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…
KOS! (Keep On S'myelin!) says
I just looked and the thing I was called a drain snake is called the Zip-It but I see you already tried that. Again, it worked better for me when I took the drain cover off to do it.
Quick bit of extra info. The drain cover has been removed for days, so when we were pouring our remedies (boiling water, baking soda, etc) or snaking/zipping the drain, the cover is always off (in fact its’ permanently off now, so it’s not in the way). Hope that clears things up for those of you who are suggesting we remove it!
we’ve had great luck with those cans of compressed air (not the ones you’d use on a keyboard – they sell ones specifically for plumbing) – it forces air through and can sometimes push an obstruction out of the way. Good luck!
We had the same problem and thank goodness that my husband once worked as a plumber and knew what he was doing.
A note about the pipe – it’s probably not copper as it’s a drain line you’re talking about. My guess is that if it’s the original plumbing, the pipe is cast iron (a standard waste/vent type of pipe).
I agree with others who have posted that you should probably call in professional help with this one – since it sounds like the clog isn’t near the tub, but rather further along the branch – professionals have the tools and knowledge to troubleshoot and fix the problem.
I know you guys like to stay as green as possible but this might be a job for some heavy-duty chemicals.
I’d try a $6 bottle of Draino from the grocery or home goods store before calling in a professional. We’ve had some nasty clogs before that nothing helped and were about to call in a pro when Draino saved the day. Be sure to get the gel kind in the red bottle. It’s for extreme clogs.
I hate to say it, but I think you’re going to have to call in a professional. We just had to have a plumber come out the other day for a clog that originated in the kitchen–hubby snaked the pipes, but the clog was too far in. Fortunately we purchased a home warranty and the whole ordeal only set us back $60. On a positive note, we didn’t have to use any chemicals!
Good luck, y’all!
I used successfully many time a thing shooting gas that expands when in contact with water.
I don’t remember the name but it is in a blue box and basically it is a cartridge of gas plus a handle and a rubber top to block the gas from coming back of the drain on your end.
Only thing is to be sure that your plumbing can take it
The same thing happened to us in an old house where we rented the first floor. We tried the organic tricks but they didn’t work – here is what else we tried:
We unscrewed the top of the drain thing (on the side of the tub) and pulled out a lot of hair. It helped some but not a lot.
A book suggested we hold a wet towel over that unscrewed drain while we plunge the actual drain – nadda.
In the end, what worked like a charm, was pouring an entire bottle of draino in there and letting it sit for a few hours.
After that it would start to clog occasionally, and we bought draino crystals that we would use 1x a month or so to keep it from getting *that* bad again.
Alternatively, use draino now and then buy a mesh net to put in the drain to catch all the hair – it really works and you can get them at the dollar store.
I know this is not funny a topic but oh my goodness, I am laughing so hard!! That video just made my day :-) I’m sorry, I have no imput on how to help but I think John’s reaction was classic – ha!!
Jenny @ DIY Newlyweds says
Unfortunately I don’t have a solution for you, but I do have a tip for the future. Instead of buying one of those drain screens, you can simply make one yourself using pantyhose. It lets the water get through, but will trap hair from clogging your drain.
We had this happen to our kitchen sink last year, and tried everything. We finally called in professionals, who used an auger machine so big it took up most of our kitchen! But they fixed it- the clog was more than 50 feet into the pipes. We would never have been able to clear it on our own.
I have just learned a lot about plumbing because we had to replace ALL of ours – which is actually easier than trying to solve a problem like this, I’m thinking! Yours are probably galvanized steel. I think you would know if it was copper, and ours were steel before we replaced them. Do you have access to your pipes? Maybe not because you don’t have a full basement, right? My suggestion was going to be see if you have any cleanouts, i.e. a cap you can take off elsewhere in the plumbing so you can snake from another direction. But maybe you don’t have easy access like we do, and anyway cleanouts are more common in modern plumbing I think. And actually the drain weight thing suggested by Heyruthie sounds possible…
Ashley B says
I had this happen once. And my toilet wouldn’t flush all the way either. I ended up having to get the pipes snaked.
I would call a company that specializes in clearing out sewer lines… they have a motorized device that sends a rotating blade down through the line to clean out tree roots or whatever all might be in the way.
I have this done to our sewer pipe once per year.
Amanda S. says
I’m no plumbing expert, but when showers clog up like that it’s either the beginning signs of a septic tank that need to be emptied out or a major plumbing issue down the line somewhere from your clogged bathroom drain. I’d call a professional – don’t lose another frustrating day to it!
Sounds like my shower drain! YUCK is all I can really say. When I went to Home Depot with this same problem, I was in search of a snake when some nice wanna-be plumber who works there told me this : “a snake will not do the trick because it will just push whatever if clogging the drain depper into the pipes.” so he suggested this and I love it. but be careful…its POTENT!
Hope this helps!
[email protected] Paradise says
O goodie. I had a very similar situation happen to me last Friday. We noticed our tub was acting funny, then it got worse. Our bathtub drain was showing signs of slow-water-draining. Then, I went to our basement to do laundry. Just a small amount of water came out of the drain. THEN, when we flushed the toilet, the drain wouldn’t go down. We tried everything just like you. We had to call a plumber. It was tree roots. Even though none of our other drains were plugged, it still backed up the water in these areas of the house.
I would call a pro out. Someone that is highly recommended by a friend or family member. Hope this helps!
heather s. says
It sounds to me like it might be an issue with your main line vs. the drain as others suggested since you already snaked it 25′. I’d suggest having RotoRooter clean your main lines. They usually charge around $50-$100.
Jane @ the Borrowed Abode says
Whatever you do, do NOT use sulfuric acid drain opener.
I used it in my condo, at the recommendation of my hardware store’s owner, and it destroyed my tub’s enamel as well as the chrome on the drain of both the tub and the sink. It turned it black – burnt it – not in a way I can remove. My landlord’s going to have a fit.
I recoommend a pro. you may have roots or something invading your pipes way deep in the ground.
i am 27 and newly divorced. (bummer) after one month of living on my own i decided the house was too much for me alone so i decided to rent out my 2 front rooms. company and help with bills what could be better!
the first night my new roomies (still strangers) moved in i went to bed first and woke to the whole house flooded! every toilet, sink, tub, and the water heat had poured out yuck water.
how embarrassing for me and awkward for my new housemates! one of them said they stared the washer and then the flooding began. he thought he had broken something! (poor guy was scared)
called out RotoRooter and there was roots in the city main. what a mess!
OMG… I almost just threw up. Sorry… but I did!! Yikes that video was NASTY.
We bought our house just over 2 years ago and the first year and a half we were constantly battling slow drains in the upstairs bathroom. Both the sink and the shower… it was such a nightmare. We had them professionally snaked and the clog would just come right back. Finally we found a product called Instant Power Hair and Grease. It’s not very environmentally friendly and comes with all sorts of death warnings and a plastic bag to keep it in, but it works like magic and since using we never have problems with the drains anymore.
It costs about $8 from Menards (don’t know if you have that near you… I think it’s a Midwest store), but check your hardware store for it. Here is a link to see what it looks like. http://www.scotchcorp.com/draincleaner1.html
And the bonus is that it’s Guaranteed to work or your money back so no harm in trying.
I have heard that a 2 litre bottle of Coke has enough acid in it to clear a clogged drain. I have poured a can of Coke into the toilet after it seems to be backed up (we have an old house too) and it seemed to fix the problem. It sounds like you may have a more serious problem than hair or toiletpaper though. GOod luck!
We had the same thing happen and the clog was not in the shower but between the shower and toilet. Our plumber had to snake the toilet to push the clog away. I would suggest trying to treat the adjacent areas such as toilet and bathroom sink. ( Sometimes you just have to call in a pro.)
Sorry, I don’t have any suggestions… I just have to say I laughed out loud when you said “sherr-ball” and at the same time I thought about how much I would not like my husband to phrase it like that….
My husband and I are both VERY hairy. The only thing that works for us is “Drano hair removal” We get it at the hardware store. Total poison – not environmentally friendly, but it works.
This happened to my husband and I the day we bought our new house! Needless to say, we were frustrated and scared. We called the builders and they sent out a plumbing company (for free, so I can’t tell you about the price)….the clog was so deep in the plumbing, there was so way drano or anything was going to fix it. Nevertheless, Drano isn’t a bad solution….I would try that first, then call in the pros.
Best of luck. The joys of home ownership!
Plumbing issues are the worse….
I hate to say it you might need to call a plumber….We had a tub issue too, earlier in the year. Not fun! Our tub was draining very slowing, we though it’s an older home to be expected. Well one night I was doing laundry (thank god our washer & dryer are in the garage) When I heard a gush on water. The water from our washing machine empties into a sink/basin in the garage…well this time it overflowed and water was pouring into the garage.
The remaining water backed up into our tub! Nasty and left cringe worthy stuff! Then our toilet would no longer work, it would flush then backup into our tub! Again NASTY! We tried all home remedies, I called my dad crying about the ‘lemon’ we must have bought etc. etc. LONG LONG story short, it took us calling the county (praying it was their issues) and two different plumbers to fix the issue. The last one located our cleanout (outside) and removed a bunch of tree roots and debris among other things. It’s been almost a year without issues (knock on wood!)
Call a plumber and make sure they will stand be there work an offer your a warranty!
We’ve had luck with using “green” materials on clogs. We’ve poured 1 cup of baking soda followed by 3 cups of boiling water and 1 cup of vinegar down the drain and then quickly put a rag over the drain. After a few minutes, ran the water and the clog was removed.
Hope it is not something more serious.
Snake that drain! Also, the last time this happened to us it was the drain mechanism.
My fiance is an electrician for the water company here is St. Louis. He says if you haven’t done it yet, pull out the stopper from the tub and check for hair clog. I am sure you have done that already, though.
He also recommended the enzyme stuff.
When our kitchen sink backed up he tried everything from the kitchen end and nothing worked. He ended up having to
borrow a 3.5 gallon-per-minute power washer from work with a cutting wand and head and then he tackled it from the basement end. This was disgusting, smelly, and incredibly messy, but he dislodged a ball of steel wool the diameter of the pipes. Since you guys have a crawl space, he recommends a plumber.
We had a similar problem and called a plumber. He used and recommended this product: “Thrift” http://www.thriftmarketing.com/thrift_drain_cleaner.htm
It’s worked for us many times. The problem may be finding a place that sells it. He directed us to a local plumbing supply store. You might have luck calling the Thrift company and asking if they know of places in your area that sell it. Good luck!
My tub was doing this… twice.. the first time I called in a pro, he snaked it and got it free. it started acting up a week later, called the pro again, he used a hanger (untwisted, to be straight), jimmied it a little and oila it was fixed. nothing else. so while he was there i told him my dishwasher was backing up. again he used a hanger. oila! i had to pay him for something i had in my closet.
its worth a try!
Guys, I really appreciate your Blog and check in often! Thanks~
I will apologize in advance for the book to follow and suggest that you not include it all on your comments listing!!! I’ll just let my plumbing knowledge ooze out for your use!
I have a house about the same age as yours and of similar design (plumbing chaos and all)… only difference is that I totally replaced all my drain plumbing with updated PVC. You probably have Galvanized steel pipes as your drain lines and though they are not the greatest in enduring life’s flushes, if they were responsible for the clog (say they are rusting) you would more than likely also have a leaky pipe. Be careful what products you put down these pipes and be careful with how hard you snake them. This comes A) from the Galv pipe standpoint (weak pipes are easy to break) and B) from the septic/public sewer aspect (be careful what you put in your tank)! With that said its important to remember that your pipes are all different sizes from top to bottom. The drain from the tub could be 1-1/2″dia. (or less) which may drain into a 2″ dia. pipe eventually leading to a 3″ or greater dia. pipe leading out of the house! Now with the little plumbing knowledge that I have acquired over the years (and having a basement drain clog at 26′ when I only have a 25′ snake) if you aren’t having any other drain issues in the house then your clog is in the immediate area of the tub and said tub does not share this drain line with any other fixture! So first try all your supply fixtures and make sure they all drain properly and don’t cause the tub to inadvertently fill. If another fixture causes your tub to fill then you know the clog is past the junction of two drain pipes. I have an unfinished basement making it easy to access plumbing! From what I’ve seen of yours you may not have that luxury! I agree that your problem is not tree-root related but it may be a clog caused by the junction of one pipe into the other (and this could be under slab). In essence you probably need a longer snake (who says size doesn’t matter)! Whether you hire one or buy one that’s up to you. Also remember that each plumbing fixture in your house has a vent on the roof that (most of the time) is located directly over said fixture drain line. This can also be used as a snake access point! Hope any of this may be helpful – God knows I could have used a little help when my clogs came!!!
Home Remedy Fix – after you have some sort of drainage movement take a whole two or three liter bottle of Coke and empty it down the drain. Works every time just watch out for rusty pipes Coke really eats stuff!!!
Good Luck and Happy Fushing
My drain had some issues a few weeks ago and I had to climb on the roof and snake the air vent pipe that is associated with my bathtub drain. So anyway, get a professional. (Unless you’re crazy like me).
When I moved into my apartment, the tub took hours to drain. I used half a bottle of draino and that seemed to do the trick. I think you guys may need professionals!
(Maybe use some buckets to dump the tub water into the sink so it’s not just sitting there!)
I wouldn’t try Drano or Liquid Plumr or any other chemical drain cleaner. If it doesn’t work and you have to call a pro, that stuff will still be in the drain when they are working on it. Because it’s so caustic, they could be injured. Don’t get me wrong, I use the stuff periodically for slow drains that I know it will work on, but for something as tough as this, go with the pro and don’t make them muck out a drain with all those chemicals in it.
I forgot to ask, do you have a cleanout? Outside? See my loong post above….you may have to start there. Your problem is deeper then 25feet
alison chandler says
Ugh, what a bummer. We had the same thing happen and my husband ended up replacing the trap and all the old pipes below because they were corroded closed. Not too expensive, but luckily he knows something about plumbing and could DIY! I’m sure you guys could figure it out too! Get the Home Depot 1-2-3 Plumbing Book!
We also had THE EXACT SAME problem a few weeks ago. I have a brick house built in 1965 that looks almost exactly like yours and I love to get ideas from your blog. We tried all the same things and it did not budge! My husband is pretty handy and seemed to know what he needed to do, so he crawled under the house and took the P-trap(?) off and pulled out what looked like a miniature version of Harry and the Hendersons. Has worked like a dream ever since!! Don’t call a plumber if you or John is willing to crawl under the house and play around. You should be able to google instructions.
We just had the same problem. We tried everything we could too. I have very long hair… the arch nemesis of drains… so we had to call a plumber. $120 later, the tub clog was gone. He used some sort of auger-type tool. It was quite messy. The bathroom walls, the floor, everywhere was splattered with tub yuck but it was worth it. It drains so quickly now. It was worth it.
I’m no help. However, the hubster (being a plumber and all) might be. However, he’s working out of cell range today, so I wouldn’t be able to call and ask. But if another plumber doesn’t kick in and save the day, I’m happy to ask when he gets home tonight!
Thanks Meredith! We’d love your handy hubby’s point of view on this!
My husband and I had this same problem at our previous house. The only thing that worked for us was the sulfuric acid drain opener. It’s true that it will eat away at the tub and the metal drain cover, but we used a funnell and removed the drain screen before doing it and it was fine. However, that stuff is REALLY potent and you have to be very careful!! I prefer to go the eco-friendly route whenever possible, but whe it’s between at least a $75 plumbers visit or an $8 bottle of that stuff, I go for the bottle. Good luck!!
I know you don’t like chemicals but the extra strength Drano or similar product always works for me!
I admit that I haven’t had time to read all the responses. I just wanted to share what worked for us.
Our drain was clogged last year for three weeks while we tried everything under the sun to fix it. Finally we bought a piece from Lowes that fits on the end of the water hose. You put the whole piece in the drain and turn on the water. The piece expands to the size of the drain and sends a blast of water through the pipes. Cleared our right up! We did have to go in through the overflow valve with the water hose because we couldn’t get a good fit by going through the drain. (For the life of me I can’t think of the name of the piece that fits on the end of the water hose, but you can get it in the plumbing dept!)
Well we tried all that too when our tub backed up, ended up calling the Roto-Rooter people. They had to run 150 feet of snake out to find the problem, which turned out to be roots. We have a lot of trees, and he said every other year or so we should have someone come out and get the roots out again, since they will grow back through the pipes. Really nothing we could do ourselves. We have had to do it twice in three years now. Maybe, maybe not???
This is a long shot – but the last time we had a tub that would not drain, it turned out the chain that attaches the drain stopper to the little lever that moves up and down had come undone. So in fact our drain wasn’t clogged by any debris – it was clogged by the drain stopper. Reattaching and tightening the chain fixed the problem. (PS – I hate clogged drains – so frustrating, and showering in standing water just feels so gross!)
A similar problem happened in my old apartment last year. Needless to say, after trying everything, they discovered that the clog was really far down, which resulted in ripping out my neighbors’ bathroom ceiling to fix it. Long story short, I would get a plumber.
:giggle at “Sherr-ball”–I can relate! I have no words of wisdom. Anything that can’t be fixed with a bottle of liquid foaming pipe snake and I’m in over my head. Good luck!
well this has happened to me twice. The first time I called roto-rooter but it was too expensive. They used an electric snake but that can be dicey if your pipes are old. This time I called a guy who only clears drains. He told me to NEVER use draino or any chemical but only boiling water and baking soda. But sometimes that is not enough since the pipe might curve around. He had to open the pipe in the basement and get the giant hairball/greaseball out (yuck I know). I have gotten smaller clogs freed with boiling water but if you’ve tried all that then maybe just dip into that savings jar and call the pros!
Stephanie @ A Fine House says
My “Mr.Fix-It” hubby said that it is most likely not a tree root, or all of your drains would be backing up. He said if it’s just the bathtub then it is most likely the trap (between the tub and where that drain connects to another drain)If you can get to the trap under the house or in the basement you may have something “stuck” in there.
My husband uses something called “COPPER SULFATE” to kill tree roots. It is somewhat of a gravel consistency so it wouldnt’ go down the tub, but if the toilet and tub flow into the same trap, maybe you could flush the copper sulfate down the toilet. I’d check with a professional or the guys at True Value first though.
Yeah, we’re hoping it’s not a tree root either since none of our other plumbing is backing up- even the sink and toilet that are just a few feet away from the tub. Fingers crossed that we get to the bottom of this thing. Thanks so much for all the help everyone!