How to clean out a tub drain

Tub DrainThis article will teach you how to clean out a tub drain.  When you own rental property, there will always be maintenance.  You can do it yourself, or hire someone.  Even in your own home, there are tasks that need to be completed, this is a great one to learn to do yourself.  If you can save $100, that is a couple or three (for two people) nice restaurant meals (in my places), or $100 to your retirement.

Of course some tasks are not fun, some are messy, and some of them are just gross.  Even the tasks you think are real bad ones; there is someone out there that does them all day, every day.  Do not feel sorry for yourself.

When I turn a rental over, cleaning a tub drain is a very common task.  It’s not fun, but not difficult.

The Problem

I go over every apartment turn with a fine tooth comb.  Even if the renter has cleaned the apartment, I look at all the cabinets, wipe down the shower, inspect the drawers, make sure the appliances work, and drains are working properly.  I also make sure nothing was left behind or is a condition that a new tenant would not want to move into.

In the case of tub drains, hair gets caught in the drain lines.  You cannot always see the hair, as it goes to a spot in the drain line where multiple pipes connect.  Log hair is bad.  When people give their dog a bath, that hair gets caught in the drain too.  And of course who knows what other body hairs are caught in the drain.  Luckily, it should all be clean, as there is also a lot of soap and shampoo going down the drain.

The first time I turn on a tub faucet, I expect that the water will go down the drain as fast as it is coming into the tub.  If I notice that the water slowly fills up in the tub.  That is a sure sign that some furry muskrat has embedded itself in the drain lines.  Odds are, the fur-ball is located somewhere in the first couple of feet of drain pipe.  Not hard to get to, if you have the right tools.

Once you have a clog, that clog will trap additional hair, soap and grease, and progressively become worse.  You need to get rid of it and not wait for a late night call from your tenants.

A Drain Cleaner for Small Drains

Drain CleanerFor tub and sink drains, I use a hand crank drain cleaner by Ridgid.  It’s very portable and easy to use.  I think it costs about $25, which is quite a bit cheaper than a single call to a plumber.  I have used it many times.  After each use, spray the cable with a WD-40 or a light oil spray to keep it from rusting if you want.  When you are after a trophy fur-ball, this tool is what it takes.

Open the Over flow

CAM00738You need to remove the overflow cover to get the best access.  There really is no other good option.  It’s just one or two screws, and you have a great access path to any muskrats lurking in the pipes.  Be sure to look at how loose the pipe is, if you have a drain pipe ready to fall off, you will be glad you found the issue now, rather than at some other inopportune moment.  In my apartments, I also use a product called the “Ultimate Overflow”, which should eliminate any water leaks to any apartment below.

Cleaning Out the Tub Drain

Start running the snake down the pipe.  I keep it spinning as much as I can, while I continue to push he snake forward.  When you run across a block, it could be a clog, or a pipe turn.  Keep pushing and spinning.  It will round the corner, or wind through the clog.  After you have about five feet into the tub drain, pull the drain snake back out.  If you find nothing, run some hot water and see if the problem resolved itself.

If the problem still exists, run the snake a bit farther.  There should be a main line fairly close to the tub drain, very often within the 15’ or 25’ limit of most small drain snakes.

Most often, within a few feet, you will hook onto your trophy.  You will feel the muskrat fighting its way to stay into the drain line, as you pull the snake back out of the line.  The larger the fur-ball, the better the fight will be.

The Trophy

trophyOnce you get the snake 100% out of the line, you will see your trophy that you worked so hard for.  It may be loose, or tightly would around the drain snake like this one.  Either way, you now will know why the tub drained so slowly.  Do not let the furry critter get back in the tub drain; get it off the snake, and throw it in the trash.  You could flush it too, but NEVER let it back in the tub or sink drains.  It will lodge itself in there again, and you will be back at the process.

How is your tub drain flowing?  Have you ever had a tub drain slow and had to call a plumber?  Or been able to use a snake to clear your won drain?


10 Replies to “How to clean out a tub drain”

  1. Eric, thanks for the tip.

    How often do you use this procedure on YOUR OWN drains?

    Separately, a friend bought a house and discovered sewer problems (among many other problems). It turns out, the sewer problems was caused by roots (tree, bush etc) getting into the line. Someone suggested flushing a “handful” of rock salt down the line every month. Any roots leeching into the line will catch the salt and the salt will kill or ‘discourage’ further growth. Any thoughts?

    1. Thank you for reading!

      I do it all the time on my rentals, at my home I have not had the need to. I have a screen type thing that I have to remove, and most/all of the hair is able to be pulled out.

      Tree roots require an auger, and then get rid of the tree. Rotor Rooter also have some stuff, copper sulfate I think, that works.

  2. I’ve done this a number of times at my own place. It’s always gross, smelly, and furry. Saves a ton of money though and results in a much better experience with water not up to your ankles.

  3. Cleaning out drains is my least favorite thing to do but like you said, it must be done and it can save a lot of money when you do it yourself. This is a great write up and I’m sure it will help many people and save some $$!!

  4. Another thing that works REALLY well for hair-clogged drains is that Liquid Plumr foaming pipe snake. I have long, thick hair, and also two dogs, and that stuff works miracles at dissolving hair clogs. I don’t often use it in slow bathroom sinks, because tenants put the weirdest things in their sinks that Liquid Plumr won’t clear (I’ve found necklaces, pennies, paper clips, etc.), but for shower drains, it seems like it’s always hair, and the foaming pipe snake does the job. I do appreciate the tips on the snake, though, and I will be getting one fairly soon as a precaution. At the very least, it will help fish necklaces out of the sink without having to remove the P-trap!

    1. Thank you for reading!

      Great tip! Especially for someone that doesn’t want to monkey around with catching a furry critter in the drain.

      I like the snakes better, as they are fast and I can ‘catch’ the hairball and get rid of it. It’s also free once you have the tools.

Leave a Reply