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How To Unclog a Shower Drain

Default Author Icon Written by This Old House Reviews Team Updated 05/31/2024

Taking a shower is supposed to be relaxing. But when you find yourself ankle-deep in a pool of hot water thanks to a clogged drain, it may not feel so tranquil.

Plumbers can unclog shower drains, but it’s quick and easy for many homeowners to do it themselves. Hair, soap scum, or even dirt could clog your shower drain. In these cases, you should be able to unclog the drain with a few simple tools or do-it-yourself (DIY) remedies. Our guide outlines how and why shower drain clogs happen, DIY unclogging methods, clog prevention, and when to call in professionals.

Understanding Shower Drain Clogs

There are a few reasons a shower drain might become clogged. Hair can build up in the plumbing system and trap soapy residue, creating clogs that back up water into the shower basin. Clogs can also occur due to buildup from hard water, soap scum, skin cells, and shampoo, and other hair and body products. Small objects—such as torn pieces from a shower loofah or bits of plastic—can also cause clogs if they become lodged in the pipes.

A clogged shower drain can be uncomfortable and annoying. Dirty water pooling around your feet can make your shower much less relaxing. If you notice dirt or bits of scum swirling around your ankles, you might be tempted to shorten your showers, forcing you to change your entire cleaning routine. 

There are issues with clogs beyond the apparent sanitation concerns. Shower drain clogs can also cause long-term damage to your plumbing system if left untreated. Clogs can grow and spread to other parts of your plumbing system, which may cause problems with water flow. In some extreme cases, a clog can cause burst pipes or leaks. Resolving these can be expensive, as you would likely need to hire a professional plumber

DIY Methods To Unclog Shower Drain

If you have a clog that you suspect is caused by hair or soap scum buildup, consider a DIY fix. There are several ways to unclog a shower drain, including whipping up a cleaning mixture with simple household ingredients. Here are a few of the most popular methods for unclogging a shower drain on your own:

Using Boiling Water

The easiest way to unclog a shower drain is by using boiling water. Do not try the water boiling method if you suspect your drain clog is due to small objects or something plastic. However, for hair, soap scum, or residue buildup, this method can be very effective. Follow these steps to try this DIY method:

  • Step 1: Boil a kettle of water.
  • Step 2: Remove the shower drain cover and stopper if desired. You don’t need to remove the drain cover for this method, but you can do so if you think it will give you easier access to the clog. Slowly pour the boiling water down the drain opening.
  • Step 3: Once you have emptied all the boiling water into the drain, wait a few seconds. Turn on the water in the shower and let it run for a few minutes to see if the clog has cleared.

Always exercise caution when using boiling water, especially around slippery surfaces.

Using Baking Soda and Vinegar

Another home remedy for clogged shower drains is the combination of baking soda and white vinegar. Here’s how to treat shower drain clogs with these simple ingredients:

  • Step 1: Boil a kettle of water. Slowly pour the boiling water down the clogged drain.
  • Step 2: Next, pour 1 cup of baking soda down the drain, followed by 1 cup of vinegar. Let the mixture sit for 15 minutes.
  • Step 3: Flush the mixture with more boiling water. Then, turn on the shower and let it run for a few minutes to see if the clog is gone.

The baking soda and vinegar combination causes a fizzing chemical reaction that appears to foam and bubble as it “melts” away tough grime and hair. Do not inhale this mixture, and wash your hands thoroughly after finishing.

Other Ways To Unclog Shower Drains

If DIY methods such as boiling water or baking soda and vinegar don’t work, you can try commercial drain cleaner, which you can purchase at any hardware store. Always follow the instructions on the label when employing a commercial drain cleaner. Wear rubber gloves to keep your hands safe from chemicals and keep the product away from children and pets.

You can also use a plumber’s snake, a type of drill that goes directly into your pipes to loosen tough clogs. A snake can also remove small items that cause clogs.

Professional Assistance for Unclogging Shower Drains

If none of the above methods are successful, or if you don’t feel comfortable unclogging the shower drain yourself, you can call a professional. Hiring a plumber has several benefits. You don’t have to worry about getting your hands dirty or being around chemicals. During their visit, a plumber can inspect your plumbing and ensure no other problems exist.

However, hiring a plumber can also be expensive. Depending on the shower clog’s extent and any other plumbing issues you might be experiencing, your bill could range from several hundred to several thousand dollars. Finding the right plumber is also important. Ask your family and friends if they have any reputable plumber recommendations. You can also check online reviews to find qualified plumbers in your area. Don’t hesitate to talk to several plumbers before hiring one, especially if you have a major plumbing issue or several clogs.

Prevention Measures To Avoid Shower Drain Clogs

There are steps to take to prevent clogs in your tub or shower drain. Regularly clean around your shower drain cover, removing dirt and any long hairs building up around it. You can also purchase special cover accessories that fit over your shower drain and are designed to collect hair and scummy buildup.

Perform routine maintenance on your plumbing system, keeping tools such as a screwdriver, plunger, drain cleaner, and pliers on hand. If you see a clog starting to form in your shower, take steps to remove it right away rather than waiting for it to cause problems with water drainage.

Our Conclusion

Shower drain clogs can be unpleasant and even unsanitary. They can cause problems with your plumbing system and make it uncomfortable to shower. However, there are ways to treat shower drain clogs at home without spending lots of money on fancy tools. You can use boiling water, a mixture of baking soda and vinegar, or a special tool called a plumber’s snake to treat and remove the clog. In some cases, a hanger might also help lift the clog.

If you aren’t comfortable handling the clog on your own, or if you suspect that the problem is bigger than you can handle, calling a professional plumber is your best option. A plumber can also ensure there’s no larger issue at play. They can also make quick work of the clog, so you don’t have to handle chemicals or deal with boiling water. Do some research to find a qualified plumber—you can read online reviews and ask family and friends for recommendations.

Regular care and maintenance also go a long way toward preventing shower drain clogs. Clean around your shower drain regularly, removing any long hairs or buildup of soap scum and residue. Keep common tools like a plunger on hand so you can act quickly in an emergency. An issue with your shower might be a pain to deal with, but you can remedy the problem with some swift action and a little bit of elbow grease.

FAQ About How To Unclog Shower Drains

What is the best thing to unclog a shower drain with?

The best thing to unclog a shower drain with is a plumber’s snake, a drill that allows you to hook and remove blockages. You can also unclog a shower drain with various DIY remedies, such as boiling water or a potent combination of baking soda and vinegar.

What are the best ways to unblock a shower drain?

The best ways to unblock a shower drain are ones that you feel comfortable with. Pouring boiling water down the drain is an effective way to eliminate clogs, as is the combination of baking soda and vinegar. If you don’t want to try a DIY method, you can purchase a commercial drain cleaner from the store or use a tool like a drain snake.

What will dissolve hair in the drain?

To dissolve hair in the drain, try a DIY remedy such as slowly pouring boiling water down the drain. You can also pour baking soda and vinegar down the drain, followed by boiling water, to cause a chemical reaction that can dissolve soap scum and hair clogs. If these methods aren’t successful, you can try manually removing the clog with a hanger or a plumber’s snake.

How do you dissolve shower drain gunk?

To dissolve shower drain gunk—which is often the result of soap scum, hair, and skin flakes—try pouring boiling water slowly down the drain. Boiling water often dissolves drain gunk by itself. You can also purchase a chemical drain cleaner or use a homemade drain cleaning mixture of baking soda and vinegar. If none of these tricks work, consider calling a professional plumber.

How do you unclog a shower drain with standing water?

If you need to unclog a shower drain with standing water, try remedies such as pouring boiling water down the drain or combining baking soda and vinegar. Depending on the clog severity, you can try using a plumber’s snake. If the clog is more severe, or if you don’t feel comfortable unclogging it on your own, call in the services of a professional plumber.

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