How to Clean and Unclog a Shower Drain

Paige Bennett
Written by Paige Bennett
Updated August 3, 2022
A luxurious bathroom with a glass shower room
Photo: pics721 / Adobe Stock

How to clean a shower drain and get yourself out of a hairy situation 

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Clumps of hair, soap scum build-up, and the tiny toy pieces your child promised to keep out of the bathtub—all of these things can clog your shower drain, leaving water swirling around your ankles as you try to shower. Clogged shower drains happen from time to time, but you don’t want to let them fester. Follow this guide on how to clean a shower to make shower and bath time more relaxing.

Why Do Shower Drains Clog?

Shower drains, especially without drain covers, catch a lot of residue and hair over time. Soap scum, clumps of hair, oils from bath products, and other materials can accumulate and harden in the drain, making it hard for the water to flow away. Drains can also become clogged if you drop something down them, like the cap to your face-wash bottle.

How Much Does It Cost to Unclog a Shower Drain?

Hiring a pro to clean a shower drain costs about $225. You can try some DIY solutions, including using baking soda and vinegar or a plunger, for less than $25. But if your efforts don’t work, it’s time to call a local plumber or drain cleaner near you.

Signs of a Clogged Shower Drain

When you have a clogged drain, you’ll know it. You might be able to see an object or buildup in the drain, or the area around the drain might smell bad. Look for these signs: 

  • Water slowly rises around your feet during a shower

  • Water takes longer than usual to drain

  • Bad smells resembling sewage or rotten eggs are coming from the drain

5 Ways to Clean and Unclog a Shower Drain

 A hand in protective gloves cleaning the shower drain
Photo: kolotype / Adobe Stock

There are several ways to unclog a drain, from pulling out the clog with your hands or a drain snake to using household products to dissolve the residue. Here’s how to unclog a shower drain, but If nothing seems to work, call a plumber in case something more serious is happening with your pipes.

1. Manually Remove the Clog

You might be able to see and reach the clog without any special tools or products. It might make you feel squeamish, but you can put on a pair of cleaning gloves and reach into the drain to pull out whatever is causing the clog.

2. Use Home Remedies

There are a few homemade alternatives that can help clear the drain, and you most likely already have the supplies around your house. 

Baking Soda and Vinegar

You can clean every room with baking soda and vinegar, but did you know you can combine them into a powerful, fizzy solution for clogged drains? First, pour hot water down the drain (but not boiling water). Then sprinkle 1/2 to 1 cup of baking soda into the drain and follow it with 1/2 to 1 cup of distilled white vinegar.

Let the baking soda and vinegar react and fizz for 10 to 15 minutes. Rinse the drain out by pouring in more hot water.

Bleach

Bleach helps kill smelly mold or mildew in the drain. Dilute 1/2 cup of bleach into 2 cups of hot water. Then pour the diluted bleach down the drain, and allow it to sit for one hour. Rinse the drain with hot water.

Hot Water

Hot water works great with baking soda and vinegar or bleach to clear away clogs, but it can also work on its own for smaller clogs. Just be sure not to use boiling water if you have PVC pipes, or it could deform or melt the plastic piping.

3. Pour in Commercial Drain Cleaner

You can use a commercial drain cleaner to try to loosen and dissolve shower drain clogs, but you should be aware of the pros and cons of using a liquid drain cleaner. They can cause corrosion and wear and tear on your pipes in older homes. If you go this route, follow the instructions on the product label to clean the drain.

4. Try a Drain Snake

A drain snake is a flexible tool that can reach into the drain to capture and remove a clog. Power snakes can reach several feet deep, but you can get short, plastic versions that work on smaller clogs closer to the drain opening. 

Carefully push the snake into the drain. Rotate the snake around until you feel some resistance. Continue moving the snake around to capture the clog or break up the residue. When there is no more resistance, retract the snake.

Throw away any clogged material that comes up with the snake—you might find a ball of hair and soap residue—and clean the snake after using it.

5. Plunge It

A plunger in front of a shower drain
Photo: kirill / Adobe Stock

Plungers aren’t just for toilets. In fact, many of the small plungers you see at the store are best for unclogging sink and shower drains. Before you start plunging, ensure you have a clean plunger reserved for the shower drain.

Close or cover the shower drain, and fill the bathtub or shower basin with enough water to cover the base of the plunger. This allows the plunger to form a tight seal over the drain. Open or remove the cover on the drain. Quickly, before the water depletes, place the plunger over the drain.

Push down and pull up on the plunger a few times. Repeat this a few more times if the first attempt doesn’t work. If it’s still not working, try another method or call a plumber.

How to Prevent a Clogged Shower Drain

Now that you’ve cleared out the drain, you probably won’t have to pull out clumps of soap residue and hair for a long time. It’s not a very fun chore, but fortunately, there are ways to minimize the chance of a clog.

Use a Drain Cover

One easy and effective way to prevent clogs is to use a drain cover, which can catch any foreign bodies, like toy pieces or that last slippery little bit of a soap bar, before they go down the drain. There are even hair-catching drain covers to keep strands of hair from entering the drain, where they will comingle to become one massive, clogging clump.

Avoid Oily Bath Products

Oily soaps, hair masks, lotions, and body scrubs create a spa experience at home, but they can do a number on your drain. Other products with large exfoliating pieces—think oatmeal or beads—can also contribute to a clogged drain. Save these products for after your shower, switch to alternatives that are safer for your drain, or use a drain cover. Be sure to clean the drain after you shower with these products.

Clean the Drain Regularly

Even if the drain isn’t clogged, regular cleanings can help prevent buildup. About once per month, pour baking soda and vinegar or hot water into the drain to clear away any residue.

DIY vs. Hiring a Plumber

 A clean shower drain in a dark gray bathroom
Photo: Дина Сова / Adobe Stock

Hiring a plumber to unclog a drain costs around $225, although prices can range based on the type of clog. DIY solutions vary in cost:

  • Drain snake: Snakes range from $3 for a small snake to around $80 for a power snake that goes 25 feet or deeper.

  • Plunger: A regular plunger for a drain costs about $5 to $10.

  • Commercial drain cleaner: A jug of drain cleaner costs about $5 to $20, depending on the brand and size of the product.

  • Homemade drain cleaner: Baking soda and vinegar typically cost less than $10. You might pay more if you buy in bulk.

Cleaning a drain is easy to DIY, but homemade solutions don’t always get to the root of the cause. It’s important to call in a pro for help if you can’t unclog the drain yourself. There could be another issue with your plumbing, or you could risk damaging the pipes.

Additional Questions

What dissolves hair in a shower drain?

Baking soda and vinegar aren’t just great for making a volcano for your kid’s science project. You can also pour this dynamic duo down your shower drain to dissolve hair clogs. If that doesn’t do the trick, consider calling a pro. 

How often should you clean a shower drain?

Even if the shower drain doesn’t seem clogged or dirty, plan to clean it out once per month. You may also want to have a plumber thoroughly clean the drains in your home once every six months.

Why is my shower drain smelly?

Clogs can make the drain stink, but odors could be a sign of other problems, such as contaminated water. Unpleasant aromas can also come from bacteria in the pipes that feed off of debris, including hair strands or soap scum. If cleaning the drain doesn’t help neutralize off-putting smells, hire a plumber to take a look.

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