How To Snake A Bathtub Drain? (4 Step Guide)

Licensed Inspector Arie Van Tuijl
Licensed Inspector Arie Van Tuijl

🕖Last Updated On May 10, 2022

A clogged bathtub drain can turn your bathroom into a damp mess, introduce excessive moisture, and ruin your shower time.  

Some clogs are too large or too deep for a plunger to remove, making a quality snake or auger the best tool you can use to return your bathtub to working order.

The DIY handheld snakes available to homeowners operate in a similar way to the tools a professional plumber would use for the same job except that it is hand-powered.

how to unclog a bathtub drain with a snake

Unclogging and cleaning your bathtub drain is easier than you think, and after reading this article you will be ready to tackle the job on your own.

In this Home Inspector Secrets guide, I will go over…

  • What type of drain snake you will need to unclog your tub.
  • How to access the tub drain for the auger
  • The proper and safe use of drain snakes
  • Removal of blockages and buildup
  • How to put everything back together and avoid damaging your tub

Keep reading to learn the 4 steps of unclogging a bathtub drain with a snake.

What You Need To Know About Clearing Bathtub Clogs With A Snake?

A clog in a bathtub drain is usually made up of hair and soap scum but there may also be mineral deposits from hard water or debris such as dirt, sand and even skin.  

Before purchasing a handheld drain auger, it may be worth your time to try a chemical drain opener, which can be poured directly into the drain without disassembling any parts of the bathtub. A simple plunger may also be able to clear the clog without all of the work of using a drain snake.

Access Is Through Overflow Drain

A bathtub drain is often tied into a stopper system that leads up to an overflow drain directly below the faucet.  

While this overflow drain is meant to prevent a tub left running from overflowing, it is actually the easiest way to access the tub drain that goes from your bathtub to the main sewer line of your bathroom.

Safety Considerations

Once you have removed your overflow cover and removed any stopper mechanism, it's a good time to check the pipe located behind the overflow cover.  This vertical pipe can sometimes become loosened over time or during the disassembly process and could cause leaks if not addressed.  If you are able to easily move the pipe in any direction, its a good idea to call in a plumber and get some expert advice.

This can be a very messy process given that you're often cleaning out months or maybe even years worth of hair, soap scum and other blockages, so a good pair of rubber gloves will keep your hands clean while working.  The metal drain snake cable can also damage some tub finishes but you can prevent this by placing down a towel or drop cloth over the clogged drain.  

Try A Hair Removing Tool First

Hair removing tools can be used to clear clogs from 1 to 2 feet of drain.  These flexible plastic rods are equipped with teeth on either side which will hook and pull the hair from your tub drain and only need to be inserted and removed to operate.

The more stubborn and deep down clogs will require a 1/4 inch drain snake however. 

Read Also: How To Unclog A Slow Draining Toilet?

Supplies You'll Need For Unclogging Tubs With Handheld Augers?

  • Latex gloves or rubber gloves - To keep your hands clean while handling the material clogging the drain
  • A drop cloth or towels - to protect the tub's finish from the metallic cable used in the drain snake
  • 1/4" drum drain snake - A long metallic cable, coiled inside a drum and mounted on a handle to allow the drum to rotate.  The cable ends in a corkscrew which allows you to rotate it into and get through stubborn clogs.
  • Paper towels - To clean up material clogging your drain and to clean up your tools
  • A Philips or flathead screwdriver - Depending on your drain cover and tub stopper you will have to remove 1 or 2 screws to remove the overflow drain cover.

How To Unclog Bathtubs With Snakes? (4 Steps)

  1. Remove the Overflow Drain Cover
  2. Insert the Drain Snake Cable Into the Drain
  3. Rotate the Snake Cable To Remove the Clog
  4. Check the Drain and Reassemble

Step 1: Remove the Overflow Drain Cover

The first  step is to remove the overflow drain cover from your bathtub.  This cover will be located between the faucet and the drain in the bottom of your tub.  It is usually a 2-3 inch silver disc with an opening at the top or bottom to allow water to enter.  

This will be removed with either a Philips or Flathead screw in the center of the disk, or two small screws on the front of the cover.

If your overflow drain has a switch or other mechanism on the front that allows you to raise or drop the stopper in the drain you will need to carefully remove the entire mechanism by lifting up and gently rocking or rotating the cover until it is free.  

Avoid using excess force as some of the connections within this sort of plug system can be bent and make it difficult to reassemble.  Pull the entire mechanism out of the tub and set aside.  

Read Also >> What Are The Top Acrylic Alcove Bathtubs?

how to unclog a bathtub drain with a snake (1)

Step 2: Insert the Drain Snake Cable Into the Drain

Begin by releasing the cable locking mechanism on the front of your drain snake.  It is most likely a hand turned wing nut which will allow you to pull additional cable from the drum of the auger or return the cable to the drum.  

Remove 6 to 8 inches of cable and tighten the wingnut again.  Slowly feed the cable into the overflow drain while rotating the drum clockwise.  Avoid moving too fast as it could cause the cable to bend and twist within the pipe making it very difficult to remove.  

Repeat The Process of Locking Wingnut

Loosen the wingnut and remove another 6 to 8 inches of cable, tighten the wingnut, and repeat the process of feeding the cable into the drain while turning the drum clockwise.

Once the drain snake cable resist being fed into the pipe you have most likely reached the clog.

At this point, rotate the handle in a clockwise motion two times and attempt to push it in further once more.  If the cable will not move then you have most likely reached the clog.  

Read Also >> What Does It Mean When Your Toilet Bubbles & Burps?

Step 3: Rotate the Snake Cable To Remove the Clog

Now that you have located the clog, tighten the wingnut on the drum of the drain snake to make the cable stop moving in or out of the drum.  

Turn the drum clockwise several times and attempt to feel when the drain snake cable has broken through the clog to the other side.  As you turn the drain snake it will feel like the tension is increasing and once you've broken through the clog the tension will suddenly and drastically release.  

Slowly pull back on the drain snake  and remove the cable the same way it was introduced, by loosening and tightening the wingnut of the auger while feeding the cable back into the drum.  This should pull the blockage out of the drain with the cable.  

Be careful when removing the last few inches of the drain snake cable as it may be under tension and can spin quite fast when completely clear of the drain.  To reduce this tension, you may turn the drum counter clockwise once it is nearly out of the drain.

Step 4: Check the Drain and Reassemble 

After you've removed all of the clog and pulled out the snake cable, turn the hot water on and see if your clog has been resolved.  If it hasn't, you may repeat the process again to get any additional materials out of the tub drain.

Let the hot water run for 1 or 2 minutes.  This will not only to ensure that the clog is truly gone but also will help break up any residue or blockage that was built up during the time that the clog sat in the drain.

Once satisfied reattach your drain cover, clean your tools to avoid rust and odor and the job is done.  

Read Also >> What Are The Highest Rated Freestanding Bathtubs?

Final Thoughts On Using Snakes To Remove Tub Clogs?

Most tub drains are connected to the main sewer line of your bathroom which is within 5 to 7 feet of your drain.  If you find yourself putting more than 8 ft. of drain snake cable into your drain and you still not reached your clog it is possible that the auger has went in the wrong direction once introduced to the pipes of the bathroom, or has folded on itself within the drain. 

A drain snake is a very useful tool for the homeowner to have on hand, and with the knowledge you've gained in this article it should be no problem to clear out stubborn clogs.  A bathtub drain can be "snaked" on a regular basis to maintain a clear drain instead of waiting for a clog to appear before taking action.  

Meet Your Home Inspector Secrets Author

Leave a Comment

Learn More Expert Home Maintenance Tips

Home maintenance shouldn’t be that difficult. Check out these helpful guides to make home maintenance more understandable!

Got Home Maintenance Questions? Search For In-Depth Answers Below!

About Home Inspector Secrets

Home Inspector Secrets is an online resource for owners, buyers, and sellers to understand all aspects of home maintenance. We have detailed home guides, product reviews, inspection advice, and much more.

Recently Published Guides