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How to unclog a bathtub drain

by | Apr 28, 2021 | Plumbing Guides

The most common reason for bathtubs and shower drains to become clogged is human hair. It gets stuck at the top of the drain or it washes down but gets caught in the p-trap underneath. If you are looking for ideas on how to unclog a bathtub drain full of hair get yourself some drain cleaning tools and kits like a multi-head screwdriver, a plumber’s snake, an Allen wrench, some needle nose pliers, a rag, plunger and hacksaw. Avoid using drain cleaners or acids down there. Alternatively, you could call in a plumber to handle a few jobs for you and add that to the list!

Find the clog

First, the clog needs locating. You can do that in a number of ways, if you run the water for example and the water fills into the tub quickly you know the clog is closer, but if the water runs down for a bit before it starts to fill then that clog is further away down the pipe. In some cases, you will need a screwdriver or Allen wrench to remove brass or chrome plugs.

Pull out as much hair as you can

Before you start plunging you should use those pliers to remove as much hair as you can reach right now. Sometimes that is enough to fix the problem, and sometimes a plunge is required or you have to unclog a bathtub drain with a snake. Use the screwdriver to remove the overflow plate making sure you are careful not to have the pipe drop behind as that is a pain to deal with later on.

Plunge the drain

Now take your rag, make it wet and push it into the overflow pipe. This will give you the ability to plunge, forcing air into the p-trap rather than the air coming out. Put water in the tub so you can get a good seal with the plunger around the drain. Holding the wet tag to plunge the drain. You need to hold the rag otherwise it will get forced out. This method on how to unclog a bathtub drain takes some physical effort and it should be done for a good 5 to 10 minutes to really know if it is working.

Use the snake

If after all that work the drain is still not cleared you or your plumber can now try a plumber’s snake. To unclog a bathtub drain using a drain snake, you need to get proper access. If you have a level control plug you need to remove it which means going from under the floor to the p-trap and cutting the pipe and using the snake there. When you cannot get through the p-trap you will have to go to the floor below to access it. If there is drywall this means having to cut through it.

There you will see piping, PVC, galvanized, brass or ABS. You will need to cut into the pipe as well as above and past the p-trap. Then have access to the drain and you can get the snake in. Remember to have a bucket to catch the water and hair. You may want to consider emptying some of that bathtub water before you start cutting.

Put everything back together

Now you need to clear up and put things back together. If you need to you can put in a new p-trap. It will help to put in a rubber clamp as well. When everything is back in place you need to test it by filling the tub and then draining the water. If everything flows well you have successfully learned how to unclog a bathtub drain full of hair. Put back the overflow plate and repair any holes.


Pulling out hair that is right there is easy for anyone to handle, and even doing some plunging is something most people can do too. But after that, there are some tools needed and knowledge of the plumbing system required. Rather than do any damage if you do not have that kind of skill it makes sense to call in a plumber and have them handle the clog for you. Having to repair damage from messed-up DIY efforts is more expensive than just hiring a professional and licensed plumber in the first place.

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