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How to Unclog a Bathroom Drain | Best Drain Cleaners

Updated on August 29, 2011
clogged drain
clogged drain
slow drain
slow drain
Slow Drain Residue
Slow Drain Residue

What is the Best Drain Cleaner to Unclog Your Drain

There are a lot of different types of drain cleaners on the market, from chemical ones like; diluted hydrochloric acid, or, sodium hydroxide and sodium hypochlorite, (like the Drano Pro Gel in the Drano Snake Plus kit), to home remedies like vinegar and baking soda . Before you can choose the best one to unclog your clogged drains, you need to consider a couple questions:

  1. What might be causing your clog; hair, grease, bottle cap, etc.
  2. What type and how old is your plumbing

Answering these questions will guide you to choosing the best way to safely attack your clogged drains

Safety First!
Safety First!

Caution! Safety First!

Even the best and safest chemical drain cleaners can be dangerous if not used properly, and with a little common sense. Always read and follow the label directions and cautions!

  1. Don't splash liquid drain cleaners - they could cause chemical burns on your skin, or stain your sink or drain area.
  2. Never mix drain cleaners with other household cleaners - gas-producing chemical reactions could occur.
  3. Never use a chemical drain cleaner that is not recommended for your type of plumbing - it's not helpful to clear a clog by eating through your piping.
  4. Always re-cap empty containers before tossing them in the trash.

Drano Snake Plus Kit
Drano Snake Plus Kit

Easy Fix or Solidly Clogged

The most common clogged drain is a bathroom drain, and the most common cause is hair build-up mixed with soap residue. It usually starts out with the sink or shower draining slowly, until finally the drain clogs completely - leaving you with a sink or tub full of standing water.

The easy way-out of this is to use a drain cleaner like, Drano Pro Gel, which is thick enough to pour to whatever is causing the slow-draining, (or blockage), and stick to it to begin dissolving it. Pro Gel will also pour through standing water and sink down to the clog and begin dissolving it. (Note: thin, cheap drain cleaners work poorly for both of these situations) Pro Gel is a sodium hydroxide and sodium hypochlorite-based drain cleaner, (a typical drain cleaner combination), that is safe for any type of plumbing, new or old. (Safe for plastic, PVC, metal pipes, garbage disposals and septic systems)


Follow the label instructions. Pour slowly so there is no splashing. Then allow to sit & work the recommended time, and then flush with hot water as recommended on the label.

A Note About Dollar Store-type Discount Drain Cleaners

As always - you get what you pay for. If you are only interested in clearing the clog as cheaply as possible, (and don't mind doing it again in a week or so), these types of drain cleaners may work for you. But there is a reason why branded drain cleaners like Drano, or Liquid Plumber are top-of-the-market brands - they work!

A Note About Home-Remedy Drain Cleaners

The most commonly cited home remedy for unclogging clogged drains is the baking soda and vinegar recipe. Note that this method won't dissolve the clog, it only creates pressure to push the clog through and clear the drain.

Using this method:

  1. you will need: baking soda, vinegar, and a stopper to plug the drain (you can use a wet dishcloth to jam into the drain opening)
  2. pour a few tablespoons of baking soda into the drain, then a couple ounces of vinegar
  3. quickly plug the drain to contain the foaming action created when the vinegar is added. You will need to hold the plug in with your hand to keep the pressure from forcing it back out, it is the pressure of this foaming action that will try to push the clog away.

*This is essentially a "quick-fix" solution to unclog the drain. It will not be very effective in cleaning the goo lining the pipes that started the clog in the first place.

If the drain clears and the water drains cleanly, you got off lucky. If not - time for a little more work. You will need to try to dislodge the clog with something like a drain-snake.

Drain Still Clogged

Before you call a plumber, there is more you can do to try to unclog the drain yourself.

Home-made wire hanger snake
Home-made wire hanger snake
The Clog Culprit
The Clog Culprit

In a pinch...

Many people will try a wire coat hanger - straightened out with a little hook on the end, to poke down the drain and pull out the hair blob or whatever is clogging the drain. Sometimes this will work, but there are a couple potential problems:

  1. You could damage your piping, if it is old, or even push the p-trap loose from the rest of the piping.
  2. The little hook-end you made could get snagged and you would be unable to get the hanger out.

If you are just looking for a temporary quick-fix, this will work, but the better solution is to do it right. Clear the clog completely, and use a drain cleaner to remove residual scum that will begin building the next clog.

As-Seen-On-TV TurboSnake
As-Seen-On-TV TurboSnake

**A Note About the "Turbo Snake"

The "TurboSnake" drain cleaner is one of those as-seen-on-TV products that are popping up everywhere. But from a sanitary point of view, it is probably not your best choice for a small drain snake.

Consider the unsanitary composition of the gook it is pulling from the drain, and imagine how hard it is to clean the bristles of this snake between pulls. Much less the cleaning and sanitizing effort needed to clean it adequately to put away and save for another use.

The plastic drain snake included in the Drano Snake Plus kit is perfect for its intended use. It only takes a reverse-swipe with a paper towel to clean it between pulls, and it is intended to be disposable!

Plus! The Drano kit is less expensive, and includes the drain cleaner that you would have to buy separately with the TurboSnake.

The Stubborn Clog

Still clogged, or draining slow? Want to do a complete clean-out?

For the bathroom sink...

It's easier than you think. 20 minutes, your wire coat hanger, (or any other drain snake you might have), a basin or large bowl, some paper towels, and a simple pair of pliers are all you need. (If you have the Drano Snake Plus kit you won't need the coat hanger)

Tools to unclog that drain
Tools to unclog that drain

Bathroom Sinks with a Plunger-type Stopper

(If you don't have this type of stopper - skip down to this section)

First - If you still have standing water, dip out as much as possible. (less to drip out later)

Then - Clear the area under your sink so you have room to place the basin, (to catch the drips), and give you room to reach the piping.

Now you need to remove the plunger stopper, both so you can get to the stoppage below it, and to clean the "fins" on it. They are almost always caked with soap & hair goo that slows the sink draining, and they act like glue - catching any hair that goes down the drain, building up to more of an obstacle for the water to get past.

Plunger-Stopper lever
Plunger-Stopper lever

Remove the Sink Plunger-stopper

The stopper is raised and lowered by a bar that goes through the hole in the stopper and attaches to the rod you raise and lower from the faucets, (see photo on right)

  1. With your basin in place - unscrew the drain plunger nut. It should only be finger-tight, but for older plumbing you may need to use the pliers.
  2. Behind the nut will be a washer and a plastic ball that the lever goes through. Only pull the lever out about 1/2". Just enough to allow you to pull the plunger-stopper completely out of the drain. Now, screw the drain plunger nut back on, just a couple turns, so you don't have parts laying around to get misplaced.
  3. Use the paper towels to clean the plunger-stopper, especially the fins, (you want to get rid of all the sticky goo), and then lay it aside.

Snake the open drain
Snake the open drain
The clog culprit
The clog culprit

Clear the Clog

Using your drain snake, (wire coat hanger, turbo snake, or plastic snake from the Drano Snake Plus kit), push it as far as you can into the drain, wiggle it around a little, and pull it out.

(you should be able to plunge down at least 10" to 18" - this will clear clogs all the way down to the p-trap under the sink)

You should see results like those on the right -->

Clean the drain snake with paper towels, and repeat the process a few times, until there is nothing else for the snake to pull out.

Clear Running Drain
Clear Running Drain

The Big Test

Test the results. With the plunger-stopper still out, turn on the cold water faucet and check your work.

Does the sink drain as it should?

If yes, follow these reassembly instructions, if not skip to this section.

Put everything back together:

Drain plunger-stopper
Drain plunger-stopper

The trickiest part of reassembly is getting the drain-plunger lever hole lined up to accept the lever.

  1. Line-up the lever-hole to the center of the back of the drain, (the side towards the faucets), and let it drop down to the closed position.
  2. It should land on top of the drain-plunger lever, stopping it from reaching the drain closed position.
  3. If it did not stop before closing, then you did not have it lined-up properly and the lever-hole is on either side of the plunger lever. Pull it up and try again. (you may need a nail file or something to get under it to pop it back up)

Under sink Piping
Under sink Piping

Now, loosen the drain plunger nut again and pull the lever out just enough to let the plunger-stopper fall closed. Then, raising the lever slightly, wiggle it back in, into the lever hole in the plunger-stopper, and the lever ball seats back in place.

To test that the lever is in the hole, pull the lever down and the plunger-stopper should rise in the sink. *Sometimes it takes a couple tries to hit the hole.

Tighten the Drain Lever Nut firmly by hand. (no need to use pliers) Wipe up any drips, and remove your basin. You're done. Almost!

To finish the job correctly, now you need to use a drain cleaning product like Drano Dual Force Foam, or Pro-strength Drano Max Gel to clean any residual goo stuck to the walls of the piping.

Non-Plunger-Stopper Drains

For non-plunger drain stoppers, see the photos and instructions below to see how to remove the stopper, then click the link to return to the clog removal instructions.

For Bathroom Sinks

A rubber drain stopper, (usually on a chain), is the most common type used for sinks that do not have a plunger-stopper. The most typical drain in these sinks uses a screw to hold the grate in place. There may also be a strainer insert, (to catch hair), that should be lifted out to expose the grate below.

Bathroom Sink grate
Bathroom Sink grate

Remove the center screw, and gently pull out the grate insert.

*Return to unclogging instructions

Unclog a Shower Drain

Most shower drains do not have stoppers, they just have grates or screens to catch hair and other stuff. To snake these drains you need to remove the grate or screen first.

Shower Drain Types
Shower Drain Types

Removing Shower or Tub Drain Covers

If you can see a screw, or screws, just remove them to remove the grate or screen. If you do not see any screws, than your drain cover is an insert-type that you can just pop-out; either by prying under the edge, or sticking a small screwdriver into one of the grate holes, (of slits), and gently prying upwards. NOTE: all prying and lifting should be done as close to the edges as possible.

Unclog a Bathtub Drain

Plunger-stopper - A bathtub plunger-stopper is very similar to a bathroom sink plunger-stopper, - with one major exception! The drain-lever hole is shaped like a "J". That is, it is not an enclosed hole. One side of the hole is open, this allows for the plunger-stopper to twisted slightly to disengage it from the plunger-lever, and removed from the drain without having to get to the bathtub plumbing behind the wall.

"Push-Pull" bathtub drain stopper - This type of stopper, (shown below), is easy to remove with just a straight-blade screwdriver. (and maybe a pair of pliers)

  1. Hold the large circle of the drain stopper with one hand and unscrew, (counter-clockwise), the smaller push-pull knob on top. This will expose a slotted screw-fitting.
  2. With the screwdriver, unscrew this fitting, (again, counter-clockwise), and lift out the body of the drain stopper. (NOTE: Do Not unscrew the brass slotted-fitting entirely from drain-stopper - only unscrew until it comes loose from the "+" grate below it)
  3. There will still be a "+" grate in the drain piping, (under the "push-pull" stopper) , but this cannot be removed. Work your snake through its openings.

Bathtub "Push-Pull" drain stopper
Bathtub "Push-Pull" drain stopper

Unplug That Clogged Drain

If you skipped to the above sections to find your type of drain stopper; to return to the instructions for unclogging your drain...

*Return to unclogging instructions here

!@#$%^&*! Still Clogged!!!

Drain still clogged - after all that effort? It may be time for that plumber because the clog appears to be further into the piping than you can reach with the above methods.

But, if you have the availability of a hardware, home-improvement, or Walmart-type store, there are longer hand-held homeowner-type crank drain snakes available that will reach a clog further in. They are usually around $20, and are not massive enough to allow you to harm your piping. Hopefully.

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    • Appletreedeals profile image

      Appletreedeals 6 years ago from Salisbury, Maryland USA

      @Kellie - Thanks for the read, and comment. Glad you found one that worked for you.

    • profile image

      Kellie 6 years ago

      About the "discount" drain cleaners .. I bought a bunch of name brand products - drano, liquid plumber, etc. and NONE worked, then I bought a product called "Drain Pro Gel" for about 1/2 the price and it worked exactly how it claimed. So, don't always judge a product by it's price.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

      Wow, I love the coat hanger idea!!

    • birthordertraits profile image

      birthordertraits 6 years ago from Singapore

      Very interesting information here. The idea of unclogging a drain can be "yucky" for some, but I think this helped overcome my fear a little!

    • Appletreedeals profile image

      Appletreedeals 6 years ago from Salisbury, Maryland USA

      @carco - thanks for the read and your kind comment. I agree, for unclogging a drain I think a snake is the best first choice, but, following with a chemical drain cleaner ensures a complete job and extends the time between clogs. Because, it's a fact of life - as long as there is hair, there will be clogs.


    • carcro profile image

      Paul Cronin 6 years ago from Winnipeg

      Really good info here. I think you've covered just about everything! Nicely Illustrated too. Personally I have not had a lot of luck with using chemicals to unclog drains, prefer any kind of snake coil device instead. Thanks for sharing your expertise! Voted Up and Interesting...