Dealing with a clogged shower drain can be a nasty business. Standing in ankle-deep dirty water while you shower is no one’s idea of a good time. Fortunately, you can often clear clogs yourself without calling a plumber. Using a drain snake is one of the most effective DIY methods for unclogging a stubborn shower drain.
What Causes Clogged Shower Drains?
Before you can clear a clogged drain, it helps to understand what causes shower drains to get clogged in the first place. Here are some of the most common culprits:
- Hair: Showers naturally collect stray hairs that go down the drain. Over time, these can collect and get tangled, forming a clog.
- Soap scum: Residue from soap, shampoo, and other bath products can slowly build up on pipe walls. This sticky scum traps other debris, eventually blocking water flow.
- Skin flakes, oils, and hair products: Our bodies constantly shed skin cells and oils that accumulate in drains. Hair products like conditioner and gel are also oily and can stick to pipes.
- Toiletries: Products like bath salts, bubble bath, and bath bombs leave behind residue that sticks to pipes.
- Mineral deposits: Hard water contains mineral deposits that can collect in pipes over time. These scale deposits narrow drainage pipes.
- Trash and debris: Things like wet tissues, cotton swabs, dental floss, and bandages can get flushed down the drain and snag in pipes.
Choosing the Right Drain Snake
Drain snakes, also called plumber’s snakes, are long flexible cables used to dislodge clogs. They come in different sizes for sinks, showers, and main sewer lines. For shower drains, you’ll need a small diameter snake that can fit and bend through the narrow pipes.
A hand snake is designed for clearing clogs in bathroom sink and tub drains. It ranges from 1/4 inch to 5/16 inches in diameter and 10 to 15 feet long. This lightweight snake is manually cranked by a handgrip and fed down the drain. A smaller hand snake is best for shower drains.
Powered Drain Snake
More heavy-duty powered drain snakes use an electric motor or drill to spin the cable and penetrate clogs. These are faster and have more torque, but aren’t always necessary for a basic shower drain clog. However, they come in handy if you have a long clog that a hand snake can’t reach.
Choosing Diameter and Length
Always match the snake diameter to the drain pipe size. Too large, and it won’t fit. Too small, and it may not have enough strength to clear debris. Most shower drain pipes are 1 1/2 inches or 2 inches. A 1/4 inch diameter hand snake is a good standard choice.
For length, start with a 15-foot snake. This will clear clogs within the first 10-15 feet of pipe. Extend to 25 or 50 feet for deeper clogs. Powered snakes usually start around 25 feet.
How to Use a Drain Snake to Clear Shower Clogs
Follow these steps to use a drain snake properly and clear out a clogged shower drain:
Step 1: Prepare the Drain
First, remove any drain covers or stoppers that block access to the drain opening. This gives you a straight path to feed the snake down.
Next, try boiling a full kettle of water. Carefully pour it directly into the drain. This helps loosen and warm up grease and debris to make snaking easier.
Step 2: Slowly Insert the Snake
Grasp the hand crank and slowly begin inserting the snake down the drain opening. Take your time feeding it into the pipe. Don’t force it quickly or you can damage pipes.
If you meet resistance, twist the snake cable to work it gently through the clog as you crank more cable into the drain. Applying too much force risks scratching pipes with the metal cable.
Step 3: Clear the Clog
Once the snake hits the clog, turning the crank will let the cable grab onto hair, soap scum, and gunk. Crank back and forth, and pull any loosened debris up towards the drain opening.
Spinning the cable helps the snake corkscrew through the clog. Alternate between pushing forward and pulling back until you feel the cable moving freely through the full pipe again.
Step 4: Remove Debris
Retract the snake slowly, rinsing any debris off the cable over a bucket or trash can. Pull out as much of the clog material as you can.
Inspect any debris to get clues about what caused the clog. Lots of hair and soap scum? Time to start practicing better drain care.
Step 5: Flush with Hot Water
After snaking, run very hot water into the drain for a minute or two to rinse away any remaining particles. This helps prevent new clogs from forming right away.
Pour down a mix of baking soda and vinegar to react with water and fizz down the drain, cleaning away buildup. Rinse one more time.
The drain should now be cleared and running freely. Test it out with a solid flow of water from the showerhead.
Tips for Easy Snake Use
Here are some tips for getting the best results and ease of use when snaking a shower drain:
- Go slow. Don’t force or quickly jam the cable to avoid scratching pipes or tangling the cable.
- Put a bucket under the drain to catch drips and debris. Wear gloves to keep your hands clean.
- Lubricate the snake cable with cooking oil or WD-40 if it’s stiff. This helps it slide smoothly.
- Only crank the handle, don’t rotate the whole snake. This can twist up the cable.
- Have a trash bag ready to discard any gunk pulled out. You don’t want that dripping everywhere.
- Rinse and wipe off the snake when finished. Properly maintaining it prevents rust.
- If you have a popup drain plug, take the stopper valve assembly out for easier snaking access.
- Hold the cable tightly and straight while retracting it. This keeps it from whipping around.
- Take your time and be patient. Trying to force through a tough clog too quickly damages drains.
Tips for Preventing Future Shower Drain Clogs
Snaking the drain offers immediate relief, but clogs will keep returning unless you make some changes to prevent buildup. Here are some handy tips:
Remove Hair and Gunk Regularly
- Use a hair catcher over the drain to keep loose strands from going down.
- Check and clean the drain catcher every week or two to remove built up gunk.
- Consider getting a monthly drain cleaning service to keep passages clear.
Reduce Soap Scum
- Rinse down walls and tiles after bathing to wash away soap film before it sticks.
- Use a squeegee on glass doors to wipe away residue after showering.
- Apply a weekly shower spray cleaner to dissolve sticky buildup.
Minimize Shed Skin and Oils
- Exfoliate regularly with a scrub to slough off dead skin before it reaches the drain.
- Shampoo hair first to wash out oils before conditioning.
- Only wash hair every 2-3 days instead of daily to reduce oil and shedding.
Be Careful What Goes Down Drains
- Never pour fats or oils down the drain – these solidify and coat pipes.
- Limit use of thick conditioners and styling products that leave residue.
- Throw out used razor blades, never flushing them down.
- Use a trash can for disposable wipes, cotton balls, and swabs instead of the drain.
When to Call a Professional for Shower Drain Clogs
Though DIY snaking works well for many clogs, sometimes calling a pro is the better option:
- If you can’t clear clogs after thoroughly snaking multiple times.
- For drains deeper than 50 feet – exceed a hand snake’s reach.
- If you suspect the main sewer line is fully blocked.
- If multiple plumbing fixtures are backing up, signaling a larger problem.
- If you have very outdated or fragile pipes that need inspection.
- For expert inspection if clogs return frequently despite preventive steps.
- If the clog causes overflowing water damage. The pros have vacuum equipment to clean.
- If you are unable to remove drain covers or stoppers to access the clog.
Many plumbers offer emergency unclogging services for severe clogs causing overflow backups. For chronic slow drains, schedule a routine drain cleaning service.
Though snaking your own shower drain takes some work, it beats standing in a flooded shower. With the right technique, you can clear out the gunk and get your shower running freely again. Follow these steps and tips to handle clogs quickly and easily.
Frequently Asked Questions About Unclogging Shower Drains
What are some quick fixes for a clogged shower drain?
Some quick home remedies to try before snaking include:
- Pouring very hot water down the drain
- Using a plunger vigorously on the drain
- Mixing baking soda and vinegar for a fizzy chemical reaction
- Using a bent wire coat hanger to fish out debris
- Trying an over-the-counter drain cleaner chemical
However, for severe or deep clogs these may not work, warranting use of a more heavy-duty drain snake.
How can I unclog my shower drain without a snake?
You can attempt these other methods before resorting to a drain snake:
- Use a plunger plunged vigorously multiple times over the drain. Cover overflow holes first.
- Pour a pot of boiling hot water down the drain. Repeat several times.
- Remove the drain grate and use your fingers to pull out visible hair.
- Mix 1 cup baking soda with 1 cup vinegar and pour down drain. Cover and let sit 30 mins.
- Use a wire coat hanger bent into a hook to try fishing out debris.
- Buy a commercial enzymatic drain cleaner and follow directions to clear organic matter.
- Use a straightened wire coat hanger or long zip tie to poke and scrape out debris.
However, a drain snake is the most thorough way to clean out tough clogs deep in the pipes.
What can I use if I don’t have a drain snake?
In a pinch, these items can substitute for a drain snake:
- An uncoiled metal wire coat hanger – straighten it out and use to hook and poke debris.
- A long zip tie – also handy for scraping gunk along pipe walls.
- A narrow suction cup plunger – Use on the drain cover to plunge vigorously.
- A shop vacuum with a long narrow nozzle – Carefully try to vacuum out debris.
- Balaclava wire – Insert it down the pipes to grab hair and gunk.
- A rubber bulb ear syringe – Attempt flushing water down drain.
- A very long flexible grabber tool – May be able to hook into debris.
But proper drain snakes work best, providing the right diameter and length to truly clear out clogs.
Can I use a hanger to unclog my shower drain?
Yes, you can attempt to unclog a shower drain with a wire coat hanger using these steps:
- Straighten out the hanger completely so no hooks remain.
- Optionally, use pliers or vice grips to bend one end into a small hook.
- Remove drain cover for full access to the pipe opening.
- Slowly insert the hanger down the drain pipe.
- Gently move the hanger around twisted and turned in different directions to grab and dislodge debris.
- Slowly extract the hanger pulling out any hair or gunk caught on the hook end.
- Repeat as needed until water flows freely.
- Finish by flushing with hot water.
The hooked end can help grab hair and debris. Be gentle to avoid scratching pipes. A proper drain snake works better but a hanger can unclog in a pinch.
Should I rent or buy a drain snake?
For one-time use, renting a drain snake is often the best option. Consider buying your own drain snake if:
- You have recurring clogs and use it frequently. The cost savings add up over time.
- You have old pipes that need regular maintenance snaking.
- You dislike waiting for rental centers to open to get a snake.
- You want the convenience of tackling clogs immediately whenever they occur.
- You need to snake bathroom sinks and tub drains in addition to the shower.
- You have a septic system or main line that needs periodic snaking.
For occasional needs, seek out a plumbing snake rental from hardware stores, home centers, or equipment rental companies. Buy for regular maintenance and convenience.
Dealing with shower drain clogs can be gross and inconvenient, but is usually manageable on your own using a good drain snake technique. Learn to identify common causes of clogs and take steps to prevent them from recurring. With the right size and powered snake, you can clear out even severe tangles of hair and gunk in your shower drain pipe. Follow these tips to handle shower clogs quickly, saving the cost of multiple plumber visits over time.