How to snake a bathtub drain is a skill that every homeowner and renter needs to know.
Spending hard earned cash on a Pro when you COULD clear out the clog yourself is just silly.
Take a look at how to get your bathtub clogs out in no time fast.
Bath Snake: What are Drain Snakes and How do They Work?
Drain snakes or drain augers are long metal cords that you work down a drain in your home to remove a clog. Typically they are 25 to 50 feet long.
They are thin enough to maneuver down your small to medium sized drains, but strong enough to withstand being rotated around inside your pipes.
They have specially design “heads” on the end of the cord that look like a bulb, pear or half pear. This head will grab and wrap into your clog.
Then you wind your drain auger up and it pulls out the clog. For full instruction on how to use a drain auger, head over to our latest post.
You can’t use a drain auger or snake on a toilet. There are specially made toilet augers that are designed for the tougher clogs you get in your toilets.
How to Remove a Bathtub Stopper
Let the fun begin! Once you’ve got the stopper out, you’re one step closer to getting your bathtub running again.
You will need to use a screwdriver, typically a flat head. It’s definitely more work than you need to do.
Or, try the easy way first.
Wind your stopper all the way into your drain. Now slowly unwind it about half way until you feel the traction grab. Then pull up hard as you unwind it, kind of like a child proof pill bottle cap, you will feel the stopper release and come right out.
Handyman special video below to walk you through the simpler process. I know I find it easier when I can see someone do it.
Getting Your Stopper out the Hard Way
The hard way to remove the stopper is to unscrew the stopper as far as it will go and use a flashlight to find the screw that attaches the top to the peg that goes into your drain.
You unscrew that and BAM out comes the stopper.
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How to Snake a Bathtub Drain
How do you get a snake down the tub drain? Follow our instructions below to unclog that tub drain in no time.
- Remove the bathtub stopper OR remove the overflow drain
You will need most likely a flathead here to get the screws out, or use the winding technique above to remove the stopper easily
- Feed the drain snake cable slowly down the drain by hand
Inch by Inch, push the cable down the pipes, making sure to apply steady pressure
- Once the drain auger cable stops, you’ve either hit your clog or the P trap/bend in the pipes
- Using the handle on your auger, wind it slowly clockwise while applying downwards pressure to work the cable down the pipes
If you’ve hit your clog, the end of the drain snake will wind around it and you can try pulling it out to see if that’s got your bathtub unplugged
- If you didn’t get the clog the first time, try the steps above again and use pressure to work the drain cord passed the bend in the pipes
Clogged Drains: Reasons Why Your Tub Drains Slowly
If your bathtub is full and won’t drain there is one reason: your bathtub drain is clogged.
Typical bathtub clogs include hair, general build up, hair elastics, maybe a shampoo bottle cap and even....FLOSS!
Who puts floss down their bathtub drain??? I’m stumped.
It’s helpful to install some sort of screen on your drain to prevent a bunch of the hair and random objects from getting into the drain in the first place.
They are similar to the ones on your kitchen sink. Some folks recommend brushing hair before getting into the shower, to keep the hair out of the drain to begin with. Good idea!
How to Unclog a Bathtub Drain without Removing the Stopper
I get it! We are all rushed these days. Good news is that there are 2 ways to unclog a bathtub drain without removing the stopper.
Your stopper does a good job at trapping hair etc. right underneath your drain before it gets further into your pipes and into the P trap.
Bad news is that you will have to get your drain snake or auger passed the stopper to the P trap to remove your clog.
Now you see why drain snakes and augers have thin metal cords, so you can work them down the bends in the pipes effectively.
Onto the Good Stuff....
Just like in your toilet, and any other drain for that matter, most bathtub clogs happen in the P trap, which is the bend in the pipes just passed the stopper.
The P trap is filled with water which prevents gas from coming back up the pipes and into your home. Since it’s bent in a U shape, things tend to gather here and cause your tub to run slowly or clog altogether.
You will have to feed the cable slowly, by hand, down the holes or down the side of the stopper. You feed it in a bit at a time rather than just unwinding it at the main handle of your drain auger.
Another option used by plumbers, is to feed the auger down the overflow drain. This way you bypass the drain stopper altogether.
You also hit the P trap much easier this way. It’s slow going, hand feeding the drain snake down the overflow but it will be easier in the long run.
Check out this handy how to video. You'll never need to hire a plumber again!
Some plumbers will use water to unplug a bathtub drain instead of a drain auger. You will need a hydro jet for this.
You shoot water down the overflow drain and just blow that clog right down the drain, never to be seen again!
A hydro jet works BOSS if the clog is in the line before the P trap or in the P trap itself. Since this is where most clogs live, the chances of you solving your problem this way are pretty darn good.
If it’s further down the pipes, the water will lose its velocity as it travels around the P trap and further down the pipe. You may need a drain auger after all.
DIY Hydro Jet: Just Grab Your Hose!
I built this handy hydro jet DIY special myself when I was trying to flush calcium and built up minerals out of my shower handle. I removed the shower head and attached the hose to it then removed the shower handle and blew the heck out of it.
I proactively hydro jetted the bathtub drain at the same time. I recommend you do that with all your drains if you've already gotten a hydro jet all ready.
Shower Handle Result: Too plugged with calcium and had to replace the whole unit. It was so calcified we had to break it apart to get it out. Tricky work. Lesson learned.
Handy Hydro Jetting DIY Video
How to snake a shower drain with a hanger
How to snake a bathtub drain with a hanger is an el cheapo special. Only works with crazy simple and shallow clogs like hair.
The chances of this working are pretty slim: the hanger is stiff and short and might not be able to make it to the P trap (if that’s where your clog is hiding and it probably is). We consider this a short term solution.
Cons with this method is that it could get unbelievably stuck inside your pipes and also cause damage to your pipes! We don't recommend this method unless you’re desperate. DIY Beware!
What Happens if....Clogged Drain Deep in Your Pipe
Most drain snakes that are available to non-plumbers are 25 feet long. Sometimes you can find one that is 50 feet long. Typical clogs are easily dealt with using a 25 foot long steel cable auger like the ones we tested in our best drain augers post.
If the clog is deeper than 25 feet, you may want to try out a drain auger or snake with a 50 foot cable. If your clog is still deeper than that, you will have to call in a Pro. They have drain augers with 100’s of feet of cable.
Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that!
What happens if....Your Bathtub is Clogged and the Drain Snake isn’t Working?
I suspect that you haven't gotten your drain auger passed the bends in the pipes. Rotate the cable slowly as you apply pressure.
It should wind its way down the bends and into the p trap area, where most clogs and gunk build up. Patience is key here, you don’t want to wreck your drain snake by using too much pressure.
Troubleshooting Your Drain Snake: 3 Big Problems
Drain Snake Won’t go Down Shower Drain
If your snake won't go down bathtub (or shower) drain there could be several solutions. You could be using the wrong kind of auger for the job; toilet augers are not for sink or tub drains, only for toilets.
Maybe you aren't rotating the auger while applying pressure, or you could be hung up on the bends in the pipes or the P trap.
Take that auger out and start from scratch, rotating the cord clockwise while applying steady pressure to get it through the pipe bends.
Drain Snake Stuck in Bathtub Drain
So, what do you do when your drain snake gets stuck?
If you’ve gone through the drain and not the overflow, you can remove the overflow and use flashlight to see what the cord is stuck on and work from there.
First thing is try to wind the cord around and around to dislodge it from whatever it’s stuck on. It could just be stuck on one of the corners in the pipes.
Second, you can try putting dishwashing soap down the drain to lube up the lines kind of like butter on your finger when a ring won’t come off.
Third, pull back on the cord gently while rotating the drain snake counterclockwise and it should free itself.
If these steps don't work, you have the nuclear option and that's to open up the drywall (or ceiling below if on second floor) and take the drain apart because your drain snake it probably stuck in the trap.
If your tub is running slow or complete backed up you can use our instructions on how to snake a bathtub drain to get it running again. Drain augers are built to handle sink clogs easily and effectively.
Check out our latest post on the best drain augers by crushing the button below and get leveled up on your plumbing tools and know how.