Knowing how to unclog a drain is one of the essential skills any homeowner or renter should have. With the amount of dirt, hair, and general debris that finds its way down a tub and shower drain on a daily basis, the occasional clog is all but unavoidable. Luckily, it’s also a quick fix, as long as you don’t mind getting your hands dirty.
Read on below for your step-by-step guide on how to unclog a drain. We’ve included a few different methods, so pick the one that best suits your needs. Good luck!
Tools you’ll need
- Small screwdriver
- Wire hanger
- Manual auger (aka a small plumbing snake)
How to unclog a drain
There are a few tried-and-true ways to unclog a drain. We’ve listed them here in order of difficulty, from easiest to hardest. If one method does not release the clog, simply move on to the next one.
The wire hanger method (difficulty level: easy)
1. Remove the drain cover.
Use a small screwdriver to undo the screws holding the drain cover in place. Be sure to put the parts in a safe spot so that they don’t fall down the drain or get lost while you’re working on the clog.
2. Turn a wire hanger into a hook
With a pair of pliers, bend the end of an old wire hanger into a hook.
3. Use the hook to fish out any debris.
Insert the hook down into the drain until you reach the clog. Pull as much of the clog out of the drain as you can and repeat the motion until nothing else comes out. You may want to use a flashlight to help you get a better view of the debris.
4. Flush the drain with hot water.
Run hot water into the drain for a few seconds. This will help clear out any remaining traces of the blockage.
If your drain is working at this point, congratulations! You can go about the rest of your day. If not, you may need to move onto the next step.
Doyle James, president of Mr. Rooter Plumbing, which has multiple locations across the United States, endorses the effectiveness of this method. In fact, he recommends making it part of your regular home maintenance routine.
“Using a bent hanger to remove debris once a month should be enough to keep your drain clear,” he says. “and don’t forget to clean out your sink drains, too.”
The plunger method (difficulty level: medium)
1. Plug up your overflow drain.
If your tub has an overflow drain, you’ll need to plug it up before you can plunge the main drain. (For reference, not all tubs have this, and showers definitely won’t, so if you don’t see a similarly placed drain on your tub, skip this step.)
However, if you do need to stop up this drain, simply use a screwdriver to remove the exterior cover. Then, take an old cloth or rag, and wedge it into the opening so water cannot come pouring out.
2. Add water to the tub.
Plungers need a little lubrication to work properly, so add some water to the tub before you start working on the clog. You’ll want the water level to cover about halfway up the bottom of the plunger.
3. Plunge the clog.
Work the plunger by pumping in an up-and-down motion. Do this several times, as hard as you can.
If most of the clog comes out this way, simply run more hot water down the drain to test it and clear out any lingering waste. If not, keep going on to…
The auger method (difficulty level: hard)
In the event that your drain is still clogged, it’s time to improve your tools. You can purchase or rent a manual auger—a smaller version of the snake that professional plumbers use—fairly cheaply from your local home improvement store. Here’s what to do once you get it home.
1. Feed the auger cable into the drain.
Insert the auger cable into the opening. Then, use the handheld crank to move it downwards until you hit the clog.
2. Rock the snake back and forth to work at the clog.
With a firm grip on the auger cable and the crank, rock the snake in a back-and-forth motion, until you can feel it attach to the clog. Crank the auger cable back out of the drain and remove the debris. If needed, repeat this step several times until the entire clog is removed.
3. Try snaking the overflow drain.
If you’ve extended the manual auger all the way down and haven’t hit the clog, it’s likely that the stoppage is beyond that drain’s trap. In that case, you can try snaking the overflow drain, using the method described in steps 2 and 3.
Once you’re done, run some hot water and then use a screwdriver to reattach your drain covers.
Most drain clogs are fairly small and can be resolved using one of these methods. However, if none of them are successful, it’s time to call in a professional plumber. Larger plumbing issues can get tricky and can have huge consequences if they’re handled incorrectly.
For more information, watch the video below courtesy of The Home Depot.