Unclog a Bathtub Drain Using a Snake

Vintage brass faucet in bathtub
Bill Oxford / Getty Images
Overview
  • Working Time: 45 mins
  • Total Time: 45 mins
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $25 to $40 (tool rental)

A clogged bathtub drain can be cleared in several ways. Most clogged bathtub drains can be cleared with a plunger or by removing and cleaning out the tub stopper. If after trying both of these your bathtub is still clogged, the next step is to use a snake to clear the drain.

A small power snake with a 1/4 inch cable is the preferred choice for clearing a bathtub drain. these tools operate like a power drill, with front-mounted canister that contains a coiled cable. You can rent a small power snake at a tool rental outlet or home improvement center. The rental fee is usually much less than what it costs to call a plumber.

If this is your first time using a power snake, be sure to ask for an explanation on how to use it. Each model can be a little different and you will want to be familiar with the proper use and safety features of your particular model. Taking a few minutes to learn how to use it can make the job considerably easier.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Motorized drain snake
  • Screwdriver
  • Work gloves

Materials

  • Drop cloth

Instructions

  1. Protect the Tub

    Cover the bottom of the tub with a thick drop cloth. The metal cable on the drain snake can easily scratch a porcelain, acrylic, or fiberglass surface.

  2. Remove the Overflow Plate

    To snake the bathtub drain you will first need to remove the overflow plate to the tub. Behind the overflow plate, you can access the tub drain through the overflow tube. If the drain uses a lever-operated stopper, you will also need to remove the linkage running to the stopper mechanism.

  3. Bathtub overflow plate
    Aaron Stickley
  4. Feed the Drain Snake

    Insert the end of the snake cable into the overflow opening. Holding the cable firmly with one hand, use the other hand to run the snake (make sure to wear work gloves). Slowly and firmly feed the cable into the drain. Insert the cable as far as you can and lock it down before activating the snake's motor.

    Caution

    Never attempt to snake through the drain opening in the bottom of the tub; you run the risk of breaking the pipe because the bend in the drain is normally too sharp for the snake.

    Snaking the bathtub drain through overflow
    Aaron Stickley
  5. Snake the Drain

    Activate the drain snake's motor, holding it firmly while continuing to feed the cable into the drain. Hold the machine up with your strongest hand and feed the cable with your other hand. For extra support, get close and rest your arm on your leg. A slow motor speed usually produces the best results.

    Keep the cable no more than a foot out of the overflow to prevent the cable from kinking. If the cable begins to bind and kink, pull it back then feed it forward again more slowly. Sometimes a large hard clog will cause this type of tension. Pull the cable out every so often to make sure you haven't already hooked the clog on the tip of the cable.

    Tip

    The tub drain usually ties in with the toilet mainline in less than 10 feet. If you ran more than 10 feet of cable into the pipe and did not clear the stoppage, it is possible that the cable went up the vent line and not down the drain after it hit the trap. You can sometimes hear the cable going up inside the wall. To remedy this you, extract the cable partway, then run the motor in reverse while feeding the cable forward again. This usually makes the cable feed the right way.

  6. Extract the Snake

    If you feel that you've penetrated the clog, you can run some water into the tub to see if it is flowing past the snake's cable. If so, you can carefully extract the cable from the drain by running the snake's motor in reverse as you slowly extract it.

    After removing the cable, run water into the tub for several minutes to flush debris through the drain.