How to Unclog a Shower or Bathtub

Shower and bathtub drains often clog from soap sludge and hair buildup. If you have a clog in a shower or bathroom drain with a pop-up stopper, it’s easy to clear the clog—just pry off the grate or pull out the stopper, then use a hand auger on the drain. But most showers and bathtubs use a different mechanism, called a rod-and-bucket assembly, to close their drains.

The Rod-and-Bucket Assembly

The rod-and-bucket assembly is a long rod connected to a cylindrical solid called a bucket. The rod-and-bucket is connected to a trip lever plate embedded in the front wall of the tub.

The rod-and-bucket hangs in a vertical pipe behind the tub wall. This pipe joins at a 90˚ angle with the pipe that extends from the tub’s drain. When you flick the lever, the rod-and-bucket drops, blocking the drain pipe and stopping the water flow from the tub. To unclog a bathtub clog, you first have to remove the rod-and-bucket.

  1. Unscrew and lift away the trip lever plate. The plate is attached to the rod-and-bucket, which you should pull up carefully as well.
  2. If there’s a hairball on the bucket and the water now drains normally, you’ve found the clog. Clean and replace the bucket.
  3. If the bucket is clean but the water in the tub drains away once it’s been lifted out, then the rod has stretched so that the bucket blocks water flow when it shouldn’t. Buy a new rod-and-bucket assembly that’s about 1/4″ shorter than your current assembly.
  4. If the water doesn’t drain away, use a rag to plug the hole where the trip lever plate was and plunge the drain. If that doesn’t work, use a hand auger by feeding it down the pipe that held the rod-and-bucket.
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