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How to Unclog a Shower Drain & When to Call a Pro

How to Unclog a Shower Drain & When to Call a Pro

Wondering how to unclog a shower drain? If so, you’re in the right place. Our complete guide covers natural remedies and also when to call a pro. Read on to learn all you need to know.


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A clogged shower drain can be an annoying problem requiring a costly visit from a plumber. Or it can be a minor inconvenience you fix yourself with a simple do-it-yourself project.

This list of home-brewed drain clog remedies will help ensure that any drain clogs you encounter are short-lived.

Signs and Symptoms

Most drain clogs happen gradually. It starts with the water from a shower taking a little longer than usual to drain out. Within a few days or weeks, it becomes impossible to shower without water pooling inches deep.

How to Unclog a Shower Drain graphic featuring an image of one displayed on a computer

When water doesn’t drain quickly, greasy soap scum coats the bottom and side of the tub or shower enclosure. That can be hard to clean up, unsightly, and unhygienic. So, what to do about it?

Causes of Drain Clogs

There may be more than one reason water isn’t flowing freely down the pipes. The most common is a buildup of hair, soap, and dirt in the pipes.

The hardware that holds in the shower drain screen is particularly prone to snagging clumps of hair. These attract soap and scum and create a plug that partially or completely blocks the drain.

Tree roots can also cause drain clogs. Small amounts of water leaking from cracked or improperly joined drain pipes underground attract roots from trees and other plants.

Tendrils that penetrate tiny cracks can grow into sturdy roots that fill the entire pipe. Mineral buildup can also contribute to blockages.

Minerals dissolved in water can combine with soap and form hard deposits that block the drain. Attacking this problem too late can result in corrosion or even pipe failure.

There are three basic approaches to clearing a clogged shower drain. One is chemical. One is mechanical. The last, to be used if the others don’t get the job done, involves using the phone to call a plumber.

Mechanical Approaches

Many clogs can be cleared quickly and easily using mechanical approaches. These methods try to pull the clog up from the drain or push it down far enough that the pipe becomes larger and water can flow freely.

Plungers

As an image for a piece on how to unclog a shower drain, Red toilet plunger with wooden handle on a white background

Duntrune Studios/Shutterstock

Plungers may not be as effective on clogged shower drains as they are on backed-up commodes. One reason is that it’s harder to get a seal between the flat tub bottom and the plunger.

A thin coating of petroleum jelly on the lip of the plunger can fix that. Here’s how to try this approach:

  1. Run a few inches of water into the tub to improve the seal.
  2. Apply some of that petroleum jelly to the plunger.
  3. Place the plunger atop the drain and press hard several times.

If the drain runs clear, you’re done. If not, repeat this procedure a few more times before going on to one of the others.

Coat Hangers

Discarded bent white wire clothes hanger laying on ground.

Aminkorea/Shutterstock

A stiff piece of wire like a straightened coat hanger may also work. This approach tries to pull the clog out rather than pushing it down.

  • Cut a piece of wire a couple of feet long.
  • Bend an inch or so of the wire so there’s a small hook on one end.
  • Remove the drain screen if there is one. This may require removing one screw in the center of the screen.
  • Feed several inches of the hooked end into the drain.
  • Rotate the hook end to snag as much of the clog as possible.
  • Pull the wire up and use a paper towel to wipe away the debris.
  • Repeat as needed until the drain runs clear.

You can also purchase various small, inexpensive tools to do the job. These are typically plastic strips with barbs on the sides to help snag and pull up clogs.

They work better than coat hangers and are worth considering if the coat hanger doesn’t work.

Plumber’s Snake

Plumber unclogging a tub drain with an electric auger.

David Spates/Shutterstock

A more robust mechanical solution is a plumber’s snake. This a heavy-duty wire or cable several feet long with a handle on one end and a coil of stiff wire at the other.

Sometimes instead of a handle, there will be a fitting to attach to an electric drill. To use it:

  1. Remove the drain screen.
  2. Feed the snake down the drain as far as it will go.
  3. Either operate the drill or turn the handle clockwise to snag the clog.
  4. Pull the snake out, remove and discard the clog.

If none of these methods work, or you just don’t want to handle the clog manually, you can try a chemical approach.

Chemical Clog Removal

The first chemical removal technique involves boiling water. Hot water can soften grease and scum and allow water to push the mass down the drain and out of your life. To do this:

  1. Heat a teakettle or similar pan full of water to boiling.
  2. Carefully pour the boiling water down the drain.
  3. Run the shower to see if it’s clear.

Baking Soda and Vinegar

Eco-friendly natural cleaners baking soda, lemon and cloth on wooden table windows background as an image for a piece on how to unclog a shower drain

Jpc-Prod/Shutterstock

Where boiling water doesn’t do the trick, a natural home remedy might. Baking soda and vinegar creates a chemical reaction that can loosen a clog enough for it to flow down the pipes. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Mix equal parts vinegar and baking soda in a heat-resistant measuring cup or similar container to make a cup or so of the mixture.
  2. Pour the now-fizzing mixture down the clogged drain.
  3. Wait an hour or more for the reaction to soften the clog.
  4. Run hot water down the drain to finish flushing it out.

Liquid Drain Cleaner

Removal of blockage in the sink, the hand of a man with a bottle of a special remedy with granules. Clean the blockages in the bathroom with chemicals.

Dmitry Galaganov/Shutterstock

If the homemade fixes don’t get it done, it may be time to try commercially available chemical drain cleaners. These chemicals are harder on clogs than vinegar and baking soda, and also more dangerous to you.

Wear eye protection and rubber gloves when using liquid drain cleaners. The fumes from these cleaners can be harmful as well, so avoid breathing them.

The different cleaners use different active ingredients, so there’s no single way to use them. Read the label carefully and follow the directions for use.

Professional Help

Plumber hand with wrench as an image for a piece on how to unclog a shower drain

Kurham/Shutterstock

If none of these methods works, it may be time to call a professional. Some clogs, such as tree roots, probably can’t be cleared with these do-it-yourself solutions.

In that case, you’ll need a licensed plumber’s experience and equipment to get your shower flowing again. Fortunately for you, we make it easy to find a plumber near you.

Simply click the button in the box below, enter some basic information, and the Networx system will pair you with a few local pros to give you a complete free estimate.

Get a Quote
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We partnered with Networx to help you find local plumbers in your area. Click to below to get a FREE quote.

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We may earn a commission when you click this link, at no extra cost to you.

Still Wondering How to Unclog a Shower Drain?

Portrait of a confused young casual girl shrugging shoulders isolated over pink background

Dean Drobot/Shutterstock

Still wondering how unclog a shower drain? I sure hope not. If so, it means I did a poor job of explaining your options. Regardless, we’ll recap some important tips.

It’s easier to avoid clogs than to fix them. These drain care routines will help avoid or at least postpone the next episode of a clogged shower drain.

If the drain screen is missing, replace it to keep hair out.

  • Once a month, pour boiling water or a mixture of vinegar and baking soda down the drain to prevent clog formation.
  • Don’t pour dirty water from mop buckets or similar sources down the shower drain as this added grime can encourage clogs.
  • Consider washing dogs outside rather than in the tub or shower, where their abundance of hair can lead to clogs.

Just as it can take several days or weeks for a shower clog to go from unnoticed to unmistakable, it may take trying a few of these remedies before you hit on the one that works.

But with some persistence and knowledge of a few basic clog-clearing techniques, this is a home repair that almost anyone can do.

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