Hot Topics: How to Unclog a Bathtub Drain

A fancy gold bathtub against a white wall.

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Original Post: Clogged Bathtub Drain

Saizo Member

Here's the problem: the tub's drainage pipe is so clogged up, it takes over an hour for the water to drain out. There's no way to put a snake down the drain because of the steel strainer. The strainer cannot come out. The overflow pipe opening isn't connected to any pipes because this isn't the tub that came with the house. I've tried the plunger multiple times and still it refuses to unclog. I've always had problems with the tub's drainage pipe, but never this bad. Like I said before, the strainer in the tub is too small to get any sort of auger down the drain and it doesn't come out. What would you do in this situation?

CasualJoe Member

I'd replace the tub drain with a proper tub drain/overflow. The clogging is most likely hair in the drain anyway, so when replacing the drain assembly you will be clearing the clog. I prefer those from Gerber brass, but Home Depot has one that looks decent:

Audioslave22 Member

There is no magic solutions to fixing clogs. If you say you can’t auger from the drain or the overflow, how do you propose a professional to help? Here is what I would do for you: cut the ceiling below the tub, remove as much of the tub drain as possible, and charge you $2,000 to do it. Sound good?

Saizo Member

I read your suggestions. I managed to unclog the pipe by using a plunger, though I had to really go at it to get it unclogged and I doubt it cleared the pipe completely. I know this isn't a permanent fix so I was thinking about going with CasualJoe's suggestion about replacing the drain assembly. We'll see.

Norm201 Member

Yes, replace the drain assembly, but please do not use the brass. Use plastic—it won't corrode. And the plastic plunger will less likely freeze in the overflow tube over time. Then, on a regular basis use a mixture of baking powder and vinegar about once a month to help keep it clear. Please do not use any drain cleaners.

Pilot Dane Group Moderator

Mixing vinegar (an acid) and baking soda (a base) cancels each other out. The baking soda neutralizes the acid in vinegar. It's great for making science fair volcanoes, but not for clearing.

Norm201 Member

PD, you want to use baking powder, not soda. When it contacts vinegar, CO2 is produced.Lifted this from the difference between baking soda and baking powder on Google; it address the differences in baking, but the point is made:

"All baking powders contain sodium bicarbonate (just like baking soda). But baking powder also contains two acids. One of these acids is called monocalcium phosphate. Monocalcium phosphate doesn't react with the sodium bicarbonate while it's dry. But as soon as the baking powder is stirred into a wet dough or batter, the two ingredients begin to react, releasing bubbles of CO2 and causing chemical leavening. But to extend the chemical leavening process, baking powder also contains a second acid, either sodium acid pyrophosphate or sodium aluminum sulfate. Neither of these acids react with sodium bicarbonate until they are both: A) wet (i.e., stirred into the batter) and B) hot. In other words, sodium acid pyrophosphate and sodium aluminum sulfate won't start reacting with the sodium bicarbonate until after you've put the dough or batter in the oven. This means that the batter rises for a longer period of time, making lots of bubbles (and a fluffier cake, muffin, or whatever)."

Fred_C_Dobbs Member

I bought a 'miniature' drain snake at Wally World for maybe three bucks that isn't much more than a test tube brush with a long flexy handle. It might be small enough to fit through the holes in your strainer. Works well on hair clogs.

Norm201 Member

To PD and the rest of the forum, I need to eat a little bit of crow. In post #7, I corrected PD about using baking soda vs. baking powder as a drain cleaner and freshener. As it turns out, although I was not wrong, the drain cleaner does in fact use baking soda, and not baking powder.

Here is the site that gives the proper mixture of vinegar and baking soda:

Ingredients needed: vinegar and baking soda

Instructions: Pour a pot of boiling hot water down your drain. Dump in about 1/2 c. baking soda. Let that sit for a few minutes. Then, pour a mixture of 1 c. vinegar and 1. c very hot water down on top of the baking soda. Cover with a drain plug (to keep the reaction down below the drain surface) if you have one, and let it sit for 5-10 minutes. Flush one more time with a pot of boiling water.

Why this works: The baking soda and hot water treatment will loosen up any grimy sludge that’s hanging out at the bottom of your drain, and the explosive chemical reaction with the vinegar will jolt it all loose. Then one final super hot water rinse will make all the bad stuff go bye-bye. Both baking powder and soda will give the desired result of a foaming action (that is what clears the drain), but baking soda is much cheaper than the powder.

So, I'm still correcting Pilot Dane (sorry), and also correcting myself for not fact-checking ahead of time. I thank my wife for questioning my choice of ingredients.

CasualJoe Member

The last tub drain/overflow I replaced was PVC from Gerber Brass. As a manufacturer, Gerber Brass makes great products that generally are only available through plumbing supply houses.

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