How to Unclog a Bathtub Drain Using a Snake

Vintage brass faucet in bathtub
Bill Oxford / Getty Images
Overview
  • Working Time: 45 mins
  • Total Time: 30 mins - 2 hrs
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $25 to $40

A clogged bathtub drain can be a pain, but luckily many times it can be removed in just an afternoon. 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 methods 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 tool of choice for clearing a bathtub drain. These tools operate like a power drill, with a front-mounted canister that contains a coiled cable. If you don't already own one, you can rent a small power snake at a tool rental outlet or home improvement center—the cost to rent is usually much less than what it would cost you 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 when you go to rent. Each model can be a little different and you will want to be familiar with the proper use and safety features of your particular power snake.

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What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Motorized drain snake
  • Screwdriver
  • Work gloves

Materials

  • Drop cloth

Instructions

  1. Protect Your Tub

    Cover the bottom of the tub with a thick drop cloth before you begin any work. The metal cable on the drain snake can easily scratch porcelain, acrylic, or fiberglass surfaces and leave marks that will be hard to remove from the surface of your tub.

  2. Remove Overflow Plate

    To snake your 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 Snake

    Insert the end of the snake cable into the overflow opening. While wearing work gloves, hold the cable firmly with one hand, using the other hand to run the snake. Slowly and firmly feed the cable into the drain, inserting it as far as you can and locking it down before activating the snake's motor.

    Caution

    Never attempt to snake through the drain opening in the bottom of the tub—the bend in the drain is normally too sharp for the snake, and you could risk breaking or damaging the pipe.

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

    Activate the drain snake's motor, holding it firmly in place while continuing to feed the cable into the drain. Grasp the machine up with your strongest hand and feed the cable with your other. For extra support, kneel on the floor of the tub and rest your arm on your leg. Keep in mind, a slow motor speed usually produces the best results.

    Keep the cable no more than a foot out of the overflow to prevent kinking. If the cable begins to bend or 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

    Tub drains usually tie in with the toilet mainline in less than 10 feet. If you've run more than 10 feet of cable into the pipe and have not cleared the stoppage, it's possible that the cable went up the vent line and not down the drain after it hit the trap (you can sometimes even hear the cable going up inside the wall). To remedy this, extract the cable partway, then run the motor in reverse while feeding the cable forward again. This usually makes the cable feed in the right direction.

  6. Extract the Snake

    If you feel you've penetrated the clog, you can run some water into the tub to see if it flows freely down the drain and past the snake's cable. If so, 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 hot water into the tub for several minutes to flush any extra debris through the drain.