Project Guide

How to Unclog a Shower Drain

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How to Clear a Shower Drain with Boiling Water
Someone using their fingers to remove hair from a clogged shower drain.

Be safe and wear rubber gloves when removing clogs by any of these methods. Some methods also require eye protection.

You may have to try more than one method to fix a clogged shower drain, which could be caused by a build-up of hair, grease and soap; a build-up of dirt or minerals from your water; or tree roots growing through tiny cracks in your underground pipes. 

Note: If you see black gunk coming out of your drain, you may have a sewage blockage. Call a professional plumber for help, as this is a serious problem and can be a health issue. You’ll probably also need a professional if multiple drains and toilets in your home are draining slowly or backing up.

Sometimes you can clear a clog in metal pipes by simply pouring a kettle-full of boiling water down the drain, a little at a time. 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 is cleared.

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 bucket with a towel hung over the side, a bottle of vinegar, a glass and a container of baking soda and a spray bottle ready to use to unclog a shower drain.

If the boiling water and the hair in the drain removal methods do not work, mix 1/3 cup of baking soda with 1/3 cup of vinegar in a heat-resistant cup to make a DIY cleaning solution. 

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
Someone using 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
Someone using 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 manually turn the handle 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
Someone wearing rubber gloves and pouring a chemical drain opener into a shower drain to unclog it.

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 to unclog 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. 

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, tell him what you've already used so he can work safely.

Tips for Preventing Shower Clogs
A shower drain that is free of clogs and other obstructions.

To prevent future shower clogs, try one or more of these ideas.

  • Put a drain cover or strainer over the shower drain to catch loose hairs. Empty it regularly.
  • Brush your hair before you shampoo it in the shower.
  • Pour a kettle-full of boiling water down your metal pipes, a little at a time, about once a week. This will help dislodge grease, soap and debris before it forms 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 waste water that contains dirt and debris down the shower drain. 

Unclogging a shower drain can be a DIY project. Remember to start with the easiest  ways to unclog a shower drain. First, remove hair in the drain and then pour boiling water down 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.