Bathtub Drain Cleaning Tips

You likely clean your bathtub regularly, but what about the drain? Located just below the floor of the tub, your bathtub’s drain is a haven for soap scum, hair, and other grime. Over time, these substances can build up and create stubborn clogs. But, with some diligence, you can banish clogs for good and keep your drains running clean and clear. Here are four easy steps to making bathtub drain cleaning a regular part of your household chores.

Step 1: Remove the tub stopper

In order to reach the hair and soap that accumulate in your bathtub’s drain, you’ll need to remove the stopper located above it. Some stoppers can be removed by twisting manually, while others have screws you’ll need to remove first. Most bathtubs have one of the following types of stoppers installed.

Toe-touch tub stopper

This style of stopper is circular and flat at the top. It has no tabs or knobs, and closes with a simple touch of your toe.

How to remove

Open the stopper as if you were going to drain the bathtub. Hold the base of the stopper while turning the top cap counterclockwise. You may need a flathead screwdriver to unscrew the stopper from the shaft cylinder.

Lift-and-turn tub stopper

This stopper has a knob that you must lift and turn in order to open and close the drain.

How to remove

With the stopper in the open position, place one hand on the body of the stopper to keep it in place. Then, slowly twist the knob counterclockwise with your other hand. Keep an eye out for a visible screw on the knob. If it doesn’t have one, continue turning the knob counterclockwise until the stopper loosens enough to be lifted off the strainer.

If the knob has a screw, you’ll need either an Allen wrench or a screwdriver to loosen it. You do not need to remove the screw all the way, just enough to lift the stopper. Be extra careful when removing the stopper to ensure that the screw doesn’t fall down the drain.

Push-pull tub stopper

This stopper resembles a lift and turn stopper, but the mechanism behind it is different. Instead of lifting and turning, you push and pull the stopper up or down.

How to remove

Twist the knob counterclockwise to remove it. You may need to use pliers to remove the knob if twisting it on your own isn’t working. Then, use a flathead screwdriver to remove the brass insert in the middle of the stopper. Once you’ve done so, you’ll be able to lift the stopper off the strainer.

Step 2: Clean the stopper and the strainer

Lots of buildup can accumulate right under the stopper and the strainer. With the stopper removed, you can use this opportunity to scrub it all away. For a natural clean, we recommend using a mixture of white vinegar and water.

Step 3: Use a drain snake to clear hair clogs

If your bathtub’s drain has slowed to a crawl, and you find yourself wading in ankle-deep water during all your showers, a drain snake is the solution. These thin, wiry tools can reach down into your drain and pull out all the hair that’s causing the clog. You can find a drain snake at any plumbing or home-supply store—they’re also called plumbing snakes or zip-it tools. If you don’t have time to run to the store, you can fashion your own drain snake by unfolding a wire hanger and bending it at the end so it resembles a hook.

With your drain snake in hand, carefully push the snake into the drain until you hit the drain trap. This is only a few inches down, so you won’t need to push far. Move the drain snake back and forth to help it pick up any hair that’s clogging the drain. You may need to repeat this process several times depending on how much hair and soap scum are present.

Try to establish a regular schedule for clearing out your drains. This may be monthly, or even weekly if you or your family members have long hair or bathe an animal that sheds a lot in the bathtub. That way, you can stay ahead of any slow-forming blockages and keep your bathtub draining properly.

Step 4: Ditch liquid drain cleaners for natural alternatives

Before you reach for a liquid drain cleaner to clean your bathtub drain, realize that you might be doing more harm than good in the long run. The caustic chemicals in liquid drain cleaners can damage your pipes over time, creating the potential for a major pipe burst or other plumbing emergency. Fortunately, there are still convenient and effective ways to clean your bathtub drain without the use of harmful chemicals.

Baking soda and vinegar

Baking soda and vinegar aren’t just for homemade volcanos. They can clean bathtub drains naturally as well. The chemical reaction created by baking soda and vinegar can dissolve hair clogs and soap scum with ease. Pour one cup of baking soda down the bathtub drain, then wait a few minutes. Follow with two cups of vinegar. Listen for bubbling and sizzling noises to indicate that the mixture is working.

Wait another couple of minutes before running water in the tub. If you still notice issues, repeat the steps again.

Enzyme-based cleaners

If you must use a liquid drain cleaner, look for one labeled “bio” or “enzyme-based.” Instead of using harmful chemicals, these cleaners use bacteria cultures and concentrated enzymes that naturally eat away at organic matter. When they enter your drain, these organisms feed on everything from hair and soap scum to mold and algae. After consuming whatever’s blocking your drain, these organisms reproduce, spreading “good” bacteria throughout your plumbing system.

While enzyme-based cleaners often need to sit overnight to work, they’re much safer on your plumbing system than conventional drain cleaners.

Drain problems? Call Chas Roberts

From bathtubs and sinks to toilets and more, our plumbers know drains inside and out. We can fix stubborn clogs with our expert drain-cleaning tools, or check for problems deep within your plumbing system with a video drain inspection. No matter what drain issues you’re dealing with, contact us for plumbing expertise when it matters most.