A blocked or clogged drain is a pain, but it doesn’t mean that you need to call a plumber. Most clogged drains can be easily cleared by using things that are around the house or just a few inexpensive tools.
Clearing Out a Blockage
The first step in unblocking a bathtub drain is to look at it and see if you can see what’s blocking it. In bathtubs, often a buildup of hair and scuzzy soap scum can actually close up a drain. If you can see hair in the bottom of the drain, you can often just reach in and pull the clog out. Since that’s not a lot of fun, you might want to try bending a wire coat hanger to hook onto the clog to pull it out. Alternatively, a pair of tweezers might work, or even a pair of needle nose pliers.
Using a Plunger.
If you can’t see the clog to pull it out, your next step is to try plunging the drain. A plumber’s helper–plunger to some of us–didn’t get its name without good reason, and it is one of the first tools a pro would use to clear a blocked drain. Put enough water in the bathtub or sink to cover the bottom of the plunger, block the overflow outlet with a rag, put the plunger over the drain, and push down and up five or six times. The pressure should clear any clog and open up the pipe. Lift up the plunger and the water should quickly drain away. If it doesn’t, try plunging again–you might have just moved the blockage down the pipe where it got stuck again.
Snaking a Drain
If a plunger won’t clear a blockage, a “snake”–a long flexible steel cable wound on a handle–is the next level of escalation. In a sink you just feed the snake down the drain, but on a bathtub you need to feed the snake down through the overflow plate opening. Start by feeding about 3 feet of the snake into the opening, turning it as you push it forward. You will feel some resistance as you work the snake through the trap under the drain, and the turning helps to move the head through the trap. The snake should either break up the clog by pushing its way through it, or your turning will hook the end of the snake onto the clog and you can pull it out.
Once the snake is through the trap, move the cable back and forth through the drainpipe while still turning it. You may actually feel the clog when the snake hits it. Try running some water down the drain while moving the snake in the drain. If the clog is gone, the drain will run free. You may have to repeat this process a couple of times to get the drain cleared out, since some clogs are more persistent than others.