The Bathtub Won’t Drain? Do This to Fix It

So, your bathtub won’t drain? What a bummer! Not only is this issue frustrating, but it is also kind of disgusting. All that dirt and grime you just washed off is left to fester in the bottom of your tub. It’s a mess no one enjoys cleaning, but unless you have the cash to pay a plumber, you are going to have to get your hands dirty in order to fix the issue. 

Luckily, the fix for a bathtub that won’t drain is usually pretty simple. In most cases, it is a clog somewhere that is stopping the flow of water. Remove the clog and your tub will drain like magic. 

Unfortunately, clogs are not the only reason bathtubs fail to drain. There could be a more serious plumbing issue than a mere clog going on. In the information that follows, I’m going to discuss the causes of a bathtub that doesn’t drain and give you some pointers to fix the problem. By the end of this article, you should have a good idea of what is causing your issue and whether you can fix it yourself or need to call in a professional. Let’s do this!

3 Reasons Your Bathtub Won’t Drain Fully

Clogs are not the only thing that can cause a bathtub to not drain, you may find some other sort of obstruction in the waste pipeline, so let’s run through each possible cause as to why your bathtub isn’t draining. Then you can make the right diagnosis and get it fixed ASAP. 

1. Check the Drain Stopper is Open – Obviously!

I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised at the number of people who fail to open the drain stopper fully or how many times the drain stopper gets stuck and won’t let the water drain. Before getting upset about your tub failing to drain, double-check the drain stopper. Is it fully open? If not, is it stuck?

2. Blocked Bathtub Waste Pipe

This is where we get into the yucky part of a tub that won’t drain: clogs. Plumbers have found just about anything you can imagine inside tub drains, but below, I’m going to cover some of the more common items that can clog your bathtub waste pipe. 

Trapped Hair

We all shed hair. It’s human and animal nature. If you have long hair or pets that you bathe in your tub, you’ll likely experience a clogged drain more often than not. Hair does not break down over time, so it is the most common cause of bathtub drain clogs, so it’s important to keep all plumbing pipework free from hair.

Scum Or Dirt Sitting in P Trap

Soap scum – it’s that nasty, sticky film that accumulates on shower walls and bathtubs stemming from the use of soaps, shampoos, and other bathing products. Soap scum can build up in pipes, catching hair and anything else that travels along the same path. The buildup of soap scum can slow or stop the flow of water if left untreated. 

Cosmetic Product Residue or Packaging Labels

Cosmetics such as eyeshadow, body powder, lotion, etc. can encourage clogs if they are allowed to go down the drain. These products collect on the inside of the drain pipes and encourage hair and other debris to cling to the gunk. 

Alternatively, if you aren’t careful when using products over the sink or bathtub, product labels can fall off and go down the drain. While the paper does deteriorate over time, it does take a while, and until it does, you will have to deal with a bathtub that won’t drain or drains slowly. 

Trapped Small Objects

All drains in your home are susceptible to clogging if someone inadvertently drops something down them. Take kids’ bath toys, for example. It has happened more than once that a small toy finds its way into the tub drain, causing water to drain slowly or not at all. 

3. Clogged Main Drain Pipes

Sometimes, bathtub clogs go beyond the bathtub itself. Your home’s waste removal system is connected to the city’s sewer system by a main drainpipe. If this pipe gets clogged, you will have bigger problems on your hands than a bathtub that won’t drain. Chances are, none of the drains in your home will drain properly. 

How to Tell If Your Drains Are Clogged

A clog in your main drainpipe will affect every drain in your home. To tell if this is the issue, try flushing the toilet and observe the other drains in the room. Do you hear gurgling or see water bubbling back up into the shower or sink? Flush the toilet again and check other drains on the first or basement levels of your home. Again, do you hear or see water bubbling up? If you answered yes, you likely have a clog somewhere in your home’s main drainpipe. At this point, you will need to call a plumber to locate the clog and remove it. 

How To Fix A Bathtub That Won’t Drain

I’m going to assume that you don’t have a clog in the main drainpipe leading away from your home and that it’s a simple clog that is keeping your bathtub from draining properly. Don some rubber gloves and follow the steps below to remove the clog. 

1. Remove the Standing Bathwater

Use a bucket or some other container to scoop out any standing water. The less water you have to deal with the better. You don’t want to have to look through murky, dirty water when you’re trying to work. 

2. Clear Gunk From Bathtub Drain Cover

Remove the drain cover and pull out any hair, soap scum, or any other visible blockages you see in the drain. Be sure to remove any tangled hair or debris from the drain cover as well. 

3. Pour Hot Water, Down Drain

If you don’t have PVC pipes, pour several cups of boiling water down the drain. If you have plastic pipes, skip this step as the hot water might melt them. Boiling water is often enough to break up grease, soap residue, and many other substances that clog drains. 

4. Use Baking Soda and Vinegar

If the boiling water itself didn’t do the trick, try a powerful combination of baking soda and white vinegar. Pour ½ cup each of the baking soda and vinegar down the drain. Don’t be alarmed if the concoction bubbles out of the drain. The fizzing action is what you want as it will dislodge the clog. Let the mixture sit for 15 minutes and then flush the drain with several cups of boiling water. 

5. Get Plunging

If the boiling water, baking soda, and vinegar fail to clear the clog, try plunging the drain. Pour half a bucket of water back into the tub and place the plunger over the drain. Push the plunger down several times in quick succession. If this method works, you should see hair and other debris coming up into the tub from the drain. Continue to plunge until the water drains successfully. 

6. Use A Plumbers Drain Snake

If the clog is further down than you expected, using a drain snake is a better solution. Drain snakes can reach much further than any of the other methods I’ve mentioned. You can buy or rent a drain snake at your local hardware store. 

Start by removing the drain stopper and inserting the snake into the drain. Continue pushing the snake down until you feel resistance. Twist the snake to grab hold of the clog and pull it out slowly. Whatever was clogging your bathtub should come out with the snake. Run some water in the tub to see how it drains. If it still drains slowly, try snaking the drain again.

 How To Prevent Your Bathtub Clogging

While the solutions I’ve mentioned above are rather simple in nature, they do require some time and effort on your part. You may also need to shell out some money to get the proper equipment for the job, too. There’s an old saying that goes, “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.” This is especially true where bathtub clogs are concerned. If you don’t want to constantly fix a bathtub that won’t drain, try these prevention hacks. 

  • Take your makeup off before bathing. Use a makeup remover to remove your cosmetics so they don’t get washed down the drain. 
  • Avoid bathing products that don’t dissolve easily in water. Consider using more natural products such as sugar and salt scrubs, for example. 
  • Don’t pour cosmetics down the drain. Instead, empty them in the trash. 
  • Maintain your pipes. Plumbing pipes can erode and break down over time. It is unavoidable, but you can help reduce their effect on your home’s drains by having your plumbing inspected annually by a professional. These inspections can turn up any potential issues before they become big, costly problems. 
  • Install a drain protector. Drain protectors fit just inside or on top of the drain to catch all debris before it has a chance to slip down the drain. Hair, small objects, soap scum, etc. are all trapped inside/on top of the drain protector, so you can easily empty them into the trash.
Plumber and HVAC Technician | Website | + posts

As a retired Master Plumber Jamie has over 30 years of hands-on experience, making his plumbing knowledge second to none. He has also worked on both residential and commercial HVAC installation and repair projects.