Bathtub Won’t Drain? Here’s What You Can Do About It

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Young plumber in workwear preparing detail for bathtub installation while sitting on squats

There is nothing more unsanitary than a shower that fills with water because the bathtub won’t drain. This means that all of the dirt, germs, and soap scum that you have tried to clean off is just left to fester. The standing water from a bathtub drain that isn’t working properly will also make your tub dirty and disgusting very fast.

To make things even worse, a bathtub that is filling up faster than it is draining may overflow. This can lead to severe damage and flooding – which is a huge hassle to clean up.

Bathtub drains may stop working for numerous reasons. Thankfully, many of these are easy to repair and unclog if you catch the problem early enough. In some cases, a small clog may be to blame – but a bathtub that won’t drain can also be a sign of more significant plumbing issues.

This is when you need to address why the bathtub won’t drain and get the problem repaired quickly. Most of the causes of this situation are easily fixed, but some of them will require a professional plumber to be called.

Why Won’t Your Bathtub Drain?

Here are a few of the scenarios that could be the reason why a bathtub won’t drain – and what you can do about it.

1. The Built-in Drain Stopper Is Stuck

Female hand holds bathtub drain plug

Most bathtubs (especially if they are a shower combo) have a built-in stopper. A stopper is used to prevent the water from draining as needed, such as when you are filling up the tub for a bath. Depending on your bathtub’s design, your built-in stopper may be:

  • Push-pull knob
  • Lift and turn
  • Trip lever
  • Pop up

A stopper will temporarily block the blow of water, but it can occasionally get fully or partially stuck. In this case, the bathtub won’t drain completely, or it may drain extremely slowly. If the stopper is damaged, rusted, or simply worn out from excess use, it could get stuck.

If you think a broken stopper could be the reason why you cannot drain the bathtub, check to see if the stopper is stuck or blocked. You can use pliers to pull the stopper out of the drain gently. Then, make sure that a wad of hair doesn’t block the stopper or that it has been damaged in some way. This may help to unclog the bathtub right away.

If this is the case, you can replace the bathtub stopper or clean out any built-up gunk or hair.

2. You Have Clogged Drain Pipes

Clogged drain pipe

Of course, the most common reason why a bathtub won’t drain is due to clogged pipes. Over time, nearly all bathtub drains will develop clogs. These are most commonly caused by a combination of:

  • Soap residue
  • Hair
  • Cleaning products
  • Dirt or sand
  • Shaving cream or gel
  • Shampoo and conditioner suds

These mix with the water during a bath or shower and they can solidify in the drain. Sometimes even small items like shampoo bottle caps or razor shields will sneak through the drain openings.

If these clogs are located near the top of the drain opening, you may be able to unclog it on your own. You will likely need to unscrew the drain opening to pull up whatever is clogging it. However, this needs to be done with care, as you could accidentally push the clog further down the pipe.

3. Your Drains Have Hard Water Buildup

Some homes have a high level of minerals like calcium or magnesium in the water, which is often called “hard water.” Hard water can leave mineral deposits in the pipes, which can build up to create blockages. This also creates hard edges that debris like hair or soap scum will stick to, causing even worse clogging.

Over time, mineral deposits can eat away at the metal pipes and lead to severe damage. In this case, it will be impossible to unclog. You may need to have some of the pipes replaced altogether.

We recommend getting your water’s pH levels tested to see if it has high amounts of minerals. If these levels are higher than average, it could be the reason why your bathtub won’t drain. If the build-up is not too extreme, the pipes can be cleaned out. You can also install a water softener system that will filter out excess mineral deposits to prevent future build-up.

Can I Unclog the Bathtub Drain Myself?

Some do-it-yourself solutions may offer temporary results for a clogged bathtub drain.

Clogged bath drain with fallen out hair and a plunger

1. Try to Use a Sink Plunger Over the Drain to Unclog It.

This creates a vacuum of air that can dislodge whatever is clogging the pipe, such as a wad of hair. You can also try your hand at using a drain snake, which is a long piece of silicone or wire cable that you weave down into the pipe. As you pull the drain snake back up, it will attach to items and unclog the drain.

Both of these items are found in most home improvement stores and are relatively easy to use.

2. Pour Boiling Water to the Drain Opening

This will help to melt soap scum and hair build-up to unclog the drain. But this tactic will only work if the boiling water can be poured directly into the drain opening.

3. Try a Baking Soda and Vinegar Mixture

First, pour boiling water down the pipe. Then pour in about half a cup of baking soda followed by a cup of white vinegar into the drain. When baking soda and vinegar are mixed, they create a chemical reaction that foams up. This creates pressure within the pipes, which can push the clog further down so it does not block the drain.

Use the vinegar and baking soda trick carefully – only try it once or twice. If it does not unclog the pipe after a couple of tries, the vinegar and baking soda could start to erode the pipes.

4. Use Chemical Drain Cleaners

There are plenty of chemical solutions available at the hardware store which promise to help unclog your drain. However, these can be extremely dangerous to both you and the pipes in your home. The fumes from these chemicals can cause adverse side effects, such as headaches, nausea, or even fainting if they are inhaled for too long. If you mix certain chemicals, it could potentially create toxic fumes!

Using these types of chemical drain cleaners to unclog the bathtub can also damage your pipes. The acidic chemicals can make the metal material more brittle and breakable. This could lead to busted or cracked pipes, which are expensive to repair and a hassle to fix!

What Should I Do if I Can’t Unclog the Bathtub?

Ultimately, it is best to have professional unclog drains so the pipes do not get damaged. If you are unable to remove the clog yourself with hot water, a drain snake, or a plunger, avoid using other tactics, as they could cause bigger issues.

Be sure your plumber specializes in both traditional plumbing service as well as drain cleaning. You may need to have your pipes thoroughly cleaned to remove additional build-up that could cause your drains to stop working in the near future.

Two plumbers in uniform working, fixing water tap in bathtub

A plumber will be able to use specialized tools to unclog safely without damaging your pipes. In some cases, portions of the piping may need to be removed or replaced if the clog is severe.

A professional plumber may also try hydro jetting to unclog the pipes. This involves using a high-powered water pressure machine to create a strong stream of water that will run through your pipes to remove any blockages quickly. This also helps to clean out the entire plumbing system so that you won’t deal with any clogs in the near future.

In the meantime, there are some other tips you can try to prevent your bathtub from clogging again. First, use drain covers in the shower or tub that will capture large items like clumps of hair or small pieces of plastic from going down the drain.

Cleaning up your tub regularly can help to prevent build-up from soap residue, dirt, sand, and other clogging culprits. Try to rinse out the shower after use and deep clean it regularly.

You may also want to install a new showerhead with a built-in filter, water softener, or a de-scaler. These will help to filter out minerals and add salt to “soften” the water, making it less likely to cause issues with the drain.


A blocked bathtub drain is a nasty situation. The water that won’t empty in the tub basin is full of bacteria, which will multiply and turn into a cesspool if left untreated. Make sure to troubleshoot your bathtub drain clog as soon as possible to avoid this.

If your bathtub won’t drain and you can’t seem to unclog it on your own, give Duncan Plumbing a call. We offer drain cleaning service, as well as sewer and emergency plumbing assistance in the Northern California area. We’re equipped to repair even the worst drain clogs quickly and safely.

You can trust our team of professional plumbers to give you sound advice on how to deal with any bathtub drain issues. Our team is available online 24/7 to answer any questions – we offer same-day or next services as needed. Reach out to us today to schedule an appointment!

Published on: Feb 8, 2021
Updated on: Aug 3, 2023

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