Welcome to the Take Charge of Your Home series from Direct Energy! Hiring a professional to perform household maintenance may offer convenience and peace of mind, but you can do many of these jobs yourself with no experience or special tools. And in the process, you’ll save money, learn about how your home works and gain a sense of accomplishment from a DIY task done well!
When clogs develop in shower drains, it’s usually due to a combination of hair, skin cells, grease and soap, all of which accumulate slowly. That’s what makes these clogs so frustrating — they creep up on us, and by the time we notice that the water is pooling, the clog has a weeks-long head start.
A clogged shower drain is a problem your local plumber can handle, but it’s also a job many homeowners can tackle themselves. If your shower is draining slowly, there are several simple strategies you can pursue before calling in the pros.
Before you attempt the methods described below, check the other shower, bathtub and sink drains in your home to ensure they’re still flowing smoothly. Slow flow across all your drains is a sign of potential problems in your main sewer line — and that’s not a job for amateurs.
Take The Plunge
They call it the “plumber’s helper”, but a plunger is just as helpful in the hands of the average homeowner. And when it comes to a slow or clogged shower drain, it should be the first thing you try.
There are just a few rules:
- Make sure you have a cup plunger — the kind with a half-sphere of rubber — rather than a flange plunger, which is for toilets only.
- Leave some standing water in the floor of the shower — just enough to cover the plunger cup.
- Smear a little petroleum jelly on the rim of the plunger cup to create a better seal.
- Plug up nearby drains to maximize pressure on the clog. Use stoppers or rags in sinks and cover overflow drains with duct tape.
Once you’ve made these preparations, create a good seal between the plunger and the drain, then plunge straight up and down with quick, short motions for at least 30 seconds. Repeat this process several times if you don’t clear the clog right away.
Boil and Bubble
If the plunger doesn’t get you anywhere, you may be able to melt your worries away with a pot of boiling water. But these methods are only safe if your shower has a metal drain pipe; PVC pipe fittings can come loose if you flush them with water that’s too hot.
Not sure what kind of drain pipe you have? Remove the drain cover — usually done by removing screws or gently prying it off with a screwdriver — and peer inside with a flashlight. If you can’t tell just by looking, use your screwdriver to tap the pipe from the inside to verify its material.
By slowly pouring a pot of boiling water into the drain, you may soften and loosen the likely source of the clog — a sludge of soap, hair and dirt. To make this method even more effective, squirt a generous amount of liquid dish soap into the drain first.
And if you want to couple this technique with a chemical reaction, start by sprinkling a cup of baking soda into the drain and following it with a cup of white vinegar. This is the same combination used to make model volcanoes erupt, so expect rapid foaming to begin immediately. Stuff the drain with a rag to keep it contained, and hopefully the foaming action will break apart the clog. Give the mixture at least an hour to do its work before flushing the drain with hot water.
Get Your Hands Dirty
Still no luck? It’s time to see if you can dislodge the clog manually. Remove the drain cover as described above and use a flashlight to get a good look. If you’re lucky, the clog will be clearly visible — just put on a rubber glove, reach in and pull it out.
If the clog is out of reach, you may be able to pull it out with a tool. A wire coat hanger bent into a long-handled hook can be an effective improvisational tool. Another ideal tool is a thin, flexible retriever wand with a tiny claw on the end. Mechanics use these to pick up dropped nuts and bolts, but they work wonders on an out-of-reach clog.
The next time you’re at the hardware store, you might also check the plumbing aisle for a drain cleaning tool that looks like a long, thin strip of spiked plastic with a handle on one end. These sell for just a buck or two and are perfect for clearing clumps of hair out of a drain pipe. Just feed the end into the drain as far as it will go and gently pull it back out. Remove the hair and repeat until the strip comes out clean.
Don’t Be Afraid of Snakes
If all these methods fail, you either have an extremely stubborn clog or it’s lodged far down the pipe. Your odds of needing a plumber are increasing, but this is where intrepid DIY types bring out the plumbing snake.
You can pick up a hand-crank plumbing snake at most hardware stores for around $20. A 25-foot model with a ¼ inch cable is about right for most shower drains.
With the drain cover removed, feed the cable into the drain until it stops, then start cranking the handle to work the snake through the pipe. You might feel resistance when the snake goes around a bend, but you can make it through with persistence. When the snake reaches the clog, it should either break it up or entangle it so you can pull it out. Carefully reel the snake back in when it’s been fully extended or you can’t go any farther.
A Last Resort
When you’ve tried plunging, flushing, reaching and snaking to no avail, it’s time to consider calling in the pros. Liquid drain cleaner is the final DIY method at your disposal, but it should be used with extreme caution.
These cleaners shouldn’t be your go-to method for several reasons:
- Liquid drain cleaners are pricey for a one-time-use solution
- They’re generally not environmentally friendly
- They can burn your skin and eyes if not used with care
- They can damage your pipes with repeated use, costing you more in the long run
If you choose to give chemical drain cleaners a try, do so carefully and sparingly.
An Ounce of Prevention
Whether it’s you or your plumber who saves the day, the smartest way to celebrate a cleared shower clog is to prevent the next clog from forming. There are several types of shower drain hair catchers designed to do just that; some will sit on top of your existing drain cover, while others are designed to drop right into the drain. Find one that fits your drain and never clear a clog again — at least not in your shower.
If you’re in need of professional clog clearing, shower upgrades or any other plumbing services, your local Benjamin Franklin Plumbing is ready to help.