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How to Unclog a Bathtub: DIY Tips & Contractor Cost

Find out how to unclog a bathtub yourself or whether you should hire a contractor for the job. We also included the cost of a professional and free quotes.

Waking up to find a clogged bathtub can be quite repulsing and inconveniencing. When your bathtub stops draining water, you start thinking about the wetness, dirt, slimy and all other possible unsanitary conditions that come up as a result of stagnant water. A clogged bathtub can be an inconvenience to the whole household not to mention the possibility of the tub piling up with bacteria and unpleasant odor. It is definitely not a situation that any homeowner wants to experience, but unfortunately, it’s a common occurrence in most household.

Once in a while, you bathtub drain will get clogged as result of various factors. The good news is that the problem can be solved and you can even prevent a future occurrence. The most important factor is to know and understand the cause of the issue, the appropriate measure to take to rectify the problem and how to guard yourself against it.

Clogs in bathtubs can be rated from mild to severe, depending on the cause. Some can be chronic due to poor plumbing work or improper practices. If the causes are not dealt with properly and promptly, they can ultimately become problematic and lead to unsanitary conditions. You might be forced to replace the tub altogether in extreme cases of clogging.

Common Causes of Bathtub Drain Clogs

Bathtub clogs are actually preventable. Even though there are some that happen due to poor plumbing, a majority of the clogs are a result of your own doing. If you are wondering why your bathtub is clogged, it may surprise you that some of the simple things you do are a culprit. Knowing the various factors that may lead to a clogged bathroom will give you a better understanding of how to handle a clogged bathtub and how to stop it from clogging in future.

Here are some of the reasons that may cause your bathtub to clog.

Accumulated Hair Clogs

It’s natural for your hair to shed when taking a bath or a shower. With time the shed hair will stick to the walls of the drains of your bathtub. It will pile along the drain walls and eventually become a stumbling block for your tub water. As a result, the water will start draining slowly leading to a clog.

Sometimes it’s easy to remove the hair when it starts piling up, but if the hair is not removed straight away, it becomes an issue, and that’s when your bathtub drain becomes completely clogged.

Soap Residue/Scum Build-Up

Soap residue or scum is another leading cause for clogged bathtub drains. You might be mistaken to think that soap automatically dissolves in water and gets washed off. As you take a bath, the soap will leave scum that piles up in the drain walls, solidifies and eventually ends up clogging your bathtub drain.

The scum is deposited bits by bits on the walls of your drains, and along the way, it will trap other items such as dead skin coming from your body and hairs.

If the problem is taken care of at the start, your bathtub might not clog. However, if this soap scum goes unnoticed for a long period, it will pile and cause a severe clog.

Foreign Objects

Ideally, the only thing that should be going down the drains of your bathtub is water. However, as you take your bath, you might leave toiletries in your bathroom and find that the bathtub is full of foreign objects such as toothpaste caps, shampoo caps, children’s toys and many other small objects that can become a disaster in your bathtub drains.

Whether you are doing it internationally or not, the foreign items in your tub can easily cause a clog if they get stuck along the walls of the drains. Some of the foreign objects absorb water and enlarge and end up clogging the drains. It’s important to clean up after a bath and to avoid throwing items that can easily go down your bathtub’s drain and eventually clog it.

Hard Water

If you are using hard water in your home especially in your bathrooms, it’s possible that it’s causing your bathtub to clog. This can actually become a chronic problem if you have no access to fresh or filtered water.

Hard water tends to form sediments due to its mineral content. It will deposit the mineral sediments along the walls of your bathtub’s drainpipe, and if left uncleaned for a significant period, the mineral residue will eventually clog. The sediments will also slow down the flow of water, and in the process, they will trap and catch any other debris that could be passing through the drain and cause a clog. The problem becomes even worse when soap scum and hair attaches itself to hard water and mixes up with the mineral sediments.

If you have no means of having a fresh water supply for use in your home, you can invest in a water softening agent to solve this problem. Otherwise, if you keep using hard water, you are likely to keep on experiencing clogged bathtubs more often.

Broken Pipes

Another cause for a clogged bathtub drains is broken pipes. Water pipes can break due to a variety of reasons such as normal wear and tear, or extended plant roots near your home. Whichever the case, if your pipe is broken or has cracks, it becomes less efficient, and it’s more likely to cause a blockage.

A broken pipe can be hard to notice, and it might take you some time to realize that the clogged tub is a result of a broken pipe. However, if your drains seem clear of residues and foreign object, a damaged pipe could be the culprit, and it’s advisable to call a plumber to diagnose the problem.

Slow Water Flow

Slow water flow in your taps could be the reason why your bathtub and other drains are clogged. Low water pressure could mean that there is a build-up of sediments in the pipes. Therefore, the water flowing down your bathtub could be carrying dissolved minerals which are then deposited in your bathtub.

These minerals will pile up with time and eventually lead to a clog in your bathtub. Frequent cleaning can help prevent accumulation of these minerals, but if the problem persists, it would be best to call in a professional to help diagnose the cause of the mineral build up in your pipes.

Storms and Heavy Rains

If you have experienced heavy rains and storms that led to floods, it’s possible to experience clogs not just in your bathtub but even in other drains in other parts of your home. Generally, drains are not designed to accommodate this kind of weather, and so, water build-up is likely to happen due to the impact of heavy rains. If there is an excessive flow of water in the pipes and gutters, there will be a blockage that can make your drains to block including your bathtub drains.

A Clogged Sewer Line

Sometimes your bathtub could get clogged due to a clogged sewer line in your bathroom. Since the bathtub drain, sink drain and the toilet drain all drain to the same main sewer drain line, you are likely to experience clogs in your bathtub or toilet if there is a problem with the sewer line.

The best way to know that your sewer line is clogged or not draining water properly is when you flush the toilet, and instead of flushing, the water seems to come up in your tub. You will notice that the water goes down after some minutes. If the main drain pipe is partially blocked, your toilet cannot drain all its water as fast as it should and so, some of the water will divert and come up through your bathtub’s drain.

If this happens, just know that the main sewer line is clogged and within no time your bathtub drains will also clog. If the main sewer line is blocked, plunging won’t even help with the problem. This is because possible causes for a sewer line clog include things like roots, hard objects that have been flushed down the toilet or sometimes a huge accumulation of grease and scum. These are items that do not move easily, and the sewer line will require more than a plunge to solve the problem.

Poor Pipe Installation

If your drain pipes were poorly installed either by an unqualified person or through a DIY renovation project, they could lead to serious problems in your home. If badly installed, the drain pipes can get fractured, or they will not allow the right flow of water.

If you have incorrect water flow in your pipes or fractures, you start experiencing frequent clogs in your bathtub drains and other drains including sinks and toilets. If you are doing a renovation, it’s always recommended that you hire a licensed plumber to install your piping and drain system. This way, all the pipes will be installed properly and will allow the right flow of water hence no blockages due to the pipes.

Cost of Unclogging a Bathtub

A clogged bathtub is not an ideal situation to find yourself in and yet it a common scenario in most homes. If your bathtub is clogged, it’s essential to take immediate action to unclog it to avoid the health hazards posed by standing water.

Unclogging basic bathtub clogs can be an easy and quick process, and most home homeowners can do it in a span of ten to 15 minutes. In fact, it is better to attempt unclogging a bathtub through DIY methods before you decide to call in a plumber. If you suspect that the clogging issue is complicated and beyond your capability, you should consider calling a plumber.

However, most bathtub clogs are usually easy to fix. If you choose to call a plumber they will charge mostly for labor using a set minimal charge and a call out fee. The cost of hiring a plumber to unclog a basic bathtub clog comes to about $100 to $200. As mentioned, most bathroom clogs are simple and require a straightforward process which you can do on your own.

How to Unclog a Bathtub DIY and The Associated Costs

Several methods can be used to unclog your bathtub. Most of the products and materials needed for this task can be found in your home, and others can be purchased in home improvement stores

Here are some of the methods that you can try on your own to unclog a bathtub.

Unclog Using a Drain Stick

Materials neededDescription Cost
Screwdriver Stanley 68-012M
A 6-way screw diver
Cost for one pack
$5.44
Drain stickCobra products –drain cleaning tool. price for one pack$7.53

The most common cause of bathtub clog is an accumulation of hair and soap scum deposited on the walls of the bathtub drains. To remove them, you need to remove the strainer first. Some strainers can be removed manually while others have screws and you need a screwdriver to remove them. Using a right screwdriver that fits in the screws used on the strainer, loosen the screws and then remove them.

It’s also essential to note that some drainers may not have strainers, but are installed with a stopper usually located in the bathtub’s drain. If this the case, simply remove the stopper by twisting it a bit and then lift it up. Once you have removed the stopper or the strainer, clean and scrub it to remove scum, grease, and dirt that may have accumulated around it. This includes soap scum and strands of hair.

After opening up the drain, insert the drain stick deep down the bathtub’s drain. The drain stick is usually curved, and flexible and it will bend as you push it down the drain. It also has a lot of interlocking hooks that capture soap scum, hair and any other dirt stuck inside the drain. Pull out the stick and repeat the process several times till the stick comes out clean.

Once you are certain that the drain is clear, test the bathtub by filling it with water. If water flows smoothly, the tub is now unclogged. If it’s still clogged, consider trying another method.

Unclog Using a Plunger

You can unclog your bathtub using a plunger. Plungers are relatively cheaper, and you will spend an average of $20 to purchase one. Here are the costs of different plungers on Amazon.

Type of plungerDescriptionCost
Oxo Good Grips hideaway
Toilet plunger together with a canister$22.95
Korky 99-4A Beehive Max universal plungerUniversal meaning it fits in any drain$13.98
Supply Guru SG1976 heavy duty plungerHas a force cup rubber and designed with a long wooden handle$7.95

Start by removing the strainer. Just like elaborated above if the strainer has screws, use a screwdriver to remove it and if it has a stopper twist and lift it. Clean and scrub the strainer or stopper to remove any dirt attached to it.

Fill the bathtub with some water enough to allow you to submerge the plunger. The water is the one that gives the plunger the force to suction. Place the cup plunger carefully over the drain and make sure it covers the entire drain area. Push the plunger down with forceful strokes and then pull it up. Repeat the process for about six to ten plunges. You will keep seeing scum and dirt coming up to the surface as you plunge.

Once you are confident that most of the clog has been suctioned out, you can test the tub by filling it with water to see if it flows smoothly. If water flows down the drain without getting clogged, the exercise was a success. You can now replace the strainer or stopper. If the tub is still clogged, consider using another method.

Unclog Using Chemical Drain Cleaners

Another effective method of unclogging is by use of chemical drain cleaners especially if you have a severe blockage. The chemicals dissolve the scum, hair and any other dirt stuck in the drain walls. They are available in home improvement stores.

However, you should the use of chemical cleaners is often not encouraged unless all the other methods have not yielded much. This is because they produce fumes which can burn your skin if they come in contact with it. Some of the chemical drain cleaners are acid based, and they can easily corrode your pipes and ultimately destroy them.

If you opt to use chemical drain cleaners to unclog your bathtub, make sure you buy one that is designed for the kind of pipes and drains system you have in your bathtub. The products have labels at the back specifying the kind of system is suitable for. Additionally, buy a chemical drain cleaner specified for bathtub clogs. If you are not sure which one to buy, consult at the store and you will be shown the right one to buy.

Follow the instructions on the label on how to use the chemical drain product. The products may differ slightly in usage, and so you should make sure you follow the instructions on the label carefully. Always wear protective gear while using these chemicals. If unsure about its usage you can always consult a professional.

Chemical drain productsDescriptionCost
Drano liquid clog remover32oz$9.04
Green gobbler dissolve liquidRemoves hair and grease-
32oz
$11.98

Once you have followed the instructions and applied the chemical drain to unclog your bathtub, you can test the bathtub to see if it’s clear by running cold water. If the water disappears down the drain immediately, then it’s now free of clogs. If the chemical drain cleaner does not clear the clogs, you should call a professional. Do not attempt to use a different chemical drain cleaner if the one you had used failed to work. Mixing different chemicals in your drain can be dangerous, so instead just call for professional help.

Unclog Using Baking Soda and White Vinegar

This is another simple method that is effective and only requires simple products that could be available in your kitchen. For this method, you only need hot water, baking soda, and white vinegar. Vinegar and baking soda have a chemical reaction that dissolves the clog in your bathtub. However, this method works best for scum, grease, and organic clogs. It’s not ideal for hard objects clogging the tub such as shampoo caps or small toy parts.

You can purchase baking soda for about $1 a sachet from the food stores. Similarly, you can buy vinegar at an average cost of $5 to $130 depending on quantity and brand.

To use this method, remove the strainer or stopper. Clean and scrub it to remove the accumulated scum, hair, and dirt. Boil water using a kettle or a large pot and pour it on the drain. Sometimes the hot water can unclog a basic clog instantly. After pouring the hot water, you can run cold water on the tub to see if it has unclogged.

If the tub is still clogged, pour ¼ cup of baking soda in the drain and one cup of white vinegar. Allow the mixture to stay for about 15 to 20 minutes. In the meantime, boil water in a kettle or a large pot. Once the 15 or 20 minutes have elapsed, pour the water into the mixture. The vinegar and baking soda will react with water and dissolve the organic matter and scum in the drains. Afterward, test the tub by running cold water to see if it has unclogged. This method normally works for basic clogs and not the severe ones.

When You Should You Consider Calling a Plumber

Usually, bathtub clogs are easy to unclog using the methods described above. Before you decide to call a plumber, you can look around the tub by removing the strainer to see if the cause of the clog is organic matter such as hair or soap scum. Normally, most of the causes leading to bathtub clogs are minor, and they can be removed by using a plunger.

However, if the DIY remedies seem not to be working, and the blockage goes on to affect other plumbing fixtures such as sinks and toilets, you probably have a major clog in your main sewer line. As mentioned at the beginning of this guide, a clogged sewer line is a big issue that cannot be resolved by plunging. It can actually cause severe flooding if you continue using plumbing fixtures in your home and running water in them.

Therefore, if you establish that the problem of the clog is beyond the soap scum and hair, you should discontinue using your water supply in your home and call in a professional plumber immediately to address the issue.

Cost of handling mainline blockages will be added on top the minimum charge fee charged by plumbers. The plumber can clear the clogs through the drain vent on the roof, or, clear it from outside or pull a toilet. If the plumber unclogs the mainline from outside, you will be charged about $185 on top of the service charge. If they unclog the mainline through a drain vent, expect to spend about $273 for a one-story roof. If they clear the main line by pulling the toilet you will spend an average of $400.

Sometimes the blockage might be as a result of corroded pipes. If the drain pipes have corroded from the inside, the space for passing water will become too narrow limiting the amount of water passing through. If this happens to be the case with your pipes, a plumber will have to replace the pipes. Expect to spend an average cost of about $250 on replacement of pipes. If the whole home’s piping is corroded, you will spend about $740 to replace all the damaged pipes in your entire house.

Cost to hire a contractorAverage cost
Basic bathtub clogs$100-$200
To clear clogs in the main sewer line from outside$285-$385
To clear clogs in the main sewer line from drain vent$350-$450
To clear clogs from the main sewer line by pulling the toilet$500-$600
To replace a corroded drain pipe$250
To replace drain pipes for the entire house$740

Factors That May Influence the Cost of Unclogging Your Bathtub

Some factors can affect the total cost of hiring a plumber to unclog your bathtub. They include:

The extent of blockage – basic clogs can be cleared in just a few minutes, and they require straightforward methods to get rid of the clogs. However, a severe blockage may take a lot of time before a plumber does away with the clogs. The plumber has to work through the drain pipes to get to the source of the clog which can be time-consuming. Expect the cost to be higher if the blockage is severe.

The cause of clog – as mentioned, most bathroom clogs are a result of an accumulation of hair and soap scum which a are relatively easy to clean.

However, if the clogs are caused by other factors such as corroded or fractured pipes that have to be replaced, the cost will be higher.

Plumber’s fee – the higher percentage of the cost of unclogging your bathtub goes to labor charges. Since most plumbers charge per hour, the rate will affect the overall cost. The higher the hourly rate, the more you likely to spend on labor fee.

Ways to Prevent Future Bathtub Clogs

Overall, the best way to avoid chronic clogging of your bathtub is to understand the common causes of the clogs and preventing them. Standing water in your bathtub can be the cause of many problems especially if left for hours or even days. Here some of the dangers of having a clogged bathtub with standing water:

Standing water acts as a breeding site for most insects such as flies and mosquitoes. These insects can become a problem and spread disease in your home. If allowed to breed in your home you risk contracting diseases and generally having unsanitary conditions in your home.

Standing water, if left for a long time can actually lead to the growth of mold and mildew which becomes a breathing hazard for you and your family members.

Install a drain cover

Based on the health hazards described above, it is best to prevent your bathroom from clogging in future. Since a majority of bathtub clogs are a result of an accumulation of hair, you can stop this by installing drain covers over the drains. The cover will block the hair and prevent it from clogging the drains.

The drain covers are affordable, for example, the OXO good grip silicone drain cover goes for about $8.99. They are a practical solution that will prevent you from spending a lot of money on plumbers to unclog your tub. They will reduce the frequency of bathtub clogs which saves you time and spares you from the inconveniences of a blocked tub.

In addition, a drain cover will also prevent other objects from going down the drains which can result in severe and costly clogs. When buying a drain cover, consider getting one that has mesh screen. It is effective in preventing excess hair and debris from getting stuck in the existing clogs.

Flush Regularly With Chemical Drain Cleaner

This is another effective option for keeping your drain clear from clogs. Drain cleaners should be included in the maintenance routine for drains. When used regularly, chemical drain cleaners break down hair, soap scum and grease build up which normally slow down water flow in the bathtub’s drain.

However, chemical drain cleaners can corrode your pipes with continual use due to the harsh chemical content. If possible, you can purchase non-corrosive drain cleaners available in the market to reduce the risk of having your pipes damaged due to corrosion. Also, to kill germs in the process, you can purchase a drain that is not only non-corrosive but bacteriological. This way you will not only get rid of sludge but also reduce chances of contaminating diseases.

Flush Your Bathtub Drains with Baking Soda and Vinegar Regularly

This is actually one the most cost-effective ways to maintain your bathtubs, prevent frequent clogs and to keep them clean always. Make it routine to flush your tub using baking soda, vinegar, and hot water. This combination reacts to dissolve any accumulated sludge in your drains. If done regularly, you will prevent accumulation of scum, hair, and grease from your drain pipes.

Avoid Using Things That May Clog Your Bathtub

This calls for proper practices not only in your tubs but other plumbing fixtures such as toilets and bathrooms. Avoid using substances that can corrode and damage your pipes. In addition, do not throw foreign objects that can easily clog your drain pipes especially shampoo caps and small parts of children’s toys. Also, do not pour water laden with dirt, dust and even pets hair. This can lead to clogs in your bathtub and also create unsanitary conditions.

Conclusion

A clogged bathtub can be a minor inconvenience or sometimes a sigh of bigger damage that should be addressed immediately. In most cases, however, bathtubs clogs are as a result of an accumulation of soap scum, hair, and grease. If you notice your bathtub is not draining water as fast as it should, you need to take action and unclog it to avoid having standing water which can be a source of many problems in your home.

Bathtub clogs are mostly minor and they can be eliminated by relatively easy DIY methods. Most of the tools needed for the job are available in home improvement stores at affordable costs. You can choose to use a plunger or a drain stick, or if the clog is a bit a severe, chemical drain cleaners can do the job. A combination of vinegar, baking soda, and hot water can also do the trick, and it’s a cost-effective method of unclogging minor clogs.

If you clogs seem to persist despite your attempts on DIY methods, you can contact a plumber to address the situation. This can be the case where the clogging issue is due to corroded or damaged pipes. Make sure you work with a qualified and experienced plumber. After you successfully unclog your bathtub, employ preventive measure to avoid future clogs.

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