Unclog a Bathtub Drain Without Chemicals

Simply fish out the sticky hair that clogs most drains

Fix a clogged tub drain quickly and easily by removing the stopper and fishing out the hair and gunk that causes the problem 80 percent of the time. We show you how to open most common types of drains.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Unclogging tub drains—the drop stopper type

About 80 percent of the time, you can fix slow-draining or clogged tub drains in five minutes, without chemicals and without a $100 plumber bill. In most cases, you'll only need a screwdriver and a stiff wire or a bent coat hanger. The problem is usually just a sticky wad of hair that collects on the crossbars, a few inches under the stopper. All you need to do is figure out how to remove the stopper (that's almost always easy) and fish out the gunk. Bend a little hook on the end of the stiff wire with a needle-nose pliers and shove it through the clog—you'll nearly always extract the entire ugly mess. If hair is wrapped around the crossbars, slice through it with a utility knife and then grab it with the wire.

Follow our series of photos to determine which type of stopper you have and how to remove it.

Clearing a Drop Stopper Drain

The most common type, a drop stopper, has a setscrew located under the cap.

Lifting off drop stopper Photo 1: Lift the stopper and loosen the screw on the
shaft slightly. Slide the stopper off the shaft.
Pulling out hair with bent wire Photo 2: Hook clogged hair with a bent wire and
pull it out.
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Push/Lock drain stoppers

These stoppers lock and seal when you press them down and release when you push down a second time. The way to remove them isn't so obvious. In most cases you have to hold the stem while unscrewing the cap as shown. With the cap off, you can sometimes fish out the hair from the crossbars. Otherwise simply remove the entire shaft by unscrewing it. You may have to adjust the screw tension on the stem when you reinstall everything to get a good seal.

Push/Lock Drain Stopper Removal

Hold the stopper shaft tightly with a finger and unscrew the top.

Unscrewing stopper top Unscrew the stopper top and unscrew the shaft if necessary.
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Levered stoppers

Many tubs, certainly most older ones, have a stopper located inside the drain and overflow tube. Most of these have a lever on the overflow plate and a screen over the drain. The screen keeps most hair out of the drain, but some gets through and eventually forms a clog at the crossbars. Simply unscrew the screen for easy access to this clog and remove it as before. If the drain has an internal stopper, simply unscrew the overflow plate and pull the linkage and stopper up and out. Then clean the linkage and stopper and run water down the drain to flush it out.

Occasionally the linkage is out of adjustment and the stopper doesn't open far enough from its seat to allow a good flow. Adjust it, reinsert it and test it. Run water into the tub. If it leaks out, lengthen the stopper linkage to seal the drain better. If the drain doesn't open to let the water out, shorten the stopper linkage.

Levered Stopper Removal

First remove the screen and clean the crossbars. Then unscrew the overflow plate, pull out the linkage, clean the stopper and linkage, and rinse the drainpipes. Readjust the linkage if necessary. Reinstall the assembly.

Pulling out the lever mechanism Remove the stopper through the overflow.
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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • 4-in-1 screwdriver
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Utility knife

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

  • Heavy wire or coat hanger to bend into hook.