How to Unclog a Bathtub Drain with Pliers

When broken hair strands and other debris end up in the drain, they can cause nasty blockage. In this article, I show you how to remove the blockage from the drain of your bathtub using pliers.

Most of the time, flushing a mixture of vinegar and baking soda will clear a clogged drain. Sometimes though, if your drain has tough clogs, this method may not do the trick. In such situations, you may need to disassemble the drain system to remove the gunk manually. A bathtub drain is one of those that get clogged with hair and won’t drain at all. To clear it, you need to pull the hair out of the drain manually.

There are many ways to remove hair from a bathtub drain. In this article, I show you how to do it with pliers. But before we get there, these are the common signs of a clogged tub drain.

Signs of a clogged tub drain

  • Water drain slowly
  • Bad smell coming from the tub drain
  • Bubbling of water as it drains
  • Hair strand hanging around the drain

How to unclog a bathtub drain with needle nose pliers

This is the most effective method for removing a bunch of hair clogs on the holes of the drain.

Tools

  • Water-pump pliers / channellock pliers
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Slotted screwdriver/phillips head screwdriver (optional)
  • 10mm socket wrench
  • Coat hanger wire (optional)
  • Baking soda and vinegar (optiona)

Procedure

Step 1: Remove the bathtub drain plug.

This is where the channel lock or adjustable pliers come in handy.

uninstalling tub drain stopper with channel lock pliers
Removing tub stopper with adjustable pliers

Removing the old Moen tub drain stopper

If you are dealing with the old Moen tub stopper, lift the tub stopper cover and hold it tight with the channel lock pliers on one hand. Then turn the button screw or knob counterclockwise with the other hand to unscrew it. If it is too tight, use another pair of pliers to break it loose. You can tape the knob or cover it with a rag to avoid marring its surface. A needle nose pliers or regular plier will do the job. But if you have pliers with inserts, it can be great too.

removing moen tub stopper with socket wrench
Removing tub stopper with wrench

Remove the button screw to expose either a flathead screw or 10mm socket head. If yours is a socket head, use the 10mm socket and ratchet wrench. Else, if it is a screw head, use the screwdriver to break it loose and unscrew. Then pull the drain plug by hand and put it aside.

Removing the new Moen tub stopper

Some push and pull tub drains such as the newer Moen tub drains are different. They have a set screw on the side of the plug. To uninstall them, you lift the drain cover and slide a Phillips head screwdriver across to remove the screw. Here, I recommend using a magnetic screwdriver to catch the screw and prevent it from falling into the drain. If you don’t have one, here is how to magnetize a regular screwdriver.

Once you remove the screw, pull the tub drain stopper body by hand and set it aside.

Step 2: Pull the hairs out with needle nose pliers.

Needlenose or long nose pliers are the best for removing the hairs that clog up the bathtub drain, especially on the drain grill and drain crossbar.

The pliers have serrated jaws that provide maximum gripping strength. Their jaws are also long and tapered to allow you to fish out the clogging hairs behind the drain holes.

You can also use jewelry-making pliers such as round concave or long nose. They work great too. A pair of bent needle nose pliers is also good for getting behind the drain holes more easily.

Just grip the gunk and pull out meticulously. A pair of latex gloves can come in handy because the blockage is disgusting to touch with bare hands.

Step 3: Unclog the drain further down with coat hanger (optional)

pulling human hair from a clogged bathtub drain with a coat hanger
Pulling a clump of human hair from bath drain with c

Pliers remove most of the hair blocking the drain. But if you want to take the unclogging business further down, you can make your own DIY snake drain using a coathanger.

Just straighten the coat hanger and use the needle nose pliers to make a small hook on one end. Then shove the hook through a drain hole and snake the drain. If the hook doesn’t fit, ream one of the drain holes with pliers to expand it.

The hook should pull any remaining gunk and hair balls in the bathtub’s drain. You might want to put on a mask because as you go further down the drain, the smell of the decomposing black gunk becomes even nastier.

Step 4: Clean the drain with hot water

Open the hot water faucet and let the water flow down the drain for about a minute. This will clean the drain system and flush down any residues. You can also pour some baking soda and vinegar into the drain if you have them handy.

Step 5: Reinstall the bath drain assembly.

Before reinstalling the bath tub drain assembly, you may want to clean it first to remove soap scum and mineral deposits. If the parts have a chrome finish, you can use rubbing alcohol or a mixture of baking soda and vinegar as explained here.

Well, that is how to unclog a bathtub drain with pliers. It works almost as good as using a clog remover tool, and sometimes better.

So, the next time your bathtub won’t drain, don’t call a plumber just yet. Try to get at it by yourself using pliers and a coat hanger. But if you cannot do it or the problem persists, don’t hesitate to call an expert. Also, installing a shower drain hair catcher might keep the hairs of your girls from blocking the drain.

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