How to Unclog a Bathtub Drain with Standing Water

How to Unclog a Bathtub Drain with Standing Water

Ian Mutuli
Updated on

It can be quite frustrating to find your tub with standing water, especially when you want to take a bath. But, the good news is that you may not need to hire a professional plumber to fix your issue. Instead, you can use various methods at home to unclog your bathtub by yourself. Besides, knowing how to unclog a bathtub drain with standing water may save you money, time, and the frustration of waiting for a plumber. So, here are the best methods of unclogging your bathtub drain like a pro. But first,

What Are the Causes of Bathtub Drain Clogs?

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1. Hair residue

If you have minor clogging on your bathtub drain now and then, blame it on your hair. Hair is the most common cause of clogging. So, to prevent the hair from clogging your bathtub, install hair catchers in your bathtub drain, which will minimize hair clogs being caught within the drains.

2. Dirt and debris

If you have kids, they might bring dirt and debris after playing outside all day long. The dirt, sand, and debris might be the reason you have a clogged bathtub drain.

3. Soap residue

Soap residue is another cause of bathtub clogs that most people are unaware of. Soap residue, commonly known as soap scum, is often left after you exit the shower. And a lot of the soap scum accumulation will result in a clog.

4. Hard water

If you reside in an area with hard water, you should invest in water softeners to avoid drain clogs. Hard water usually contains minerals like calcium, iron, and magnesium, which tend to accumulate when they are present in large quantities in your water. Conversely, to be sure of the water you use, we recommend testing it to determine whether you require a water softener.

5. Foreign objects 

Objects such as toys, dirt, shaving gel or cream, shampoo, and conditioner suds can be the reason your bathtub drain is clogged. Although bathtubs have protective drain covers, preventing large items from getting inside, clogging will occurs on old tubs and showers that don't have the drain cover.

6. Old and rusty pipes 

If you have a plumbing system with old and rusty pipes, clogging your bathtub can happen anytime. On the other hand, the pipes can break down and cause a blockage in the drain line. So, you can install a new plumbing system or temporarily unclog the drain.

Methods on How to Unclog a Bathtub Drain with Standing Water

In all these methods, we recommend draining all the standing water before working on the tub drain.

Method 1: Try cleaning the filter and stopper

You might be surprised that what prevents the standing water from draining is the hair and other debris on the strainer and stopper, nothing more. Here are steps to follow when cleaning these parts of the bathtub;

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Step 1: The accumulation of gunk on the drain strainer and stopper often causes slow or no drainage. To remove the drain strainer ( filter), use the right screwdriver and unscrew all the screws around it. Then, put the screws somewhere safe as you clean the filter. As mentioned earlier, stoppers are usually easy to remove since they're not secured with screws, so twist and lift the stopper to remove it.

Step 2: Clean any gunk around the strainer and stopper. Use a brush to scrub the strainer and stopper to remove the hair, soap scum or debris.

Step 3: Put the stopper back in the drain and re-screw the filter as it was. Then, turn on the bathtub faucet to see if the drain is now working properly. Note that this method is effective on small clogs, so it might not be effective if your tub drain is extremely clogged.

Method 2: Use a plunger

Step 1: Take out the bathtub stopper. The bathtub stopper is on the overflow plate or the top of the drain; it depends on the type of bathtub. For those bathtubs with a stopper on top of the drain, some only need lifting off while others are threaded, and to remove them, turn them counter-clockwise. Besides, if you have a pop-up stopper, check for a screw under the lid and loosen it with a screwdriver before lifting it off.

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For those bathtubs with a tub stopper on the overflow plate, use a screwdriver to remove the screw, then pull it out.

Step 2: After removing the bathtub drain stopper, inspect the drain for any soap scum or hair. If you see hair or soap scum on the drain, straighten a wire coat hanger and make a hook at the front. Then, use it to remove as much hair as possible.

Step 3: Grab the plunger and cover the bathtub drain with it. Then, fill the bathtub with water until the plunger's base is completely submerged.

Step 4: To create a vacuum, plug off the outflow (covered with a plate. Unscrew the plate) with a towel. But, if you have another plunger, use it instead of a towel. Next, cover the bathtub outflow and ensure it's in place.

Step 5: Start plunging the bathtub drain gently, then aggressively. Next, remove the plunger and check whether the tub is draining.

Method 3: Use a Drain Snake 

A plumbing snake has a crooked head or a drain claw that slithers around an object and pulls it out when you pull on its attached line. It usually works by physically reaching down the drain and taking out hair and other debris that causes clogs.

Step 1: Remove the drain cover (one that prevents objects from entering the drain). Then, insert your plumber's snake into the drain. You can as well put the drain snake into the overflow tube. If you're unfamiliar with using a plumber's snake, inserting it through the overflow drain may be preferable since pushing the snake down the drain pipe may cause it to break.

Step 2: Anytime you feel the plumber's snake encounters resistance and begins to bend, gently pull it back and try pushing forward again. Push it inward until you feel it has gone far enough. 

Step 3: After pushing the snake for 10 feet, you will be sure that no more clogs beyond. Besides, most clogs are usually within the first 10 feet from the drain. You can now retrieve the snake slowly by tugging or reeling it out.

Step 4: After pulling the drain snake, its claw should come out with hair, debris, or whatever else that was causing the drain clog attached to it, i.e., if you are successful.

Step 5: You can repeat the process of pushing the snake down the drain pipe until no more debris is coming out.

Method 4: Use baking soda & boiling water

Step 1: Remove the stopper and clean it. By doing this, you will be removing hair and soap residue that may have accumulated underneath the stopper. First, unscrew the filter, then twist and lift the stopper out. Then, scrub away any accumulated debris or hair.

Step 2: Fill water in a kettle and bring it to a boil ( there is no specific measurement of how much water to use). You can boil the water in a large saucepan if you don't have a kettle.

Step 3: Pour the boiling water down the drain. Pouring boiling water will immediately unclog the drain. (Keep in mind that spraying hot water might burn you). Then turn on the bathtub and check whether it's now draining water.

Step 4: If boiling water didn't unclog your tub drain, pour 1 cup of white vinegar and ¼ cup of baking soda to dissolve any remaining crud.

Step 5: Allow the baking soda and vinegar to rest for 15-20 minutes.

Step 6: Once more, fill the tea kettle with water and wait for it to boil.

Step 7: Once again, pour hot water down the drain. The water will react with the vinegar and baking soda to unclog the drain. To be sure, test the bathtub to determine whether this method unclogged your drain, and if it did not, try another option. Besides, baking soda and vinegar are effective for small clogs.

Method 5: Use chemical drain cleaners

Step 1: Buy a chemical drain cleaner. This cleaner uses chemicals such as potassium hydroxide or sulfuric acid to unclog drains. So, if you use them correctly, they will remove most drain clogs. Look for a drain cleaner from your local hardware store and ensure it's intended for your system. For example, we recommend buying a product intended specifically for bathtubs. And if you're unsure where the cleaners are or which one to buy, consult a professional plumber.

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Step 2: Remove all the standing water in the bathtub using a bucket or a large cup.

Step 3: Pour the right amount of cleaner down the bathtub drain. For instance, pour just 1 tablespoon into the clogged drain for Crystal Lye Drain Opener. Conversely, you will need to pour half of a bottle (32 oz) for Drano. Again, we recommend wearing gloves as you pour these chemicals.

Step 4: Allow the chemicals to sit in the clogged drain for about 15 to 30 minutes.

Step 5: After waiting for enough time, the drain should function—test by turning on the cold water tap in the tub. The water should drain instantly.

Note: If the tub drain is not draining the standing water after trying all these methods, we recommend consulting a professional plumber. You might be tempted to mix different chemicals, which can be dangerous. The best solution at this point is to seek professional advice.

Frequently Asked Questions on How to Unclog a Bathtub Drain with Standing Water

1. Can you pour Drano into a bathtub with standing water?

Though most chemical compounds require you to drain the standing water before applying them to clogs, Drano can be poured into standing water and will work effectively. However, we recommend checking your Drano bottle before purchasing since not all of them do.

2. What's the best home remedy to use to unclog my tub?

Pour half-cup of vinegar and half-cup of baking soda. Then, allow the mixture to drain for at least 15 minutes before rinsing with hot water. The solution is a natural cleaner that you can use to clear up small clogs.

3. Can you use Coca-Cola to unclog a drain?

Yes, pour a 2-liter bottle of cola (Coke, Pepsi, or generic brand equivalents) down the clogged drain and wait for results. Though Coke is acidic and excellent in removing debris accumulation in drains, it's significantly gentler than professional drain cleaners.

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Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.