when they directly attack the problem from the main drain right away. The first thing to look for is the overflow drain.

The overflow is usually found under the faucet or a few inches above the main drain. Unscrew and save the bolts for later use. The last thing you want is you may get your tub draining fast again but your overflow drain bolt is lost!

Be careful that when you unscrew the bolts that you hold them firmly or you can just cover the main drain safe as the bolts may accidentally slip from your fingers and go directly down the drain. If that happens, you will be facing a bigger problem.

3. Feed The Snake In The Overflow

Once opened, feed the snake in the overflow drain.

Before you feed it down, you can see a latch on the side. Unlock the latch so the cable can move forward and you can easily push the cable down the drain.

Make sure that you push it down slowly and carefully as you don’t want to be pushing it in the wrong direction. Push the cable down a little bit at a time. Don’t be in a hurry. Take the time you need as you want to make sure that you are not damaging anything below.

When you feel that you’ve reached something solid, that’s maybe one of the tubes down there so be easy on it. Then start rotating the device clockwise. Try gently pushing it down a little bit more while rotating.

4. Lock The Hatch And Keep Rotating The Snake

When you’ve reached the end, lock the hatch to keep the cable on its length.

After locking, rotate the snake again so the other spiral end of the cable will work its way to whichever culprit is blocking your drain. Don’t worry if you are working on this slowly, just continue rotating for a couple of minutes.

Most of the time, the spiral end will catch hair. Well, accumulated hair is the common stubborn culprit which is plugging our tubs!

5. Pull Out The Snake From The Overflow Drain

Then, start pulling out the snake. Again, pull it out slowly and carefully. As you pull the snake out inch by inch, use a paper towel to wipe the cable that comes out of the overflow. Most things your paper towel will probably get are soap and hair.

6. Feed The Snake Again In The Overflow

Now, you may want to be sure that you got rid of all the gross hair that’s been plugging your tub. So, it is recommended that you feed the snake again for the second time in the overflow to fish more elements. Especially that this will be your second time snaking the drain, you may be more comfortable exploring the corners.

Just do the same thing as the first time, making sure that you’re pushing the cable down gently to avoid damaging other tubes. In this video, our drain snake tutor got a bigger amount of tangled hair which he says could never be worked out by any liquid chemical cleaner. Drain snakes are efficient, indeed!

7. Bolt The Overflow Drain

Screw the bolt of the overflow drain back. You saved the bolts, didn’t you? If you have some grease available, grease the bolt before putting them back to avoid rust and it’s also for your convenience when you unscrew them next time. Make sure that you don’t screw it too tight.

*As for the main drain, it may be a little difficult to unlock, but there is a screw that you can look for to remove the stopper. If available, you can use some special tools to hold the lever or stopper which are mostly found on most main drain. This way, you can unscrew the main drain more easily. 

Once you’ve opened the main drain, you can fish out some stuck hair using your fingers (assuming you’re wearing rubber gloves!) as it is visible and just within reach or you can use some stick or wire instead. Then put everything back in its place so we can check if your drain is finally working again.

8. Clean The Tub!

Of course, after fishing all that gross contents, the cable must also have touched different parts of your tubs and left a huge mess. You must be excited to soak in your tub again, after all, it’s your reward for pulling that much hair out! But before you get your long-awaited relaxing bath, make sure your tub is clean.

It also pays to clean your snake device after all the dirty job it’s done. For some households, they regularly snake their bathtub drain every two years.

So make sure that this handy device is kept neat and clean before anything else. Though drain snakes are typically cheap, you don’t want to keep buying every time you have to unclog a bathtub drain.

9. Turn On Tap To Test The Drain

Now, your bathtub is almost ready. Turn on the tap and see if the water is draining with the usual speed it has before. You may also want to fill your tub half full, then remove the stopper and see how fast the water will drain if the tub is filled.

While draining the water, you will see a visible swirling and hear the satisfying sound of water going down the drain. Well, that just means that all this dirty work is totally worth it. Your tub is ready and you can now say goodbye to standing water!

Conclusion

There are many ways we can find on the web teaching how to unclog a bathtub drain with standing water. From quick fixes such as pouring baking soda and vinegar down the drain to using harsh chemicals, though these may work, these solutions are only good for a short time.

A few days later, we are again faced with a slow-draining bathtub. And that’s frustrating! Why is it so? Because we never find the root of the problem — which in this case is accumulated mass of hair — with these kinds of instant solutions.

Being able to pull out the culprit that’s clogging our bathtub drains is not only rewarding for us personally, but it’s also more effective for the drain in the long run. It feels like we’re giving our tubs a sweet maintenance — the kind of maintenance that is due them.

As we always rely on our bathtubs for our well-deserved alone time and relaxation, it is just as important to give them the right care to avoid having a clogged drain  And thanks to our drain snake tutor,  Erik Rosko, we can be our own plumber as we have now learned how to unclog a bathtub drain with these easy to follow steps!

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