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How to Unclog Shower Drain, According to Plumbers

May 18, 2023

You probably don't need a plumber.

It's happening again: You're standing in the shower and the water is pooling at your ankles even though you didn’t stop the drain. You've got a blockage, and you're probably wondering how to unclog the shower drain.

First things first: Don't reach for any harsh chemicals that promise to unclog your drain fast. Plumbers agree those products can damage pipes, explains Brian Custer, plumbing expert with Frontdoor, an app and service for home repair and maintenance.

Also, a lot of people try to use a plunger on a clogged shower drain, but that can actually cause the clog to travel further into your drainage pipe, Custer explains.

There are some ways to prevent clogs and good DIY methods to unclog a shower drain yourself. Read on to learn how.

The shower drain's biggest enemy is hair, Custer says. Hair combined with buildup from shampoo, conditioner, and soap scum can accumulate in the drain, causing the backup. If you have small children, you might also want to check if any of their bath toys made their way down the drain.

Prevention is the best way to avoid frustrating drain problems, Custer says. He recommends running hot water down the drain after each shower or bath. Also, you can put a screen on your drain to catch hair, toys, soap scum, and other drain cloggers.

Otherwise, Custer recommends trying these three methods for removing shower drain clogs.

You might be able to clean out the drain using your gloved hands, but if the clump of materials is too far down the drain, a plumbing snake can help clear it.

Step 1: Remove the drain cap or strainer to better assess the clog situation. Some may require a screwdriver to remove; others can be popped or pried off. Use a flashlight or position an overhead light for better visibility.

Step 2: Put on some kitchen gloves; soap and shampoo buildup can feel slimy! If you can see a hair clog or something else that's backing things up, reach in and pull it out. Best-case scenario: This resolves the clog, and you're done!

Step 3: If the clump of materials is too far down the drain to reach, though, a plumbing snake can come in handy. You can often rent one from a hardware or home-improvement store, but it's not a bad thing to buy and keep on hand for fixing all kinds of clogs, including clogged toilets.

For manual snakes, crank the handle clockwise to hook the clog and continue running the snake down the drain. When you feel some resistance, that means the snake is picking up materials. Slowly reel it back up counterclockwise.

Clogs caused by hair or other organic matter can often be resolved by using a drain cleaner mixed up from natural ingredients, says Custer.

Step 1: Pour about a cup of baking soda down the shower drain, followed by an equal amount of distilled white vinegar. Allow the solution to bubble and foam for a few minutes.

Step 2: After letting it sit, pour a kettle full of hot—not boiling—water down the drain. Allow the mixture to sit and work on the organic matter for a couple of hours.

Step 3: Turn on the hot water to flush the drain and check if the clog has dissolved. Repeat steps 1 and 2 if you still see signs of a backup.

These types of vacuums can provide suction and act as a powerful plunger for your drain, pulling out the clogged material or hair to the source, says Custer.

"Be sure to first set the machine for vacuuming liquids, make sure the appropriate liquid filter is on, and be careful about your electrical connection around your tub and any accumulated water,” he advises.

Step 1: Remove the drain cap. Some may require a screwdriver to remove; others can be popped or pried off.

Step 2: Cover the drain opening with a damp rag. Place the hose against the rag-covered drain and turn on the shop vacuum wet setting. The suction can act to bring the hair or other blockage up the drain to be removed.

A lot of times, a DIY fix can unclog your shower drain and get things running smoothly. But there are some instances when you should probably call in a plumber for professional help.

If the clog keeps recurring despite your attempts to fix it, if multiple drains in the house are affected, or if there's potential damage or leaks, it's best to reach out to a plumber, says Justin Conforth, CEO of Ace Plumbing, Electric, Heating & Air.

Brittany Anas is a former newspaper reporter (The Denver Post, Boulder Daily Camera) turned freelance writer. Before she struck out on her own, she covered just about every beat—from higher education to crime. Now she writes about food, cocktails, travel, and lifestyle topics for Men’s Journal, House Beautiful, Forbes, Simplemost, Shondaland, Livability, Hearst newspapers, TripSavvy and more. In her free time, she coaches basketball, crashes pools, and loves hanging out with her rude-but-adorable Boston Terrier that never got the memo the breed is nicknamed "America’s gentleman."

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