How to unclog a shower drain

white ceramic sink near white ceramic sink

Expert advice to fix and prevent future clogs

In this article

One of the first things you should know how to do as a new homeowner is fix a clogged shower drain. 

There’s no need to start pulling your hair in frustration or call in a plumber. This guide will help you navigate one of the most common homeowner maintenance concerns: how to unclog a shower drain and how to prevent it from clogging in the first place. Let’s dive right in.

The basics of drain unclogging

  • A shower drain will clog for a variety of reasons, but some of the most common are hair, soap scum, and debris, which can decay your drain pipe. Over time, this buildup creates the perfect barrier to restrict water flow down your drain. Water will pool around your drain and you’ll notice all the characteristic signs of a classic drain clog.
  • If you notice severe leaking around your shower or tub or unusual sulfuric odors, there’s a chance your problem is bigger than a clogged drain. In these cases, we recommend calling a plumber before proceeding any further.
  • We all dread a clogged drain but there are several things you can do to prevent future clogs. The most popular and useful of these techniques include using a hair catcher and regularly pouring hot water down the drain.
  • Some of the best methods to unclog your drain use baking soda and vinegar or hot water. If those don’t work, you can try plunging the drain, using a drain snake, or pouring harsher chemicals down the drain. As a last resort, you can call a plumber.
  • While there are plenty of chemicals on the market that claim to get the job done, it’s always best to try out natural drain unclogging solutions first. Chemicals like bleach kill both good and bad bacteria, and toxic chemicals used in the home can result in a wide array of health issues for you and your family.
  • Preparing a home improvement game plan can help you prepare for other household tasks too, whether that’s unclogging a drain or finding a stud in the wall. Create your home maintenance checklist today.

What causes a clogged drain?

The most common cause of a clogged drain is the combination of hair and soap scum. Most soaps contain sticky fats that can accumulate in your drains alongside other materials, like hair and minerals. People with long hair are especially prone to shower clogs, as it’s only natural for them to lose more hair while showering. Additionally, hard water contains minerals that leave residue in your drain. Dirt, debris, lint, and other materials can all contribute to a clogged drain buildup.

What are the signs that my drain is clogged? 

Most people with clogged shower drains already know their problem — hair, grime, and other debris have accumulated in their shower drain, and now their plumbing system just isn’t working like it used to. If you’re debating whether or not your shower drain is clogged, there are some telltale signs that can confirm your plumbing issues.

Some of the main signs that your drain is clogged are:

You notice a bad odor

Your drains carry wastewater and other unclean materials away from your home, but that doesn’t mean your pipes should smell. If your shower drain smells, it could be a sign of rotting material in the drain. Bits of hair and soap scum stuck in your pipes start to deteriorate over time and cause an unpleasant odor that makes shower time an ordeal. But, if you notice a sulphuric smell or a distinct sewage smell, it’s best to call a plumber immediately since you could have a bigger sewage issue. 

Water is collecting around the drain

We’ve all been there—the water is running as normal, but the drain just can’t seem to absorb the liquid fast enough. In a properly working shower, water should drain at the same speed it comes out of the faucet. When your drain is clogged, water builds up around your ankles while you shower or your drain takes additional time to fully remove water from the tub. 

If water pools near your drain or even around the base of your shower, that’s a sure sign of a clog. A combination of dirt, soap scum, and hair create the perfect water dam, ruining drains and causing water to collect. You will want to take care to resolve your clogged drain as soon as possible, to avoid leaking or bursting pipes.

How can I prevent future clogs? 

If you often struggle with a clogged shower, there are several solutions to help you prevent future clogs.

Some of our top tips are:

Buy a hair catcher

For most people, the main reason for their clogged drain is that hair builds up. When we shower, hair falls out and travels down the drain, where it gets lodged and mixed with soap scum. Hair catchers are small plastic devices that you place over your shower drain. They’re designed to catch stray hairs before they make the journey down the drain. Take care to regularly empty a hair catcher and it will take care of the principal offender of your clogged drain once and for all.

Treat your drain well

It may seem obvious, but one of the quickest ways to achieve a clear drain is to keep it clean. Don’t dispose of waste down your drain, and take extra care to ensure no debris, paper clips, or other small items get near the drain opening. Remove bits of lint, hair, and other materials near the drain immediately.

Try out preventative solutions

If you catch a clog early or want to prevent a future clog, consider using a natural cleaning solution. Regularly pour boiling water down your drain to dissolve hair and clear drain ways. You can also use a baking soda and vinegar solution to help clean your pipes. Some homeowners even keep a plumber’s snake in their house. Plumber’s snakes are also known as “toilet jacks” or “electric eels.” This tool is what plumbers use to unclog drains, and if your drains are susceptible to frequent clogging, purchasing one means you’ll never have to call a plumber for your clogged drain ever again.

Try a chemical solvent

There’s no shortage of chemicals on the market today to help unclog your shower drain. A variety of chemical solutions claim to dissolve blockages and allow your shower to drain properly once more. When it comes to household maintenance, we recommend trying more natural solutions first. However, chemical solutions may be necessary if your clogged drain persists and repeated attempts to clear the drain prove unsuccessful.

Invest in a water softener

In some regions, water has a high mineral content, which can lead to potential calcium and iron build-up in your pipes. If you live in a vulnerable area, it may be worth investing in a water softener to help prevent this kind of build-up.

stainless steel shower head on bathtub
Keeping your drain and faucets clean and clear of debris can help keep clogs from happening in the first place

Are there different solutions for different types of clogs?

Some solutions are better suited for some kinds of clogs than others. For example, bleach is excellent at dissolving hair because of the neutralization reaction that happens when the basic bleach encounters the acidic hair. 

Plunging, on the other hand, works best with clogged kitchen drains, rather than bathroom sinks or showers. That’s because food and other debris is liable to get caught in kitchen sink drains, and plungers help push them down to clear the clog. Every clog is unique and requires its own solution so you may have to try a couple of methods before finding the one that works for your clog.

How to unclog a shower with baking soda and vinegar

Before trying toxic chemicals or rushing out to buy a drain snake, try vinegar and baking soda:

  1. Pour a cup of boiling water down the drain.
  2. Follow up with half a cup of baking soda.
  3. Pour another cup of boiling water down the drain, this time infused with a cup of vinegar and half a cup of baking soda.
  4. Cover the drain and let rest. You might hear fizzing noises in the drain; this is normal.
  5. After 10 minutes, pour another cup of boiling water down the drain to flush out the rest of your clog.

How to unclog a shower drain without tools

So, you’ve just moved into your new house and don’t yet have the tools needed to unclog your shower drain. Several unclogging techniques don’t require any special tools. To pour mixtures like baking soda and vinegar down the drain, you just need a large enough cup. And to boil water, you simply need a pot and a working stove.

If those techniques don’t work, reach into the drain with your hands (gloved, of course) or a wire coat hanger. These techniques work best for retrieving hair that’s accumulated near the lip of the drain but may be impractical for deeper clogs.

How to unclog a shower drain that doesn’t unscrew

Not every shower drain is the same. There are several different kinds of drain stoppers, and if you can’t figure out how to remove yours, you may find it difficult to unclog your drain. In some instances, you may be able to remove your shower drain cap by inserting a screwdriver into one of the drainage holes and prying up. If you have a pop-up drain stopper that’s stuck or won’t unscrew, loosen it up with a pair of pliers around the cap. 

If unscrewing your shower drain is too difficult, simply make use of an unclogging method that doesn’t require your drain stopper to be unscrewed. The boiling water method and baking soda and vinegar technique are both options that don’t require you to remove your shower drain stopper.

How to unclog a shower drain without chemicals

Homeowners are using more eco-friendly products in the home. Many are eager to reduce the number of chemicals found in their homes, which come into close contact with their pets and kids and have been linked to cancer, reproductive issues, and many other health concerns. 

A 2016 study from George Washington University showed that 45 toxic chemicals are hiding amidst dust in the average American household, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. From phthalates to flame retardants, potentially toxic material is always nearby. Luckily, plenty of natural solutions exist that will safely unclog your shower drain without chemicals. Nowadays, there is no shortage of non-toxic alternatives you can use to unclog your drain, no chemicals required.

Do tips for shower drains work for sinks, too?

A clogged drain is a clogged drain. While each clog has its own cause and solution, you’ll still want to reference the same trusty unclogging methods mentioned in this article. We recommend experimenting with simpler solutions, like vinegar and baking soda mixtures, before calling a plumber or investing in a water softening system. You can get just about any drain unclogged with a plumber’s snake, and most of our solutions are effective for sink clogs as well as shower drain clogs.

Final thoughts 

Home maintenance snags are a part of any homeowner’s journey, as pesky as they may be. But you can develop an arsenal of tools to draw from any time you experience a clogged shower drain or broken home appliance. 

The sooner you assemble your home maintenance toolkit, the quicker you can transform your house into a home. Before long, you’ll be a pro at performing DIY jobs around the home!

FAQ 

What is the best way to unclog a shower drain? 

There are a variety of methods to unclog a drain, but some of the best ways to unclog a shower drain include pouring boiling water down the drain, pouring a mixture of baking soda and vinegar down the drain, plunging the drain, and snaking the drain. You can also try bleach or other chemical solutions if the problem persists, or call a plumber.

What can dissolve hair in a drain? 

Try a vinegar and baking soda solution to dissolve hair. If that fails, try using baking soda and salt instead, or resort to chemical solutions like bleach and other products.

Does Coke dissolve hair? 

Coke does not dissolve hair, but it does help dissolve the buildup that’s keeping the hair stuck in your drain. Both Coke and Pepsi contain phosphoric acid, which can help dissolve buildup when left to sit in your drain pipe for a few hours.

What do professional plumbers use to unclog drains? 

When you call a plumber to inspect your clogged drain, chances are they’ll use a manual drain snake to remove the clog. Drain snakes end in a corkscrew-like hook that you rotate to disperse buildup and debris. If your clog is further down the drain, a plumber may have to use a motorized drain snake, which allows for deeper reach and stronger pull.

About the author: By day, Celita Summa is a Florida-based freelance writer specializing in real estate, technology, sustainability, and a plethora of other topics. By night, Celita can be found developing her talents, which include her black belt in karate, her fluent Italian, and her knack for vegan cooking.

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