Slow bathtub drains for dummies.
July 16, 2021 8:09 AM   Subscribe

My roommate and I are hairy beasts, and our bathtub drain is slow. We are also idiots when it comes to plumbing, and all the internet seems to say is either use one teaspoon of Liquid Plumbr or call an expensive service, with little in between. Questions inside!

So, even after we got this puppy, I'm still using 4 bottles of Liquid Plumbr every 6 weeks or so. (I just used a bottle this morning, and if anything it seems worse now!!) Is this a normal thing? Should I buy stock in them? I don't know of any families who use it this much, but then families don't share their draining intimate secrets with me ...

The internet talks about how you should call a high-end company which will roto-root things out for you, which is fine, but will this solve the problem? Are there other products that I should be using? I read somewhere that putting in a little Dawn once a week would help, but it hasn't. Any and all tips about keeping the drain on a fast tempo are welcome; please use small words. Thank you!

P.S. I am afraid of snakes, if only because I've watched other people use them and they seem fussy, and I'm not good at nuances! But I'll learn to use one if I have to.
posted by Melismata to Home & Garden (31 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

The Zip-It drain-clearing tool is amazing and much easier to use than a snake.
posted by FencingGal at 8:15 AM on July 16, 2021 [30 favorites]

After you get the current clog fixed.

You need a tubshroom or drain cover filter or something to keep the hair out of the drain in the first place.
posted by TheAdamist at 8:17 AM on July 16, 2021 [19 favorites]

I switched from Liquid Plumr to Drano Max Gel (the kind in the red bottle) and it worked when snakes and such didn't. I live in a house built in the 1920s with old fixtures.
posted by HeyAllie at 8:17 AM on July 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Oh--I have a Zip-it, but nothing came up. (It works great for the sink though!)
posted by Melismata at 8:17 AM on July 16, 2021

If you have the cash and don't have the skills then feel fee to farm it out to a plumber. It'll be in the $100-$200 range.

If you have a minor amount of skills you can buy a $20 pistol grip drum auger at the hardware store, take off your overflow drain, and stick it down in there and twist like crazy to get it to go father. If you are hairy, you'll pull up a clog the size of a mouse in less than 2 feet of drain cable. Any farther than that, you have a real problem you probably can't fix without professional help. IMO the tiny little plastic ones only clean the actual drain, not the pipe.

IMO too, chemicals don't work.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:20 AM on July 16, 2021 [4 favorites]

Your little thing is probably helping by the way, but there was probably already a clog that needs fixing.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:28 AM on July 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

This is an easy fix with a snake! If you're unclogging every ~6 weeks, I definitely recommend getting one and learning how to use it. Does your building have a maintenance person? This is exactly the kind of thing I have asked the building crew to fix.
posted by pumpkinlatte at 8:30 AM on July 16, 2021 [5 favorites]

The internet talks about how you should call a high-end company which will roto-root things out for you, which is fine, but will this solve the problem?

Hmm, I use a decidedly non-high-end plumber who comes with a snake and takes care of it for $65 dollars and then I enjoy the results for a couple of years before the process needs repeating. Prices in your area may vary. I do know someone who eroded their drainpipe pretty badly with lye-based drain-clearing chemicals, so that part isn’t strictly a tale to drum up business for plumbers. Other drain additives, like enzymes or Dawn or vinegar, have never worked for me but I suppose it depends on the issue lurking in your pipes.
posted by corey flood at 8:31 AM on July 16, 2021 [5 favorites]

good advice above. I have have success with a little plunger sometimes too. Cover any overflow holes you can find (with a hand or a damp rag or something), remove the drain plug or anything else you can actually get out of the way, and go to town. And brace yourself for the funkiness: sometimes if it's not a clump of hair, it's ... biofilm? Big ol' chunks of what looks like ripped-up trash bag, but you can either pull it up with plunging, or push it through. And if it were a clump of hair, your Zip-It would've grabbed it, unless the trouble is farther down than the Zip-It can reach.

(If you just recently put Drano or something in there, maybe proceed with caution----I wouldn't want to splash that around, so you might need to wait a bit. In general I've had more successful with physics than chemistry... pushing/pulling the gunk has been better than burning/dissolving the gunk.)
posted by adekllny at 8:31 AM on July 16, 2021 [4 favorites]

Four (!) bottles of Liquid Plumbr every 6 weeks (!) seems wayyyyyyyyyyyy outside the range of normal and I shed like a wildebeest. You don't need to call a "high-end company," any plumber in the world should be able to clear this pretty quickly. Then get and use better drain catchers going forward.
posted by anderjen at 8:32 AM on July 16, 2021 [17 favorites]

What does your drain plug look like?

Is it one of those ones that popups up and down with a click? And has a rubber seal all the way around it?

For 18-months I tried everything - bought caseloads of Liquid Plumber - tried Zip-It's... Nothing worked.

One day, I found that I could unscrew that popup/popdown plug entirely.

Guess what? No more drain issues - sure, no one could take a bath, but that tub was tiny and no one did anyways...

(Edit - technically a toe-touch or popup drain stopper)
posted by rozcakj at 8:32 AM on July 16, 2021

Response by poster: We have no drain plug at all except for the mesh thingy in the link above.
posted by Melismata at 8:41 AM on July 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

This could be a pipe layout problem, in which case there's not much you can do. We live in an antique house with an oddly fitted bathtub and the pipe makes something like five right angles before it gets into the main drainage pipe, so basically the water literally cannot flow strongly enough to keep things clear. We use a lot of drain cleaner and - most importantly - we run the shower at about 1/3 full pressure so that the water can flow steadily through the drain, carrying away the soap and gunk that otherwise sit long enough to clog the pipe. If we ever have enough money to totally redo the bathroom, we will probably be able to reroute the pipe and solve the problem, but multiple plumbers have told us that there isn't anything else we can really do.

Anyway - do you know how your pipes are laid out? Do you live in an old building or one where the bathroom was crammed in all anyhow when rooms were divided up?
posted by Frowner at 8:49 AM on July 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Does the mesh thingy seem to actually be catching all the hair? I find that depending on the shape of your drain, sometimes the hair just sneaks in underneath the edge.

I really really like the TubShroom for catching hair. They make a stainless steel one that looks really nice. It does need to be cleared out pretty often but it catches ALL the hair.
posted by mekily at 8:49 AM on July 16, 2021

Response by poster: We shave a lot, too. Would the tubshroom or other drain catchers catch the teeny hairs better than the mesh thingy?
posted by Melismata at 8:54 AM on July 16, 2021

My local dollar store sells $1 plastic drain snakes that are easy to use -- you could try that as a first-step budget solution.
posted by Theiform at 8:59 AM on July 16, 2021

Try an enzyme-based cleaner. Multiple plumbers have told me that Drano etc can make the problem worse in the long term, by partially dissolving gunk which then solidifies into a concretion. I have no specific brand recommendation but there are several available with a quick google.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:59 AM on July 16, 2021 [3 favorites]

So I'd start with a drain snake / auger. If I were buying a new one, I'd probably get this:

RIDGID PowerSpin Plus

It works like the professional ones do - the snake automatically feeds forward as you squeeze the handle so you aren't constantly fighting with a dinky little setscrew and manually feeding the snake down the drain.

The biggest challenge is getting access - if your tub has an overflow drain that has a linkage to the bottom drain, removing the whole assembly can be challenging, but if it's just a blank plate over a hole, it's just a couple of screws and voila, a nice 1" hole to feed a snake into.

This Old House has a reasonably common overview, but there are a _lot_ of guides on how to snake your tub drain on youtube.

It looks harder than it actually is, in my experience the worst part is dealing with the hairball that you extract from the drain. Bleh. I recommend rubberized workgloves, but YMMV.

THAT SAID: if you actually have a blockage like roots or similar in your sewer lateral, your tub is usually where you'll notice it first - 40+ gallons of water into a 3 or 4" pipe fills it up pretty quickly if it's slowly feeding the roots of a tree out front. You can confirm by attempting to fill up a utility tub or your sink and see if those back up at the same time as well, although it's not a guarantee that you can supply them fast enough to overwhelm your lateral. Or you can open the floor cleanout if you know how your drain system works. Apartment or homeowners?

In that case it is definitely worth paying a specialist who knows what they're doing to come out with a cutter.

(FWIW I use a barber's cape to capture my beard and head hair when I trim so it doesn't go down the tub drain, but those are good long 1/4"+ hairs on my usual schedule. Body hair and regular facial shaving is probably fine.)
posted by Kyol at 9:01 AM on July 16, 2021

And also, yeah, drain cleaners are the devil. Some prior owner of my house put a rubber slip fitting between our tub's drain and the stack that retained water. Rubber isn't actually particularly water safe like that, and adding caustic chemicals didn't help. Somehow I ended up Draino-ing the kitchen counters, only I didn't notice until the damage was done.
posted by Kyol at 9:06 AM on July 16, 2021

If you’re a renter you should probably call the owner/maintenance person at this point.
And as others mentioned:
TubShroom works really well.
The movement of the water wraps the hair around the shroom so you just clean it after each shower.
And the building maintenance or owner should not give you too much grief if the have a big gaping drain with no screen!!
posted by calgirl at 9:12 AM on July 16, 2021

Tiny hairs from shaving shouldn't case any problems to a tub drain - it's the long hair on your head that inadvertently comes out while showering. Or possibly a washrag or toy or something else that gets past the drain that causes clogs.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:19 AM on July 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Your little thing is probably helping by the way, but there was probably already a clog that needs fixing.

Seconding this - and if you're in an apartment, it's possible that the clog isn't even in your plumbing, but is buried deep in a major pipe somewhere down the line. I had that problem once, where my own bathtub was draining slow, and my super came by with a plumbing snake and ascertained that the clog was actually at the point where my own pipe joined with a pipe feeding from my downstairs neighbors' place, and it was a plastic tub toy from one of their kids that was at the root of the problem.

Absolutely keep that mesh thing (it's exactly the thing that my super gave me after he fixed everything, as well) for preventative measures in your own place. But this sounds like a call-a-maintenance-guy situation by now.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:31 AM on July 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Under normal conditions, tiny hairs from shaving shouldn’t cause a problem. But if you have an existing clog they can get caught in it and make the problem worse. Get a plumber to clear the clog, install a better drain cover, and things will probably improve a lot.
posted by mekily at 9:56 AM on July 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

For slow drains I like Green Gobbler, though you need to understand how it works - let it sit for as long as possible (overnight ideal) and flush with hothothot water (we boil in a kettle) and then we close the drain and fill the tub like 1/4 way and release it, the force of which then pushes everything through.

That said, even with a stupid drain configuration (right angle directly below the drain) we only have to do that like 1-2x per year. I agree with the other answers that the frequency of your issue, even for hairy people, seems like it may indicate the need for further investigation.
posted by misskaz at 10:43 AM on July 16, 2021 [3 favorites]

Nthing "Drano doesn't work" and that once you use it, you need to be cautious when trying other solutions.

Used to swear by the plastic hair snakes (and still do) but for whatever reason (pipe shape?) they don't work at all in my current house.

Here, the only thing that works, in sinks, tubs and showers, is a sink plunger. This is distinct from the stereotypical toilet plunger - they're usually plastic rather than rubber, and have an accordion-like structure. They move a much larger volume of air/water, which I think is why they're more effective for me. They're also cheap, usually under $10 US. To use:

- Take precautions for any Drano/other chemicals/biohazards still in drain.
- Fill tub/sink basin partway.
- Cover emergency drain with wet washcloth (so air/water is forced down pipe rather than out emergency drain).
- Plunge like crazy, until you hear a large volume of water moving back and forth in the drain. Then keep going a few seconds longer.
- Remove plunger and check drain rate.
- Repeat until water *rapidly* drains.
- Disinfect the disgusting detritus that the plunger probably pulled into the sink/tub.
posted by commander_fancypants at 11:26 AM on July 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't keep putting more chemicals down the drain. I suspect you have a big clog somewhere down the line, so every new bit of hair and soap is just adding more mass. Go ahead and fill up the tub and try a plunger like the commander suggests, though I'd use your toilet plunger since you probably already have it. The suction might dislodge whatever is in there, and that's free. I'd try a snake if you don't want to call a plumber. Or ask your friends and neighbors if they have one? That takes time (waiting) and some money.

So, maybe just call a plumber if the plunger doesn't work. I bet they can fix this more quickly and easily and without you spending a ton more money. Then, I think your new hair catcher and regular maintenance will take care of it for a good long while.

You can buy a new sink plunger and a snake and spend more time and money, but at this point, the plumber can have this done fast.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:35 AM on July 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Seconding snaking the drain. I bought one for myself when I had a garburator that inevitably got clogged when I tried to get rid of too much compost that way (since my condo made composting difficult any other way)... But!

Instead of your Liquid Plumbr bottle addiction, I have learned that using equal amounts of baking soda (placed in the drain first) and plain white vinegar can do an amazing job of dissolving clots in the pipes (let it sit for 10 minutes in the pipes as it bubbles)- and you can easily do this for much cheaper, once a week or so instead of spending a ton of money on the commercial product.

I think the key is also rinsing after that treatment with near scaulding hot water (but beware of old pipes or porcelain that might crack!) - I lean toward just rinsing with the hottest water that can come out of my tap - but prep this ahead of time so that you're not turning on the tap and running cold after putting in the bubbly mixture of sodium bicarbonate and vinegar.
posted by itsflyable at 5:53 PM on July 16, 2021

To amplify what others are saying, when the drain is draining at least as fast as the water is coming out of the shower head, we think "it's clear" and go on with our day. But it could be, like, almost completely clogged and still do that! So if you think "I just unclogged the drain yesterday, why is it slow again?" or "why doesn't my new hair trap stop the drain from clogging?" it's because you never fully cleared it.

I have a 4-tier solution for drain clogs that has stood me in good stead for years:

1) clear out the hair trap or drain stopper by hand (every day or two)
2) plunge the drain if it's slow (when all is going well, this is maybe once a month)
3) if I find myself plunging more frequently, use a chemical drain cleaner (maybe once a year)
4) if THAT doesn't clear the drain for very long, call a plumber (I think I've done this maybe once or twice ever?)

I think you may be at step four. But the good news is that once you're done with that, you can go back to step one!
posted by goingonit at 9:12 PM on July 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Absolutely rushed here to recommend the sink plunger referenced above.
Our pipes clog every 6-9 months due to poor plumbing design. Tried the chemicals. Had a guy come in with a snake. Had a guy come with a... Massive drill thing? Had someone come and replace what bits of pipe could be replaced without smashing walls. And then the last time it happened - two dudes show up with a sink plunger and blast the fucker clear in about three minutes. Gave us a Screwfix link to buy our own for twenty quid and asked us to leave a review and emphasise they'd showed us how to fix it ourselves. Been fine ever since.
posted by ominous_paws at 11:35 PM on July 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Echoing the recommendations to use a plunger. We [2 person household with immense amounts of hair shedding] just used the toilet plunger because it was what was on hand, but it fixed the issue entirely. I'll probably get a sink plunger the next time I'm at a hardware store, just because it's easier and less gross than making the toilet plunger do double duty.
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:16 AM on July 17, 2021

« Older Which Baltimore catechism?   |   houseplants 101 Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.