A slow-moving shower drain is annoying for sure, which is why you should fix it sooner rather than later. Plus, a shower drain that drains as it should helps maintain the health of your home’s entire plumbing system.
Luckily, clearing a slow shower drain is easy. Rarely is the cause ever something major, which means you should be able to fix the issue yourself. In the information that follows, I will cover what causes a shower to drain slowly and then give you several things you can try to get things moving once again.
- What Causes Your Shower To Drain Slowly
- How To Fix A Slow Shower Drain
- How To Prevent Your Shower Drain Clogging
What Causes Your Shower To Drain Slowly
From soap to dirt, dead skin cells, and hair, each of which can build up and form a mass that slows the drainage in your shower. However, there are also other less obvious problems that can lead to poor drainage, so let’s cover each possibility allowing us to then deal with fixing the root cause:
- Hair buildup: Long strands or clumps of hair will quickly clog your shower drain, reducing the speed at which water drains. The hair will also attract other substances such as scum which adds mass, making the clog worse.
- Soap scum: Over time, soap residues accumulate, forming a sticky scum on the inside of the drain pipe, which impedes water flow.
- Hard water deposits: Minerals in hard water collect on the drain pipe suitcases narrowing the drain pathway, slowing the rate at which the water can drain.
- Foreign objects: Items like small toys, jewellery, bottle caps or bottle labels will flow into the drain path and cause blockages.
- Pipe issues: Damaged or poorly installed drain pipes may affect the drain’s efficiency.
- Septic system problems: A full or failing septic system can lead to slow drainage throughout your house.
- Grease accumulation: Some bath and shower products contain oils that can leave a greasy residue inside the drain impeding the flow of water..
- Plumbing vent blockages: Debris or animal nests can block the vent, creating a vacuum that slows drainage.
Failing to tackle a slow draining shower will inevitably lead to more significant and complex issues, such as:
Standing water: If you leave standing water in your shower there’s a good chance you will eventually find mould, mildew and bacteria, all of which can pose a health risk, as well as cause bad smells.
Pipe clogs: Any obstruction creating a slow drain is likely to eventually lead to a complete blockage, making the shower unusable and no doubt requiring more complex and costly repairs.
Pipe damage: If the slow drainage is caused by an issue in the pipework, such as a tree root intrusion or a collapsed water line, ignoring will lead to damage and replacements.
Water damage: Clogs can lead to water overflowing into flooring, or walls potentially causing structural problems.
How To Fix A Slow Shower Drain
All good troubleshooting should work in order of least resistance. What I mean is to focus on the easiest and least complex problems first, such as checking the shower drain for clogs and making sure you attempt to clear it by hand. Then progress gradually through to clearing the water pipeline using chemical products to flush it. If that fails, you will need to use a tool such as a plunger or drain auger, and finally, you may need to call in a plumber to power flush the drains.
So with that in mind, let’s get started with checking the shower drain for clogs.
1. Clear Debris From The Drain by Hand
If you have long hair, your slow shower drain is likely caused by a buildup of hair that has washed down the drain. Clearing the clog may be as simple as removing the mass of hair and soap scum by hand. While this method is sure to be messy, you should be able to pull out the clog easily. To clear a clog by hand, follow the steps below.
- Open the drain. You may need to unscrew or pry open the drain cover to access the drain.
- Look inside the drain to locate the blockage. You may need to use a flashlight to get a good look.
- Use your fingers or a hook of some sort (you can make one out of a wire clothes hanger) to pull out the debris clogging the drain.
2. Pour Boiling Water Down the Drain
Pouring boiling water down a slow-moving drain can help break down materials such as soap and grease, but it won’t work on things like hair, so if you know you have been letting hair flow down the drain regularly, don’t expect boiling water to completely clear the clog. The good news is, however, that pouring boiling water down the drain should help move things along more quickly than before.
- Boil water on the stove.
- Use a funnel to direct the water down the drain.
- Pour the water slowly to prevent splashing.
- Once all the boiling water is gone, try running water in the drain to see if it worked.
Note: Don’t pour boiling water down the drain if you have PVC (plastic) pipes. Doing so may damage them.
3. Use A Drain Plunger
You have likely used a plunger to unclog a toilet, but these handy tools work to open shower drains as well. The only difference is that you will need a flat plunger rather than a flange plunger for the job.
- Fill the tub with enough water to cover the base of the plunger.
- Move the plunger up and down quickly to clear the clog.
Note: If you have trouble getting a good suction going, try putting a thin layer of Vaseline on the rim of the plunger. If you still cannot clear the blockage, it might be that the clog is beyond the reach of the plunger’s suction.
4. Pour Baking Soda and Vinegar
A baking soda and vinegar combo is a great natural drain cleaner. The fizzing action created when these two ingredients are combined can break up a lot of organic materials. To use this method:
- Pour a cup of baking soda down the drain.
- Follow the baking soda with a cup of vinegar.
- Allow the concoction to sit for at least an hour.
- Pour a pot of boiling water down the drain to clear the clog.
- Test to see if the shower is draining faster.
5. Use Chemical Cleaners
Stubborn clogs can be tricky to resolve, so you may need to resort to a chemical cleaner to clear that slow shower drain. You can buy chemical drain cleaners at just about any home improvement or hardware store, just be sure to read the instructions carefully as each one is a little different than the next.
Before using a chemical cleaner, be sure you have protective eyewear as splashes can result in severe eye damage. Just follow the manufacturer’s directions for use and make sure you dispose of any leftover product/container properly to protect the environment.
6. Use A Plumber’s Drain Snake
If none of the other methods works to remove the clog in your shower drain, you may want to try using a drain snake. Drain snakes are extremely effective at clearing drain clogs if they can reach them. Again, you can find a drain snake at any home improvement or hardware store but take a few moments to find out how they work before choosing one as they all work a little differently. Some are manual while others are guided using a hand drill, so know what you are getting, so you know how to use it.
- Remove the drain cover.
- Guide the head of the snake into the drain, rotating it by hand or with a drill.
- Push it slowly down the drain until you feel resistance. This is likely the clog.
- Work the snake back and forth a couple of times and then pull it out of the drain. Whatever was blocking your drain should come out with it.
- You may need to reinsert the snake a few times to remove the entire blockage.
- Pour some boiling water down the drain to break down any remaining soap scum or grease.
7. Call A Plumber
If none of the resolutions I mentioned above has worked to clear your slow shower drain, it might be time to call a plumber. A licensed plumber will know how to diagnose the issue and fix it quickly.
How To Prevent Your Shower Drain Clogging
Shower drains see a lot of dirt, debris, hair, and grime. While a lot of this cannot be helped, there are things you can do to prevent a slow shower drain from reoccurring.
If you have long hair, or rinse your pet in the shower or bathtub, consider installing a plastic drain guard to catch most of the hair that flows down the drain. It is much easier to empty the drain guard than it is to remove a mass of nasty hair buildup in the drain.
Some of the hair and body hygiene products we use contain oils and conditioners that build up progressively within the drain pipe. You can try using these products in moderation or switch to more viscous thinner products that are less likely to clog the shower drain.
Lastly, if you have hard water in your home, your drain pipes will be more susceptible to mineral deposit buildup, which can narrow pipes and create bottlenecks for hair, soap, and other debris to collect. Hard water buildup is tough to clear, but installing a water softener or filter will help remove these minerals so your pipes and drains stay clog-free.
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.