How To Unblock A Shower Drain

Is your shower drain blocked, here's our guide to unblocking it.

If you notice your shower draining slower and slower, leaving you ankle-deep in water at the end of a shower, you probably have a blockage. 

Showers often become blocked from a build-up of soap scum, hair, dead skin and other debris. While strainers or hair traps catch most particulates, some may inevitably get through to block the drain. 

Luckily, unblocking a shower drain is straightforward, even without plumbing or DIY experience. 

Without further ado, let’s discuss how to unblock a shower drain. 

Causes of a blocked shower drain

1: Hair

If you don’t have a decent hair strainer or it’s loose or doesn’t work properly, hair will clog your shower drain in no time! Invest in a decent hair trap/strainer - preventing hair-related blockages is well worth it!

Silver shower drain clogged by hair
Above: An extremely clogged shower drain!

2: Soap scum

Soap scum is a chalky residue that is chock full of sticky minerals. These can solidify, especially when combined with hair and other debris. Soap scum is more of an issue in hard water areas. 

3: Dead skin

We know it sounds nasty, but dead skin is one of the prime culprits for a blocked shower drain. When dead skin combines with soap scum and hair, it creates a hard, sticky paste that can easily block a drain.

Ways of unblocking a shower drain

Assess the blockage

Firstly, remove the hair trap/strainer and assess the blockage. Do not stick your hand down - it might get stuck! Next, inspect the drain with a torch for any visible obstructions or obvious build-ups. 

If you can see the blockage, it’s probably worth skipping any step that involves flushing the drain with liquids. Instead, use a strong wire or plumber snake to pry the blockage apart and flush it. If the blockage is close to the top of the drain, you may even be able to use a long screwdriver or a knife. 

1: Boiling water

Boiling water is practically free to try, although it won’t be effective if there’s lots of scum and dead hair in the mix. 

Boil a kettle and pour it down the shower drain. Try and pour from a decent height - this will increase the velocity of the water. Be careful not to burn yourself!

Failing that, it’s time to get the baking soda out. 

2: Baking soda and vinegar

Baking soda and vinegar will dissolve soap scum, loosening a blockage so it can be flushed with hot or boiling water.

The method is simple: pour a cup of baking soda down the drain using a funnel, and then add a cup of white vinegar. The mixture should bubble up - hold a rag over the drainage hole to prevent the mixture from overflowing. If you have a plug, use that. 

Waiting around 5 to 15 minutes and flush with hot or boiling water. 

3: Use a wire

If the aforementioned tips fail, it’s time to pry the blockage with a wire manually. If you don’t have a thick, strong wire, then you can unravel a metal coat hanger and fashion it into a hook. 

Try and sight the blockage with a torch before attacking it with a wire. Again, never stick your hand down a drain - it can get stuck. 

You know the blockage is nearby if you feel resistance and notice dirt on the wire. Keep attacking it and then re-attempt the boiling water method. 

4: Use a plunger

If digging the blockage out with a wire fails, it’s time to try a plunger. There are two types of plunger; manual plungers, which are essentially suction cups on a stick, and water force plungers, which have a handle you pull and push. 

To use a plunger, you’ll need to partially fill the shower tray with warm water. Then, place the plunger over the drain and deliver a few strong plunges. Ensure you hold the plunger straight and true. 

Here’s a step-by-step:

  • Fill the bowl with warm water
  • Align the plunger’s lip over the drain to get a good seal
  • Pull and push the plunger using strong pressure

5: Plumber snake

A plumber’s snake is a long, coiled instrument used to drill into blockages. You insert it into the drain, twist the snake into the blockage, and then dislodge the build-up. They’re pretty easy to use, but there is a knack to it, as you have to feel the blockage and then drill into it firmly. 

Plumbers snake unblocking shower drain
Above: Plumber’s snake

  • Insert the plumber’s snake into the drain. Hold it fairly close to the drain. 
  • Uncoil the snake, so it enters the drain. Try to feel out the blockage. 
  • Screw or drill into the blockage. Readjust if necessary.
  • Once you feel resistance, keep drilling. 
  • Then, coil the snake and pull the blockage out of the drain. 
  • Flush strongly or use a plunger to clear the remainder.

6: Try chemical unblockers 

Chemical drain products are somewhat of a last resort, as they’re not great for the environment and are pretty caustic to use. Many major cleaning product brands offer them, including Mr Muscle and Buster. 

Blocked shower drain with blue drain cleaner chemical
Above: Cleaning a drain with chemical products 

One of the most effective products is soda crystals, a general-purpose cleaning product. Try adding these to the drain and following with hot water. 

If soda crystals fail, there are many stronger drain cleaners out there, but make sure you choose one suitable for bathrooms. Which? magazine has put together a guide to the best drain cleaners here.

Always read the instructions before squirting these products down your drain, or you could cause damage to yourself or your plumbing!

When to call a plumber

If you still haven’t managed to unblock your drain, there could be a blockage somewhere further into the plumbing, which could even be an outdoor drain. It’s worth calling a plumber if even chemical blockers and plungers can’t fix the blockage. Read our guide to common drain problems.


Can I dissolve hair in a drain to unblock it?

Drain unblocking products will dissolve and weaken hair. Mr Muscle offers a drain unclogger that they claim dissolves hair easily. 

What is the best product to unclog a shower drain?

Try hot water, baking soda, and vinegar first, as this will often fix the problem without the need to start pouring chemicals down the drain. If all else fails, there are many over-the-counter drain uncloggers available from hardware stores. Make sure the product is suitable fo

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