When water rises above your ankles as you shower, there's likely a drain clog at play. Here are a few tried-and-true methods for clearing blocked pipes in your shower.

By Ann Wilson and Jessica Bennett
Updated October 06, 2020
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Clogged shower drains are a messy business! Most often, accumulating hair builds up in bathtubs and showers to clog drains. The hair traps soapy residues, which fuse with the hair clumps to create impermeable clogs that back up water into shower basins and bathtubs. When unblocking a shower drain, start with the simplest, safest solution. The best fix for a clogged shower drain is often a DIY method, as commercial drain cleaners can damage pipes if used too often. Follow this sequence of strategies for clearing blocked drains, and allow your drain to do what it's meant to do: Let water drain freely.

walk in shower with marble tiles and wooden vanity
Credit: Tria Giovan

Best Tools for Unclogging a Shower Drain

If you're wondering how to unclog a shower drain, the answer requires a few tools and household supplies. Stock a bucket with screwdrivers, a flashlight, a drain claw ($7, The Home Depot) or a wire coat hanger, latex gloves, white vinegar, baking soda, and a plastic garbage bag for containing debris. Keep a toilet plunger, a handheld plumbers snake ($41, The Home Depot), and commercial drain cleaner handy in case they're needed for your clogged shower drain.

shower patterned floor blue tiles
Credit: Edward Gohlich

How to Unclog a Shower Drain

First, take a good look at what's going on in your shower drain. Use a screwdriver to remove the drain's strainer cover; soak the drain cover in white vinegar to remove soapy buildup. Shine a flashlight into the pipe to see if you can see the shower drain clog. If the clog is visible, wear gloves and grab a drain claw, a thick wire, or a straightened-out wire hanger and follow these steps:

  1. Use pliers to make a hook on one end of the hanger.
  2. Push the wire, claw, or hanger down into the drain until you snag the clog.
  3. Pull out the clog; repeat as needed.
  4. Run hot water down the drain.

If water still backs up, there are several other ways to unclog a shower drain, such as using a plunger, plumbers snake, or natural cleaners.

How to Use a Plunger for a Clogged Shower Drain

A toilet plunger is a fine plumbing helper for a clogged shower drain; it's meant to force clogs and blockages of all kinds downward and out of drains.

  1. Place the plunger so the cup covers the drain opening.
  2. For a tighter seal, smear the bottom of the plunger's rim with petroleum jelly.
  3. Fill the shower basin or tub with enough water to cover the plunger's lipped rim.
  4. Rapidly push the plunger up and down for a few minutes to create suction and push the clog through the drain.
  5. Flush the drain with hot water.

How to Snake a Shower Drain

Although not required, special shower drain unblockers can help with tough clogs. A plumbers snake is a portable auger of sorts. A hand crank operates a cable that reaches far into pipes to snag distant shower drain clogs. Use these instructions for how to snake a clogged shower drain:

  1. Move the cable downward into the pipe until it won't move any farther. When the cable stops, you have hit the clog.
  2. Crank the snake's handle counterclockwise to grasp the clog; continue to crank until the clog is out of the drain.
  3. Repeat as needed.
  4. Run hot water through the drain.

How to Unclog a Shower Drain Naturally

Think of lava-belching science-fair volcanoes fueled by a mix of baking soda and white vinegar; now picture that eruptive blast traveling downward through a blocked drain. Try harnessing this chemical reaction to naturally clear your blocked pipes:

  1. Pour boiling water down the clogged drain.
  2. Pour 1 cup baking soda followed by 1 cup vinegar down the drain.
  3. Let it sit for 15 minutes before flushing with boiling water.

Alternatively, try pouring 1 cup baking soda, 1 cup salt, and 1 cup white vinegar into the blocked drain; let it sit for 15 minutes before flushing with boiling water.

A third method involves using water pressure to amplify the formula's flushing power. Pour 1 cup baking soda and 1 cup white vinegar into the drain. If it's a bathtub drain clog, place the drain plug in place. For shower drains, use a rubber drain cover or a wet washcloth to block the drain. Fill the tub or shower basin with hot water. Let it sit for 10 minutes before pulling the plug; the emptying water should push the vinegar-soda-softened clog out of the pipe. Flush with boiling water.

If water is still backing up after trying these DIY methods, turn to a commercial drain cleaner.

gray tile shower bench glass door
Credit: Werner Straube

How to Use Drain Cleaner to Unblock Shower Drains

Tap the power of commercial drain cleaners ($7, Target) when all else fails to unblock a shower drain. Wear gloves and remove all reachable debris and hair before pouring drain cleaner into the drain. If after one application the clog remains, try plunging the drain. For stubborn clogs, it might take repeated applications over the course of a few days to unblock the shower drain. Always follow the manufacturer's directions, and keep drain-cleaning products away from kids and pets.

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