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How to Unclog a Bathtub Drain

Most of us have at one time or another experienced the frustration that comes with a clogged bathtub drain. Most people wait until the drain is fully obstructed, though even partial obstruction can lead to significantly slower water flow. If your bathtub drains too slowly during or following a shower, the resulting sitting water can breed stains, mold and mildew. Needless to say, keeping your bathtub drain clean is essential to a clean living space.

Many homeowners assume major chemicals like Drano represent the best way to dislodge stubborn clogs, but this is not the case. Chemicals such as these tend to be caustic, toxic and harmful to the environment, releasing corrosive gases into your home and possibly damaging the pipes as well. In truth, mechanical action and a few basic household supplies are all you need to solve this problem and keep future clogs at bay.

In some bathtub drains, you can actually see the obstruction. Remove the screen and shine a powerful flashlight into the drain. If you see a mass of hair, grease or soap, that’s the culprit. Needle nose pliers or a coat hanger are usually sufficient to pull the clog out by hand, though you can also push it down instead. Although it is distasteful, you may also want to examine the clog to see what it’s made of. Basic analysis like this can help you use more effective preventive efforts in the future.

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If pulling and prodding doesn’t work, the next step is a plunger. These devices only work when they operate with a watertight seal, so you’ll want to fill your tub with enough water to cover the plunger altogether before you begin. Usually a few vigorous thrusts are all you need to unclog a bathtub drain. You’ll know it worked if the water begins draining immediately after you are done. If the plunger can’t get the job done, it may be time to go with a snake instead.

A plumber’s snake is essentially a steel cable that can be threaded into the pipe to force a clog downstream. Generally you will need to unscrew the overflow plate to get at the drain in this way and two screws usually do the trick. Feed the snake into the drain, rotating regularly to find the source of the obstruction. Often you can poke the clog down in this manner, though you may be able to pull it out instead. Even if you have already found one clog, continue snaking downstream to ensure no other obstructions have gone unnoticed.

Generally the snake will work, as most bathtub clogs tend to be rather easy to move. If for some reason you run up against an obstruction that is significantly calcified, it may be necessary to call a professional who actually goes into the pipes. Repairs such as these can be expensive, however, and should only be used as a last resort. More vigorous action with the snake is usually good enough to solve the problem, especially if you are flushing the area regularly while you work.

That said, the best way to deal with clogs is to prevent them altogether. Most bathtub clogs are composed of soap scum, hair and grease, either from cooking supplies in the kitchen or body oils in the bathroom. If your home has particularly hard water, clogs may form more often due to the preponderance of minerals in the water supply. Whatever the case, using a fine screen above the drain can prevent larger particles from heading down and getting stuck. You also want to avoid sending pieces of soap and cleansing bars into the drain, as these have a tendency to latch onto human hair.

More proactive maintenance can also help diffuse the problem before it ever grows acute. Many experts recommend pouring boiling water into your drain at least once a month as the very hot temperatures can help break up soap and grease. Many plumbers also recommend using household items such as baking soda and vinegar. When used in combination, everyday chemicals such as these can help dissolve many of the mineral deposits and soap scum that start clogs to begin with.


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