Unclog a Bathtub Drain Using a Snake

Vintage brass faucet in bathtub
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How to Unclog a Bathtub Drain

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 power snake with a 1/4 inch cable is the preferred choice for clearing a bathtub drain. You can rent a quality top snake or mini power snake at a tool rental place. Often the rental fee will be considerably less than what it would cost 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.

Remove the Overflow Plate

Bathtub overflow plate
Aaron Stickley

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.

You will want to snake the tub from the overflow, not from the bottom drain where the tub water runs out of.

Snake the Bathtub Drain

Snaking the bathtub drain through overflow
Aaron Stickley

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. Slowly and firmly feed the cable into the drain.

Never snake from the drain; you run the risk of breaking the pipe because it is not meant for any snake to go down this direction. The bend in the drain is normally too sharp for the snake.

Tips on Snaking a Bathtub 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.
  • Keep the cable no more than a foot out of the overflow. The tighter you keep the cable the better so it will not kink up on you. The more you kink the cable the harder your job will be. If it begins to bind and wants to kink, pull it back and move forward more slowly. Sometimes a large hard clog will cause this type of tension. Pull the cable out every so often to make sure you don't have the clog on the snake already.
  • Sometimes, a small hook or bend in the snake will help the cable get through the trap. If you are finding it too difficult to feed the cable into the drain, you can try to put a slight bend in it. This can help the snake get through the bend in the drain.
  • 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 in the wall going up and this will verify it went the wrong way. To remedy this you can usually run the cable in reverse from the beginning and make it go the right way.