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How to Unclog a Shower Drain

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Before You Unclog the Shower Drain
Sudsy water surrounds a person’s bare feet

You may have to try more than one method to for unclogging a shower drain. The blockage could be caused by a build-up of hair, grease and soap. Other possible causes are a build-up of dirt or minerals from your water or tree roots growing through tiny cracks in your underground pipes. 

To access your drain, you may need to remove the drain cover. Some covers can be unscrewed with a screwdriver. Others may need to be pried off. Pry carefully to avoid scratching the shower around the drain. 

Safety tip: Be safe and wear rubber gloves as you figure out how to unclog a shower drain using these methods. Some drain openers also require eye protection.

How to Clear a Shower Drain With Boiling Water
A silver kettle boils on a stove and its steam is visible against a brick wall

Sometimes you can clear a clog in metal pipes by simply emptying a kettle of boiling water down the drain, a little at a time. You can pour the water down the drain without removing the drain cover.

Do not pour boiling water down PVC pipes, which can be damaged by the heat. This simple fix may or may not work, but it's worth a try. After the boiling water goes down the drain, run some water in the shower to see if the clog has cleared.

Remove Hair or Debris
A person uses their fingers to pick hair off the cover of a clogged shower drain

If the drain is still clogged, the problem may be a soapy clump of tangled hair that you can pull out of the drain with your fingers. You can pull it out even if water is standing in the shower, as long as the water is not too hot to touch.

If the clog is too far down to reach with your fingers, unscrew or pry up the drain cover. Then straighten out a wire coat hanger and make a small hook at the end. Put it into the drain and fish out any debris. Use a flashlight, if needed, to help you see into the drain. 

Once you've gotten out as much debris as you can, carefully pour another kettle full of boiling water down the drain, a little at a time. Again, do not use boiling water if you have PVC pipes. 

Replace the drain cover and run the water in the shower to see if the clog has been cleared. 

How to Unclog a Shower Drain with Vinegar and Baking Soda
A container of baking soda sits next to a blue bucket, a green spray bottle and a bottle of vinegar

If boiling water and removing the hair do not work, you may still have to figure out how to unclog a shower drain. To make a DIY cleaning solution, mix 1/3 cup of baking soda with 1/3 cup of vinegar in a heat-resistant cup. 

Remove the drain cover and pour in the solution, which will immediately start fizzing. Let it sit for at least one hour so the vinegar and baking soda can work. When the hour is up, run hot water down the drain to flush out the cleaning solution and any debris. 

How to Unclog a Shower Drain With a Plunger
A person kneels down as they use a plunger to unclog a shower drain

A plunger can also clear shower drain clogs. Remove the drain cover and put the rubber cup of the plunger over the drain opening. Apply some petroleum jelly to the edge of the cup if you have trouble getting a good seal. Then run enough water in the shower stall to cover the lip of the cup. Move the plunger handle up and down rapidly to force out the clog. Run water in the shower to be sure the clog is gone before you replace the drain cover.

How to Unclog a Shower Drain with A Plumber’s Snake
A person wearing knee pads kneels in a shower as they use a plumber’s snake to unclog a shower drain

Sometimes the best way to unclog a shower drain is with a plumber's snake, sometimes called a manual auger or electric auger. If it's electric, you'll need a power drill to run the plumber's snake. If it's manual, you'll have to turn the handle by hand to operate it.

Insert the snake into the drain until it hits the clog. Turn the handle clockwise to hook the clog and continue running the snake down the drain. When you start to feel resistance, that means the snake is picking up clogs. When the resistance lessens, that often means the snake has cleared the drain. Give the handle one more full turn to ensure the clog is hooked. Then turn the handle counterclockwise to back the snake out of the drain. Go slowly, so you don't lose the clog. 

When the snake is completely out, remove the debris. Run hot water down the drain to test that the clog is completely gone and replace the drain cover.

How to Unclog a Shower Drain With a Chemical Drain Opener
A person wearing a yellow rubber glove pours chemical drain cleaner into a clogged shower drain

If you're wondering how to dissolve hair in a shower drain, you may want to try a chemical drain opener. Be safe and wear rubber gloves and eye protection if you use a chemical product for unclogging a shower drain. Read and follow the directions on the label, and make sure you have good ventilation so you don't inhale any fumes. It's also important to note that chemical drain products contain powerful ingredients that may cause damage to your pipes.

While some DIY-ers try to unclog a shower drain with bleach, some professional plumbers do not recommend it. While bleach cleans and sanitizes, it's not always effective on shower clogs.

If chemicals labeled for use on shower clogs don't work, and you call a plumber, be sure to tell them what you’ve put into the drain already, so they can work safely.

Tips for Preventing Shower Clogs
The clean floor of a shower surrounds a clear drain

To keep from unclogging a shower drain in the future, try one or more of these ideas.

  • Put a drain screen or tub strainer over the shower drain to catch loose hairs. Empty it regularly.
  • Brush your hair before you get in the shower.
  • Pour a kettle of boiling water down your metal pipes, a little at a time, about once a week. This will help dislodge materials like grease, soap and debris before they form a clog.
  • Mix 1/3 cup of vinegar and 1/3 cup of baking soda in a heat-resistant cup and pour it down the drain once a month.
  • Don't pour dirty mop water or other wastewater that contains dirt and debris down the shower drain. 

Unclogging a shower drain can be a DIY project. As you figure out how to unclog a shower drain, start by trying the easiest ways. First, if you have metal pipes, pour boiling water down the drain. Then remove hair from the drain. If that doesn't work, use a mixture of vinegar and baking soda. If the clog persists, use a plunger, plumber's snake or chemical drain opener.

If you need help unclogging a shower drain, The Home Depot offers plumbing services. Let our licensed, local plumbers fix it for you.