Figuratively and literally. And we need your help.
Last week the drain in our bathtub started to act up a bit. Nothing too alarming since growing up with three sisters taught me that shower drains periodically get a little hairy and need some cleaning to keep going with the flow. Well, then our plumbing world came to a halt. The drain went from slowly letting water through to a no-drop-shall-pass policy in the course of one post-basement-painting shower.
Annoyed, but mostly unphased, we broke out some tried and true de-clogging techniques:
- Fishing around with our fingers (gross, we know) dislodged a decent-sized Sherr-ball, but didn’t open the floodgates as we expected.
- Plunging released a few more items we’d rather not have seen again, but still no change in water level.
- Even our 25 foot-long drain snake (i.e. auger) was a waste of time (though we had low expectations for it anyways).
- So then we broke out the boiling water trick that had saved our kitchen sink last year. After five attempts we had only succeeded in adding more water to our tub.
- That’s when we turned to a technique suggested by some of you, a half-cup of baking soda followed by a cup of vinegar. We did that, watched our little drain volcano fizz, let it sit for five minutes, then flushed with hot water. Still no luck. Even our second attempt provided no relief, just more science project flashbacks.
- Sherry even tried the $3 As Seen On TV quality Zip-It tool that someone suggested online. It didn’t yield anywhere close to the über disgusting results shown in the video that we found below (THIS IS NOT ME, AND THAT IS NOT OUR HAIRBALL- in fact our Zip-It came out totally clean)- which we’re half grateful for and half frustrated by.
We had renewed hope this weekend after detailing our issue to an expert at the hardware store. He weighed a couple of options for us, and ended up recommending an 100% biodegradable enzyme product called Roebic Laboratories Bacterial Drain Cleaner. It involved mixing two tiny capfulls into 12oz of warm water then dumping it down the drain to sit overnight. The next morning we were pleased to see the twelve ounces of water solution was completely gone (as in, some water had slowly drained!). But our smiles disappeared as soon as the tub started filling up again when we turned on the faucet.
So after two nights of trying the Roebic solution and more showers-turned-baths than we’d like to admit (each followed by manually emptying the water that collected in the tub with a bucket, sigh) – we’re just about ready to call in professional help….
… unless, of course, you guys have any genius solutions for us! Seriously, we’ll try anything (well, anything within reason). Please shower us with suggestions – wait, scratch that water metaphor. Please inundate us with any drain unclogging tips that have worked for you (which we hope will end up solving this case and thereby serving as a great resource for anyone else with drainage issues). You know we’d love to DIY this bugger and declare victory over our clog-that-won’t-quit and we’re not ones to give up without a fight. Fingers crossed we’ll get ’em in round six!
Update: Oh no we di’innnnnt! We just unclogged the dastardly drain. Woo to the hoo. Here are the details…
I know you’re going the organic route, but have you tried plain old Draino?
You may have tree roots in clogging your shower line in your yard, its about 300 bucks for a plumber to come clear this all out.
I think you need professional help… sounds like it is not clogged from the tub end of the drain. I think it’s clogged from the outside. We had a rental house that had a similar issue (and was a similar age) and the pipes had tree roots growing in them out in the yard. So no amount of drano or snaking from the tub side would have fixed it. Good luck!
Dana Miller says
Ok, so our first home was built in the 1950’s. We had a similar problem with our kitchen sink. The smell was awful! We are TOTAL DIYers but in the end had to call in professional help. Boo, I know. Even though it was our kitchen sink that was clogging, the clog was about 50 ft away in plumbing underneath our kitchen… we would have NEVER cleared it ourselves. Apparently, it’s a problem with older homes. What did people used to put down those drains anyway??? I have empathy for your situation. It was a total bummer not to be able to fix it ourselves but glad that someone could do it. Good luck!
Hopefully, your problem is not as bad as ours. We, meaning my husband, tried everything. We got the nasty chemicals out, the gross hairballs out, etc. Nothing worked.
We ended up calling a Rotorooter plumber (who had to drive 50 miles, because no one local could fix it)and there was a crack in the pipe leading out to the street and soil and a few tree roots decided to cause problems by slowly seeping into the pipe. The water couldn’t get through. It does now.
Ashley B says
We had this happen a couple weeks ago… showered in the morning, didn’t pay attention to the tub draining, and right before leaving for work realized it wasn’t draining. We didn’t have time to work on it much then, other than the plunging thing that gave the same results you’ve gotten. We left it, intending to come back after work and take care of it (fingers crossed nothing happened during the day, of course). When we got home, the tub had drained on it’s own and was fine. We ran some super-duty drain cleaner through it and haven’t had a problem (knock on wood) since. I can’t remember the name of the drain cleaner, but we got it from Home Depot for about $8-10, and it was in a plastic bag due to the hazardous chemicals. I hope this helps!
See if the tub will drain completely (say after a couple of hours or non-use.) If not, still okay.
Squeeze a BUNCH of Dawn detergent (the plain old kind) over the drain, let sit for an hour or so, then get a bunch of really hot (i.e., boiling) water and pour over the drain area. Time after time, this has unclogged my drain due to Dawn’s amazing grease/grime-fighting abilities.
Home Depot sells a professional drain clogger that is very much not ecofriendly nor green, but it’s potent and it works. A plumber once poured this into our clogged drain and charged us x2 retail + $50 for the visit. If you end up exhausting all your planet friendly options, this is probably what a plumber would do next anyway.
I don’t know the exact name, but it’s something generic like “professional drain cleaner” and it comes in tiny granulated pellets, not liquid or powder. It’s a hard black plastic container covered in a clear plastic bag with lots of toxicity warnings. You dump it into your drain and let it sit as long as you can manage. We used it overnight, and in the morning the bathroom smelt like burnt hair. Gross, but if you do really get desperate, there ya go.
As far as prevention, get some “stop a clog” drain covers for your shower, and pick the icky hair up off of the drain cover and throw it in the trash or flush it down the toilet after every shower. Two drain clogs, and picking hair off of them right after every shower, has completely prevented us from needing that super toxic stuff since we started the habit.
P.S. Are you having problems with other drains? If so, it could be your main sewer line…in the fall and spring, I always get tree roots blocking the main line.
Keep those ideas coming everyone!
To those asking about / suggesting tree roots: we thought about that, but so far it’s the only drain in the house that’s been clogged so we had self-diagnosed (and got this backed by the plumbing department guy) that it’s probably not an issue with the main line. But who knows at this point!
Thanks again for all the suggestions.
And in response to the folks who are suggesting tree roots, we’ve had this same problem too. But you’d have slow drains all over the house, not just the tub.
But if you do determine that to be the case, the toxic stuff I commented on previously has treated our root problem by dumping it down the toilet rather than the bathtub drain.
Nicole B. says
I agree… it maybe roots. Such a pain, but fixable. I think you may have to have someone out to check it and make sure, but there are things you can use to keep your pipes clear of them in the future.
Holly G says
This happened to my boyfriend’s sink and he tried this:
It scared the crap out of me because he lives in such an old place and I was worried about the pipes – but it worked great. It’s been several months and no issues. Appears to be a green choice as well . . .
I second the recommendation for using boiling water, although I haven’t tried it with Dawn soap. When this happens to our drain that’s what we do. We typically use our largest pot and boil the water, add it to the drain, and repeat the process another time. Works like a charm almost every time in our 100+ year old home. We only had to get professional help one time at the beginning of our home ownership but since that time our boiling water remedy has worked.
Our house is 70 years old and we are all too familiar with plumbing issues. At this point, it probably is in your best interest to call someone out there to take a look at it. We recently had to have someone come out because our drains were backip up. We were sure that it had something to do with tree roots in the sewage line. Thank goodness, it was just a clog outside of the house that was easily taken care of with this handy tool the plumber brought (and then let us keep!). My suggestions to you since you are in an older home – use Root Kill every 4 to 6 months (or as directed) and use the same plumber/plumbing company every time you need to have someone come out because they will be familiar with the history. Good luck!
I had this problem and tried every single eco-friendly method out there. I finally got fed up and bought the cheapest, most toxic drain-o on the market. Much to my dismay it worked like a charm.
We have an old house (1940’s) and have had the same problem with complete drain stoppage. We used a product by the name of Thrift from the hardware store. It worked and we haven’t had to repeat it yet. Not sure if it is eco-friendly but it worked for us.
We had this problem in the kitchen sink. My husband tried and succeeded clearing the pipe with Liquid-Plumr Power Jet – http://liquid-plumr.com/products/powerjet.html
We had the same problem with tree roots causing back ups as posters have described above. Our back-ups were with the toilet, but never the tub.
When we did have an issue with the tub not draining properly, we did several of the tricks mentioned above before realizing that the mechanism for the drain itself was broken. The trip lever was in the “up” position as the default. Since it was a rental house, we fixed the problem with a pretty sack of stones that kept the drain in the “down” position.
Pat B. says
Hi Youngsters! We have an older home (1930) and we find that when the drain doesn’t clear by removing the clog from the tub (the hair), it means that the clog is in the pipe that goes to the street. My husband will snake the sewer pipe in the basement and this clears the drain. In fact, he just had to do it again last week but every year or so he has to do it. He explained that after so many years, the walls inside the old pipes get gunked up more easily which then makes the water hard to pass thru, kinda like a dam building up. ewwwww. Good luck!
I did a little research online and if you have metal pipes there could be an issue with rust/corrosion. It sounds like the clog is not near the actual tub drain area or you would have gotten it out already with your other attempts. Good luck, hope things “clear” up soon!!!
If you do manage to find a product that gets this job done and is still ecofriendly, I’d love to see that endorsement!
We had a similiar issue with our kitchen sink. Water just stopped draining one day and then backed up because it happened while we were running the dishwasher. It was disgusting! After we tried everything we could to the sink(baking soda-vinegar-hot water solution, drain snake and Draino), my husband went downstairs to our basement to look at the pipes. He was able to narrow down which pipe was the kitchen sink pipe and looked for the curved part of the line. He took that apart and pulled out a chunk of uber grossness and it worked! Our pipes are 65 years old (and will eventually need to be replaced) have clogged up twice since then (kitchen sink and batroom sink). Hubby followed the same procedure to un clog the problem line. We’re now trying to do the baking soda-vinegar solution once a month for maintenace and haven’t had a problem since.
We’ve had issues with our bathtub drain and the only thing that unclogs it is CLR Power Plumber. It’s basically a can of pressurized air. I got it at Meijer but in Virginia you can probably find it at Walgreens or Rite Aid. I HIGHLY recommend this stuff.
Jenny @ Making the Most of Money says
If it is anything like our old apartment, it is probably years and years and years of old hair balled up in there. I am not sure how to get it out (we were only staying there a year, so we didn’t want to fight with the landlord about it). We just used a plunger to get it flowing again. It worked for a few months, but then started clogging again just before we moved out.
But once you do figure out the solution, make sure you have one of those little fine-mesh drain covers so that extra hair doesn’t clog it again. As someone who sheds hair constantly, you’d be surprised how much hair you don’t see fall out but causes lots of problems (think burnt out vacuums, clogged drains, those nasty little hairballs that form in the dryer).
This won’t help your current situation but I have a suggestion for the future… mostly for Sherry. I come from a long line of super-shedding woman and the thought of wet hair in the shower freaks me out (your video in this post almost made me hurl). I also wear my hair back almost everyday, so my hair doesn’t naturally shed as much as a hair-down gal. I have a really nice, stiff, bristle-y brush that I use before hopping in the shower. If cuts down on the ick-factor and on the amount of hair that makes it down the drain.
If it’s a tree root problem, this probably won’t help, but what’s worked best for me– better than DRANO or any other commercial drain product– is regular Clorox. I pour about half the bottle down the drain (so make sure to have open windows, that stuff really stinks. Although I like the smell, but that’s probably just me!), and it really works. Good luck!!
I wish I could help but I threw up in my mouth a lot after watching that Zip-It video. OMG what if there is a Sasquatch in my tub? Good luck with the tub!
Katie @ Making This Home says
Hey guys. You didn’t mention if it’s the original plumbing and what the pipes are made of, did you?
Thanks for asking about the pipes, Katie. It is the original plumbing (well, at least we haven’t replaced it and when we had some plumbing work a few years ago all of the plumbing in the house was original) and is some sort of metal piping. I can’t say off the top of my head if it’s copper or not, though (our guess is galvanized steel).
Kind of weird, but we used this on our bathroom sink when we had the same problem….Nair. We just bought a bottle, squeezed the entire thing into the drain (It will come out the top, but that’s okay) and let it sit overnight. Haven’t had any problems since! I hope you get it fixed soon!
rachael sudlow says
in these desperate cases we use the drain cleaner from home depot that comes cased in a plastic bottle but also wrapped in a plastic bag (this shows how nasty the stuff is). I’m scared to go near it, but my husband uses it on the drains once in awhile when needed & it’s the only thing that works. Sometimes you just have to call in the big guns chemicals
Jenn D says
I would suggest you put an ad on Craigslist for a swap with “will whip up a free design mood board for wife of plumber, if wife convinces plumber husband to fix our drain” :)
Robyn C says
Hey youngsters! Me and the hubs have the exact same problem. House built in 1934. My hubs is a water and wastewater specialist(yummy I know)He says houses in those days had metal or steel piping. Not pvc. The problem is created by corrosion(aka rust)of the old metal pipes. Basically,he says your pipes are growing together from the inside causing the blockage. Solution= He says if you have tried all of the above, the pipes will more than likely need replacing. I wish I had better news, but trust me I feel your pain! Good Luck! :)
Jenn D says
I forgot the “fix drain for free”
I’m afraid you are going to have to ditch the organic methods this one time and bring in the big guns (the harsher chemical liquids mentioned above) I totally agree with the comment above about prevention. I started sticking the wad of hair on the shower wall before it even makes it to the drain and throwing it away afterwards. No clogged drains since!
Good luck. It’s such a pain to have something like that happen.
We had the same issue last week! Call a professional, he will come in and fix it in a few minutes. Then buy a screen for your drain and curse yourself for not buying the screen sooner. $3 screen vs. $200 plumber bill. Yep, wish we had the screen earlier.
If you snaked the drain 25′ boiling water and other remedies will not work. The clog is at least 25′ into the pipes. You could try draining the water with a shop vac and using some very potent chemicals to dissolve the blockage. If that doesn’t work you you will most likely need professional help.
Hi Guys :)I agree with a few others, the same thing happened to us too. It started in the guest bathroom, then our bathroom then one toilet!We tried everyting! Finally we called a professional plumber and he cleared out our pipes from our house through to the city’s pipeline under our street. He said older homes had obviously older pipes (even though we had some replaced)and the low flow toilets we had were causing a blockage (because they use less water = power to push things through)!
I’d strongly suggest biting the bullet and calling a professional. It may be a variety of things–since you’ve tried all the obvious home remedies, you are probably better off having someone look at it We’re in a 1929 bungalow, and have had some odd plumbing things–a couple of them would have been made worse if we had tried to use heavy duty chemicals. A good plumber fixed the problems, and told us what to do to prevent them in the future. And while it did cost money, it wasn’t as bad as we would have thought.
I have your solution!!!!!!!!!!!!
This is my drain! And it did the EXACT same thing a few years ago! We have the same type (1950’s house in Northern Virginia.) We tried everything, and even paid several plumbers, when it happened. Each time, it got a LITTLE better, but didn’t fix the problem. one plumber told us we needed to replace the line, for about $1,000.
That was not the problem!
The weight inside the drain (that the toggle thingy controls) is supposed to “open” and “shut” it by lifting a weight on a chain (all inside.) the chain thingy, weight and the whole apparatus had corroded, and it was basically blocking the drain–so it was permanently “shut” even when we opened the toggle. (i think maybe even the chain had broken in there, and the weight was just sitting in the opening.) the solution was SO easy once we figured it out! we removed the whole guts in there (pulled out the chain and weight that attached to the toggle) and now the drain works like a charm. It is permanently “open” now, so we use a rubber stopper if we want a bath. it was a free fix. i can’t believe that we paid hundreded of dollars to plumbers to snake it, and dumped all those chemicals down there. post or email if you have any questions. don’t suffer like we did for several years!
Just read your kitchen sink drain post from last year. Sounds like the same issue I’m having at our rental house, with the dish washer holding water. I’ll try the boiling water trick. TIA
If your able to get to the plumbing under your tub you should try a drain balloon. It hooks onto a garden hose then you place it in the pipe, turn the water hose on and the balloon inflates then pushes the clog out. I did this Monday night at the rental and it worked on the sink, but when the dish washer is used the sink clogs again. The drain balloon costs $10.99 at my True Value.
I agree with the vika. Liquid Plumr power jet works like a charm.
Get to Home Depot. They sell a product – can’t remember the name – that has cleared every clog I have had. It’s in a plastic bag – that’s how caustic it is. You have to wear gloves or you will burn your skin. Pour it in, put a bucket over the drain and let it do its work. It works and it’s cheaper than a plumber.
My husband and I like to do things ourselves, but we’ve learned that when it comes to plumbing, if the simple solutions don’t initially work, it’s best to go ahead and call a plumber. We learned this the hard and expensive way, trying to solve “small” fixes ourselves, which we estimated would cost us $50 max to do it ourselves. Two separate plumbing visits at $2,000 total, plus two new holes in our walls, solidified that belief. So our vote is to quit wasting your time and money, and just go ahead and call in the professionals. Good luck!
Katie @ Making This Home says
John, if it’s galvanized steel, that could be your problem. The stuff actually corrodes in pipes, which is why it isn’t used today. But houses built in the 50s often had drains made of it, which is now a problem.
If it’s original pipes, it’s probably galvanized, not copper.
We had this exact problem 2 weeks ago. We tried everything under the sun to open the drain, plunger, snake, draino, boiling water, and nothing worked. We had to call out a professional and it landed up being a clog in the sewer line.
We have a 50 year old ranch also and if yours has the original plumbing (which it sounds like it does) you probably have roots and rusting and a host of other things you’ll be dealing with over the next few years. The pipes are basicly growing barnecles inside the pipes causing blockage. The iron/steel pipes you no doubt have in your basement/crawlspace are only good for 40-50 years(so we just learned from our plumber) and may soon need replacing!
I hate to be the bearer of bad news but you should get a professional out there ASAP. You don’t want to lose your plumbing completely like we did for an entire day! Ahhhh, the joys of owning an older home. : )
Good luck guys and keep us informed!
I always say, when you buy your first house…one of the most important people to make friends with is a good plumber! I have a 1923 Cottage Home, this same clog happened in my laundry tub. After liquids and snaking, the plumber simply cut the pipe, pulled out the gunk, and were were free and clear. The pipe can be saudered back together…which the plumber can do for you.
So maybe you two could offer some great interior design advice with a plumber and get a trade system going? Keep those plumbers close! :)
Catherine M. says
My husband and I use a semi-enviro-friendly solution called “Pequa” that we buy at Home Depot. It’s safe on almost all pipes which is a relief because some drain cleaners can harm some materials. Anyhow, we have a method now where we pour half the bottle in the drain, let it sit for half an hour, and then with the drain closed fill the bathtub up with water. We then open the drain and all that water pushes through the pipes dislodging anything that was blocking it up. I hope this helps (and I hope they sell Pequa in VA)!
KOS! (Keep On S'myelin!) says
The drain snake has always worked for me. I have long hair and the clumps the snake pulls is beyond gross yet some how exciting to see how much I can pul out! I have to unscrew the drain cover for the snake to work properly.
Hope you find a solution soon!
I vote with the non-eco-friendly products just this once! Being a single gal I’ve learned all the easy fix-it tricks I can and Drano gel (it comes in a red bottle) is my poison of choice for such clogs. For about $6 your troubles literally go down the drain. Use your microfibre towels to rinse out the tub later and you’ll feel better about the earth. Good luck!