How to Handle and Prevent a Clogged Shower Drain

Handle and Prevent a Clogged Shower Drain
At the end of a long day, the only thing you want is a hot, steamy shower—and the last thing you want is to stand in lukewarm, ankle-deep water while you take it.

Despite our best efforts, most of us will have to deal with the dreaded clogged shower drain at one point or another. There may be a variety of culprits lurking in your clogged drain, but our frequent use of hair and soap makes grimy buildups inevitable.

Before you call a plumber, though, check to see if you can handle the blockage yourself. You may be surprised to know that a few easy tricks with items you already have lying around the house can help unblock a stubborn clog.

Below, we’ve listed some of the best solutions for a clogged drain, plus a few tips on preventing your next one. Pull on some gloves: it’s time to get your hands dirty.

What to Do When Your Shower Drain Clogs

Bathtub clogs can be a nuisance, especially if the water trickles away with frustrating sluggishness. When your shower or bathtub keeps clogging, the issue is unlikely to go away on its own. Take matters into your own hands with the tips below in order to clear out your drain.

1. Empty Some Boiling Water Down the Drain

This is a good tactic to start with right away, as boiling water is effective at clearing away minor buildups of certain substances like soap or shampoo. Note that this step should not be done with PVC pipes, as the heat from the water can warp them or cause their joints to loosen.

Start by boiling some water on the stove. Using a kettle is ideal, as it’s easy to use the spigot to pour. However, if you have a funnel handy—metal, not plastic—you can carefully run the boiling water into the funnel and down the drain to make sure the hot water doesn’t splash onto your skin.

Pour a little at a time down the drain. Once you’ve finished, run your shower to see if the water drains away any faster.

This tactic isn’t a good match for more serious clogs, especially if you have a buildup of hair that’s been collecting in the drain for a long time. Still, boiling water may wash away at least some of the debris, leaving your blockage more pliable and easier to remove in later steps.

2. Plunge It

Plungers are the classic tool we reach for when we have a clogged toilet, but they tend to slip homeowners’ minds when it comes to a drain clog.

Like the hot water strategy in the last step, this is only effective for minor clogs. Still, it’s worth a try, and you likely have a plunger lying around anyway.

If there’s no standing water in your shower at the moment, run a little water into the tub so that the lip of the plunger is covered with water. The idea is to get a good seal to allow your plunging action to work. If you can’t, try dabbing a little bit of petroleum jelly along the lip of the plunger.

Plunge forcefully. If this method is going to work, you’ll only need to work for a minute or so before the water starts to drain away. However, if you find that the water still isn’t draining, move on to the next step.

3. Mix in Some Baking Soda and Vinegar

This classic home remedy combo has a huge range of uses, from clearing drains to cleaning stains. As a natural remedy, it works using the same chemical reaction you learned about in science class—the fizzing foam helps the formula mixture cling to the sides of your drain. We wouldn’t bank on it clearing away a serious clog, but this trick may be just enough to clear away lighter blockages.

Grab some baking soda and distilled white vinegar. Many tips recommend using equal parts of each. However, if you’d like to be thorough, the Good Housekeeping Institute found that the best procedure is this: ½ cup of baking soda, ¼ cup of salt, and 1 cup of vinegar (heated).

You should hear the familiar fizz and bubble as the formula works its magic—but that doesn’t mean it’s time to check the drain just yet. Instead, let the mixture sit for at least 15 minutes, long past the time the fizzing has stopped. At this point, you’ll want to wash any remnants down with more boiling water (again, only if you know your pipes can tolerate the heat) before checking to see if the shower is working better than before.

4. Get Your Hands Dirty

Here’s why we told you to grab those rubber gloves! Severe buildups of dirt, soap, hair, and grime won’t wash away with the methods we talked about earlier, meaning they’ll need to be manually removed—and removal by hand is a good first step.

Start by removing the drain cover. Some of these pull up without trouble, but you may need to twist it or find a screwdriver if it’s screwed down.

Depending on the drain, you may want to have an assistant hold up a flashlight so you can see more clearly, as you may be able to locate the clog by sight and pull it out if it’s close to the top of the drain. Otherwise, work your fingers into the drain to feel around for any misshapen buildups, and pull out any clogs you may find.

As a last resort, if you can’t get your hands on any type of blockage, you can use a small piece of wire—the easiest to find is a metal coat hanger—as a hook, creating a rudimentary shower snake.

5. Grab a Plumbing Snake

If your handmade snake didn’t have any effect, it’s time to try something designed for the job.

This is the first tool on the list you may not already have lying around. However, it’s a good idea to keep one handy just in case. Most hardware stores sell them for under $30, and it’s also easy to find inexpensive products with great reviews online. Each snake works a little differently, but you won’t need to purchase anything too complex, and you won’t need anything with more than a few feet of cable.

Once you have your snake handy, it’s time to return to the clog for another round. With the drain cover removed, poke the head of the snake into the drain and lower it down. You shouldn’t have to push too hard, and be sure not to force it.

You’ll need to rotate as you go. If you have a heavy-duty plumbing snake, you might be using a power drill to twist it.

After twisting the snake into the pipe, pull it back up. It should be laden with goop and grime, as well as hair and soap buildup.

Remove the trapped debris. This probably isn’t the last of it, so you may want to do this a few times to make sure that you’ve collected all of the buildups you can get out of the drain. Again, you should never have to force this tool hard through your drain, and if you can’t get past a certain point, you might have found a more serious block.

As before, wash down with boiling water and check to see if the drain is working.

6. Use Chemical Drain Cleaners

Sometimes called drain openers, these products pack a more powerful punch than the natural remedies we tried earlier. They’ll run you from $15-50, but a good high-quality cleaner will come with non-corrosive formulas to clear away the blockage without damaging your pipes.

What’s more, you can use most professional-strength cleaners for even the hairiest clogs to get your drain back to normal within 15-30 minutes in many cases.

Each product will work a little differently, requiring different amounts to be poured down the drain and different waiting periods, so be sure to read the instructions that come with the cleaner. We recommend that you always wear protective gloves and goggles when handling chemicals like these.

7. Call for Backup

If your shower drain keeps clogging even after you unclog it, it may be a more serious issue involving your sewer line or septic tank. Sometimes, even with all your best efforts, the quality of your drainage simply will not improve. Or perhaps, you may be unsure of your ability to carry out these tips in the first place.

In these cases, it’s best to call for expert backup. A professional plumber will be able to diagnose your issue with little trouble, finding the best way to solve the problem without trial and error. If you don’t already have a plumber in your contacts, we’ve got tips for finding a good company or plumber before letting them tackle the job.

How to Prevent a Clogged Shower Drain

Clogged shower drains are one of the most common plumbing issues we see among Dallas homeowners, and most people will experience them on a semi-regular basis. The tips above can help you unclog an existing shower drain—but what can you do preventatively to stop a clog from ever forming?

Luckily, a few precautionary measures with some simple products and tools can help you out!

1. Use a Hair Catcher

In all of the steps above, you may have noticed that hair plays a key role in clogging a shower drain. A few hairs here and there aren’t a serious issue, but thin strands can easily clump together and act as a major culprit for drain blockage.

Many homeowners are aware of this, and we’ve even heard people say they try to catch their hair before it goes into the shower drain. However, it’s hard to prevent every strand from going down the drain even if you’re very careful—and these strands lead to eventual clogs over time.

A hair catcher is a great preventative tool because it means you don’t have to be as vigilant about letting hair wash down the drain. These products may vary in design—most sit on top of the drain while some sit inside—but they all work to trap hair before it enters your drain.

This, in turn, allows you to pull out the hair catcher to empty the hair into the garbage every now and then, instead of waiting for a hair buildup to cause further issues.

2. Let Your Water Run

Soap scum and grease are two other major culprits in clogging your drain. And while most of us take the time to ensure these things are washed off our bodies, we don’t always give them proper time to wash down the drain as well.

Once you’ve finished your shower, turn the water too hot and let it run for a few minutes. This helps flush out the materials and rinse them down the drain before they can settle in place and build future clogs.

3. Give It a Weekly Cleaning

The preventative tips above are helpful, but it’s also a good idea to give your drain a little extra TLC on a regular basis. Once a week, use the baking soda and vinegar combo we mentioned in the unclogging section above. These powerful natural ingredients can not only help remove clogs that are forming, but they’ll also help eliminate any stale odors emanating from your drain.

To wash them down, boil a kettle of water and pour it down the drain little by little. As a regular part of your cleaning schedule, this one-two punch can help loosen grime and goop so it runs down the drain without building.

Ensuring a Clean and Clear Shower Drain

Fortunately, most clogged shower drains are easy fixes that you can do on your own. Now that you know how to prevent clogged drains—and what to do if you get one—you’ll be able to enjoy your relaxing evening shower once again.

Of course, if you continue to have issues with your shower drain, it’s a good idea to have a professional check it over. When that’s the case, we’d love to help! With a team of licensed experts, we have over 50 years of experience in the business, and we’ll get your drain back in shape with no trouble. Reach out to us at any time to request a job estimate.