How to Unclog a Bathtub Drain Using a Snake

A clogged bathtub drain can be annoying and inconvenient. Water starts to accumulate in the tub, taking longer to drain after each use. The clog may be caused by hair, soap scum, debris, or other materials that have built up over time. Unclogging a bathtub drain is a common DIY project that can often be accomplished using a basic drain snake.

What Causes Bathtub Drains to Clog?

There are a few common culprits when it comes to clogged bathtub drains:

  • Hair – Strands of hair can get washed down the drain and accumulate over time, forming a dense clog. Showering and bathing contributes to hair buildup.
  • Soap scum – The residue from soap, shampoo, and other bath products can slowly build up on pipe walls. This sticky scum traps other debris passing through.
  • Debris – Things like dirt, sand, and other small particles from bathing can collect in drains. Debris provides a foundation for clogs to form.
  • Mineral deposits – Hard water contains mineral deposits like calcium and magnesium that can stick to pipes. These scale deposits narrow drain openings.
  • Grease and oils – Small amounts of greasy residue from the body and hair care products can coat drains. Grease solidifies and catches debris.
  • Toiletries – Stuff you use in the tub such as loofahs, bath toys, loose hairs, cotton swabs, and more can fall down the drain. These objects get lodged and block water flow.

Regular drain maintenance is key to prevent buildup of these clogging culprits over time. But even well-maintained drains can eventually fall victim to clogs.

Choosing the Right Drain Snake for Bathtub Drains

Drain snakes, also called plumber’s snakes, are designed to hook into clogs and manually pull out the blockage. There are a few options when choosing a bathtub drain snake:

  • Plastic drain auger – This is a lightweight plastic cord with a corkscrew end that manually screws into clogs. Best for clearing hair, soap scum, and loose debris.
  • Wire drain auger – A metal wire coil that is more rigid than a plastic snake. Good for breaking up stubborn clogs deeper in the drain.
  • Hand turn auger – Features a crank to rotate the snake head into clogs with extra force. Provides added power and control.
  • Electric drain auger – Runs on an electric motor to rotate the snake. Allows for deeper access into pipes. But often not necessary for bathtub drains.

For most simple bathtub clogs, a plastic drain auger is sufficient. Wire augers work well for tougher clogs. Hand turn or electric augers provide extra power but are not always needed. Consider the severity of the clog and how far you need to reach into drain pipes when choosing a snake.

How to Use a Drain Snake to Unclog a Bathtub

Unclogging a bathtub with a drain snake is a pretty straightforward process:

Materials Needed

  • Drain snake/auger
  • Bucket
  • Plunger (optional)
  • Gloves
  • Eye protection

Step 1 – Try a Plunger First

Before reaching for the snake, see if a simple plunger can break up the clog.

Fill the tub with a few inches of water. Seal the overflow opening with a wet rag or your hand. Forcefully plunge up and down over the drain opening 10-15 times. The suction force may dislodge the clog.

Step 2 – Prep the Drain

If plunging fails, get ready to use the snake:

  • Remove the drain stopper if there is one.
  • Allow any standing water to drain out of the tub.
  • Have a bucket ready underneath to catch any pulled out debris.
  • Wear gloves and eye protection. Snake use can be messy.

Step 3 – Insert the Snake

Gently insert the end of the drain snake into the drain opening:

  • For plastic snakes, crank the handle clockwise while applying light downward pressure. This screws the auger end into the clog.
  • For wire snakes, twist clockwise while pushing down to work the snake head into the clog. Take care not to scratch your tub with the wire.
  • For powered augers, feed the rotating end into the drain opening. Avoid excessive force.

Feed several feet of snake into the drainline. If you meet resistance, work through it slowly by twisting and turning the snake.

Step 4 – Remove the Clog

Once the snake is inserted into the clog:

  • For manual plastic snakes, crank the handle counter-clockwise to extract hair and debris from the clog.
  • For manual wire snakes, twist counter-clockwise to break up and dislodge the clog as you retract the snake.
  • For electric snakes, pull out the snake while rotating to extract the clog in reverse.
  • Pull out any debris wrapped on the snake end and place it in the bucket.
  • Repeat steps 3 and 4 until water flows freely. It may take several passes to fully clear the clog.

Step 5 – Prevent Future Clogs

With the drain unclogged, take steps to prevent future clogging:

  • Pour 1 cup baking soda down the drain followed by 1 cup vinegar. Let it fizz for 10-15 minutes then rinse with hot water. This helps break up residual gunk.
  • Consider installing a hair strainer to collect hair before it goes down the drain.
  • Check the sink P-trap for any debris that may have fallen during the process. Rinse thoroughly.
  • Avoid pouring grease or harsh chemicals down drains.
  • Use a small amount of dish soap and boiling water weekly to maintain clear pipes.

Unclogging a Stubborn Bathtub Drain

In some cases, a basic drain snake may not do the trick. Stubborn clogs lodged deep in the drain line require extra effort to clear. Here are some tips if a standard snake isn’t working:

  • Let it sit – Pour a kettle of boiling water down the drain, let sit for several minutes, then re-snake. The heat can help soften and break up clogs. Caution – boiling water poses a scalding hazard, so use care.
  • Try chemical uncloggers – Hair dissolving liquid drain uncloggers can help eat away the clog with extended contact time. Avoid harsh, corrosive chemical uncloggers.
  • Rent a power auger – A motorized drain auger at your local home improvement store can provide extra torque for severe clogs. Take care not to scratch your tub with the rotating snake.
  • Remove the P-trap – The curved pipe underneath the tub drain is removable. Take it off to inspect and clean out the trap. Be prepared for water spillage.
  • Enlist professional help – For clogs beyond DIY methods, call a professional plumber. They have commercial-grade snakes that can access clogs in the main drain line. This may be needed depending on your situation.

Patience and perseverance are required for difficult bathtub clogs. Try different techniques before calling in reinforcements. With enough effort, most bathtub clogs can be conquered.

FAQs About Unclogging a Bathtub Drain

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about using a drain snake to unclog a bathtub drain:

Question: Can I use a wire snake on a cast iron or porcelain tub?

Answer: Yes, but take care not to scratch the surface. Go slowly and avoid excessive force. A plastic snake is gentler if surface damage is a concern.

Question: How do I know what size drain snake to use?

Answer: For bathtub drains 2-3 feet of length is usually sufficient, with 3/8 inch diameter snakes being common. Match the diameter to the opening size.

Question: Can using a drain snake damage pipes?

Answer: When used properly a snake should not cause damage. Take care not to over-crank manual snakes or overpower electric ones. Avoid excessive force and do not push too deeply.

Question: How do I know if the clog has been fully cleared?

Answer: Keep snaking until the drain water flows out quickly without interruption. Run hot water for a minute to confirm free flow. If slow drainage persists, the clog may not be fully cleared.

Question: Is there anything I can do to make my drains less prone to clogs?

Answer: Preventative measures like drain screens, routine plunging, and avoiding grease/debris buildup can help. But clogs are common bathroom problems. Using a snake properly and safely is the best solution.

Question: When should I call for professional drain cleaning vs DIY snaking?

Answer: For accessible tub drains, try DIY first. If you can’t clear it after a few attempts, call for assistance. Professionals have specialized snaking equipment for severe clogs.

Question: What should I do if the tub still doesn’t drain after snaking?

Answer: The clog may be wedged too deep for a basic snake. Try an enzymatic drain unclogger or mechanical P-trap removal. If those fail, call a professional plumber to inspect and clear the blockage.

Tips for Safe and Effective Bathtub Drain Snaking

Here are some additional pointers to get the job done right:

  • Go slow when inserting the snake to avoid scratching the drain or banging the pipes.
  • Minimize down force, letting the snake do the work. Excessive pressure can damage the pipes.
  • If you encounter an obstruction, work the snake back and forth in short motions to navigate past it. Don’t force it.
  • Hold the snake loosely during removal for maximum flexibility. Taut wrists make it harder to extract clogs.
  • Wipe off any extracted gunk and hair from the snake regularly to avoid pushing it back in.
  • Visually inspect the snake after each pass to look for debris, detecting when the clog is clear.
  • Run hot water for a minute afterward to flush away residual loosened material.
  • Wear protective gloves to avoid exposure to grime and germs. Safety glasses guard against splatter.
  • Never use a drain snake in a toilet or non-tub drain. They are only designed for bathtub clogs.

When to Call a Professional Plumber

While many bathtub clogs can be cleared through DIY snaking methods, sometimes calling in a professional plumber is the best option:

  • If you are unable to reach or see the clog, a pro may be needed to snake from the main drain line with heavy-duty equipment.
  • For severe clogs wedged deep in drain pipes, specialized power snakes may be required.
  • If DIY snaking efforts fail after multiple attempts, avoid further amateur efforts and call a plumber.
  • If you suspect damage to pipes or improperly sloped drain lines, a plumber’s expertise assessing and repairing underlying issues is needed.
  • For older homes with cast iron drain lines, hiring a professional is recommended to avoid damage from DIY mistakes.

Plumbers have the tools, expertise, and experience to tackle the most difficult drain clogs that are beyond typical DIY capabilities. Paying for professional drain cleaning may be required periodically for severe bathtub clog cases.


Unclogging a stopped-up bathtub drain is a common household plumbing headache. With the right bathtub drain snake tool and proper technique, many basic clogs can be cleared quickly and easily on your own. Just take your time, follow safe snake usage tips, and properly dispose of any pulled out gunk. Persistence is key – you may need multiple attempts to fully restore proper drainage. For the toughest obstructions, don’t be afraid to bring in a pro. But an inexpensive drain snake used correctly can solve most simple bathtub clogging woes, saving you the hassle and cost of calling a plumber.