A clogged or slow-draining shower can be a nuisance. It’s irritating enough to be standing in water that’s not draining, but there are even worse scenarios (like your whole drainage system backing up from the sewer pipes). Luckily, a clogged drain can be avoided if you make sure that harmful items don’t make their way down your drain and you take care to keep it cleaned out. Take heart: There are some fairly simple ways to clear a clog.
What causes a shower drain to clog?
Here are some of the most common causes of clogged shower drains. Some may surprise you:
Hair and dead skin cells
Most people understand that you naturally lose hundreds of strands of hair nearly every time you shower. You may not realize that you also lose millions of dead skin cells each time you bathe. Both hair and dead skin cells can end up sticking to the walls of your drainpipe and causing clogs and blockages of water flow. Such a clog will probably happen at one point or another.
Hard water contains mineral deposits such as magnesium and calcium that can be quite damaging to your shower drain. The solid materials in these elements can latch onto the drain walls and build up over time, eventually causing a clog. With the use of a water softener, you can convert hard water into soft water. Soft water is also better for your hair and will prevent your clothing from turning dull when going through the washer.
Soap scum buildup
The scum and buildup from your soap, shampoo and conditioner can contribute to a clogged shower drain. A significant amount of buildup can lead to your shower draining much slower than it should, and eventually water will begin to pool.
Trash and debris
Small items such as shampoo bottle caps and bobby pins commonly make their way down shower drains and can cause big problems. Always be diligent to not allow these items to fall into your drain while showering or cleaning your shower.
How to clear a clogged shower drain
First, gather your tools. Most shower clogs can be taken care of with a plunger, a mild drain chemical such as Liquid-Plumr, and a drain snake or hand-powered auger. (A plumber’s snake, or drain auger, is a tool that reaches down into pipes to remove clog-causing blockages. Snakes are the “middle ground” between common household plungers and the really big guns. If you’re dealing with a clog too stubborn for your plunger, then a snake is your best chance to clear it out yourself.) Now you’re ready to unclog the drain.
Unclog drain with baking soda and vinegar
These two natural ingredients form a chemical reaction together, foaming up and agitating the pipes to remove soap scum and debris from your plumbing system. The bubbling reaction from the baking soda and vinegar helps to loosen the drain clog, and the boiling water helps remove it from your pipes.
- Start by pouring a pot of boiling water down the drain.
- Next, pour in a cup of baking soda and a solution of 1 cup of water and 1 cup of vinegar.
- Cover with the drain plug and wait 5 to 10 minutes.
- Pour boiling water down the drain again.
Use a drain snake
- Insert the plumber’s snake. Wearing rubber gloves, run the cable on a small drain snake down into the drain opening until it meets resistance. Tighten the cable-clamp on the handle of the tool and rotate the handle slowly to spin the cable in the drain opening. The cable should begin to auger itself down farther into the drain. Do not force it too vigorously or the cable may double back on itself.
- Extend the cable. As the cable extends into the drain, loosen the handle to extend more cable into the drain opening. Retighten the cable and repeat the augering motion to force the cable farther into the drain line. Rarely will you need to go more than a few feet because most drain clogs will be located in the drain trap immediately below the drain opening. You may be able to feel when the cable encounters the clog; rotate the cable to penetrate the blockage and break it up.
- Test and try again. Run a small flow of water for a minute or so to see whether it runs past the snake cable. If the water quickly backs up again, try running the snake cable farther down the line. In most instances, the clog will be found fairly close to the drain opening or in the drain trap immediately below the drain, but occasionally it may be in the branch drain line running horizontally to the main drain stack.
- Extract the drain snake. When you feel the cable move past the clog, reverse the direction of the cable rotation and slowly extract the cable from the drain opening. You probably will see hair and debris entangled at the end of the cable as it emerges from the drain opening. Clean off this debris from the tip of the drain snake, then wipe down the drain snake with a rag to dry it and prevent rust.
- Flush the drain. Run water for a minute or two to test the drain before putting the shower grate back on. This will flush out any debris that was loosened but not extracted by the drain snake. Continue to run water for a few minutes to flush any remaining hair and debris.
Use a chemical drain cleaner
- Follow the safety precautions. Chemical drain cleaners are caustic and can cause harm to skin, eyes and mucous membranes. When using a drain cleaner, wear safety goggles, rubber gloves that extend beyond the wrist, and a face mask or respirator if applicable.
- Open the bottle while grasping the handle. Do not splash or squeeze.
- Pour the specified amount into the drain.
- Allow up to 30 minutes for the clog to clear.
- Flush with plenty of hot water.
Remove the drain cover and pull out the clog by hand (or with a wire coat hanger)
- Remove the cover with a screwdriver (and some lubricant spray if the screws are tight). Be sure to place the screws somewhere safe so they don’t fall down the drain. Use a flashlight to look down into the drain. Make sure there aren’t any large objects causing the clog.
- If the clogged drain is due to hair buildup, reach down inside and pull out the hair. Make sure to wear gloves while pulling all of the hair out; it will be slippery and slimy.
- If any hair is out of reach farther down inside the clogged shower drain, use a snake to pull it out.
- A wire hanger can be used as well. Untwist the wire hanger completely. Bend the straight end of the wire into a small hook with a pair of needle-nose pliers.
- Insert the snake into the clogged drain, using a flashlight to look down into the drain, and hook any hair or debris, then pull it out of the drain. Repeat the process until all of the hair and debris are removed.
How to prevent shower drain clogs
Install a shower drain cover
Hair is to blame for most clogged drains. Plumbing professionals recommend installing a mesh drain screen on each shower and tub drain.
Also called a hair catcher, this small device sits in your drain and catches stray hairs and debris before they can flow down into your plumbing system. You’ll need to empty it once or twice a month, but that’s a small price to pay for a clog-free shower drain.
(Pro tip: Brush your hair right before showering. Loose hairs will get caught in the brush and can be tossed in the trash instead of running down the pipes as you shampoo.)
Regularly clear your drain with hot water
Weekly flushing can help keep your shower drain from getting clogged. Boil a large pot of water and pour half of it down the drain. Wait about five minutes, then pour in the remainder. This simple plumbing maintenance task helps loosen any gunk that’s lurking in your drainpipes.
Try the vinegar and baking soda trick again
Every few months, repeat the “natural” process you read about above or whenever you notice slow drainage or odors. This helps get rid of lingering odors in the drain as well as clogs.
How long does it take to unclog a drain?
It will typically take an hour or less to clear your shower drain, but it can take longer if the clog exists past the drain trap of the pipe. Costs can include charges for drain cleaners and/or a powered auger if you don’t already have one.
Get a remote diagnosis with Anew
If a shower drain continues to be clogged, it might be symptomatic of a more serious issue (such as tree roots intruding into underground pipes), and you might want to hire a professional. Anew offers an easy, efficient and affordable repair service with remote diagnosis for only $20.
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