How to Clean a Shower Drain (and Prevent It From Smelling)

Before you call the plumber, follow these tips to clean a clogged, smelly shower drain.

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Woman standing in shower, cropped view of feet
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There's nothing less relaxing than getting ready to take a nice bath or shower only to be greeted by a smelly shower drain odor. Even worse is realizing the water isn't going down after you've already toweled off.

A clogged shower drain is a nuisance, especially if it happens frequently. Whether you have excess soap scum, long hair, or something else (like mold) that's clogging your pipes or causing a smelly shower drain, this is a problem that doesn't go away on its own and must be handled immediately. Luckily, most shower drain odor and clog issues are easy to handle if you know how to clean a shower drain the right way. Then, take some precautionary measures to prevent a clogged shower drain in the future.

Understand that if you can't get rid of shower drain smells on your own, the water doesn't drain—or worse, is backing up—it could be an issue with the lines feeding into your sewer or septic tank. This is likely not a DIY fix, so it's best to hire professional help. Just make sure you are hiring a plumber who is both licensed and insured.

How Often to Clean a Shower Drain

Clean your shower drain monthly to remove trapped hair and soapy sludge. If there are multiple shower users with long hair, cleaning out the drain every other week is even better.

Clogs should be removed as quickly as possible using a toilet plunger, drain snake, or commercial solution (following the instructions for how to clean a shower drain, below). Slow-running or smelly drains can be easily cleaned with household products like baking soda, distilled white vinegar, or chlorine bleach.

One caution: Never mix cleaning products—even mixing chlorine bleach and vinegar can produce toxic gas. Follow the instructions on the label carefully!

What You Need:

  • Toilet plunger
  • Drain snake
  • Baking soda
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Chlorine bleach
  • All-purpose cleaner
  • Commercial drain cleaner

How to Clean a Shower Drain With a Toilet Plunger

Your first line of defense for a clogged shower drain is an old-fashioned toilet plunger. Fill the tub or shower stall with enough water to cover the rubber bell of the plunger. Place the bell over the drain opening and plunge away. The force of the pressurized water should dislodge the clog and allow the standing water to go down. If the shower doesn't drain or drains slowly, try again.

How to Use a Drain Snake

If the clog is a mass of soap scum-coated hair that just won't move, you need a drain snake (or toilet auger). The price for one of these tools can range from around $30 for a metal snake to just $10 for a three-count package of plastic drain snakes.

Using a drain snake is easy: Just remove the drain cover, then push the snake into the drain pipe. When you start to feel resistance, you've hit the clog. Don't pull up the snake just yet. Keep rotating the snake so the clog will be caught for removal or broken up.

When you stop feeling resistance, slowly pull the snake from the drain and dispose of the clog. Finally, run the shower at full force for a few minutes to make sure everything is clear. Clean the drain cover with hot water and an all-purpose cleaner and replace it.

Unclog a Shower Drain With a Store-Bought Solution

Most drain cleaners for consumer use are alkaline-based and use sodium hydroxide and other chemicals to create heat that helps dissolve clogs. The cleaning solutions are heavier than water and can be poured into the drain through standing water.

It is essential to follow the directions carefully. Most drain cleaners are caustic and wearing eye protection and gloves are highly recommended. Follow the label instructions to wait the recommended amount of time to let the product work. Never use a commercial drain cleaner and then attempt to plunge or snake a drain because splashing may occur.

Enzyme-based drain cleaners like Green Gobbler Liquid Hair & Grease Clog Remover ($25, amazon.com) are also available. They do not work as quickly as chemical-based cleaners but are more environmentally friendly. The enzymes slowly break down hair and scum and are less damaging to pipes.

How to Clean a Shower Drain With Baking Soda and Vinegar

While baking soda and vinegar will not remove hair clogs, they are effective for cutting through soap scum that coats drainage lines, causing them to run slowly. A quick flush of the drain every month will also help reduce odor from the bacteria that can grow in soap scum.

  1. Boil some water. In a tea kettle, heat up about 4 cups of water, then carefully pour the water down the drain. If you have PVC pipes, use hot water from the tap rather than boiling water.
  2. Add baking soda and vinegar. Pour 1 cup baking soda (a measuring cup can help) down the drain, followed by 1 cup of distilled white vinegar. Be prepared for some bubbling and fizzing!
  3. Wait. Let the mixture work for at least 10 minutes, then flush with more hot water.

How to Prevent a Clogged Shower Drain

Use a drain catcher.

Since hair is the main culprit causing shower clogs, using a shower drain hair catcher is an easy way to prevent a clogged shower drain. A good hair catcher does not impede water flow and stays in place with suction or silicone rims. There are two main types of hair catchers to choose from:

  • Internal hair catchers come in different sizes to fit drainage lines. They are easy to install and the trapped hair is hidden from view. That's both good and bad because you must remember to clean the hair away after each shampoo.
  • External screens are placed directly over the drain. They are inexpensive and easy to clean but can be slightly raised on the floor of the shower.

Clean the drain regularly.

Get in the habit of cleaning your shower drain regularly—before clogs occur. Follow the steps outlined above to clean your shower drain with baking soda and vinegar about once per month.

Reevaluate your toiletries.

Soap scum is inevitable in a shower, but some types of soap, body washes, and lotions may clog the drain more than others. Those that contain oatmeal, large chunks of exfoliating materials, or thick lotions could all contribute to or get caught up in a clogged drain. If you don't want to give up these products, get a good drain catcher and flush the drain often.

How to Get Rid of and Prevent Smells in a Shower Drain

Shower drain odors are caused by sewage gas, bacteria, or mold. If you have a guest bathroom that isn't used often, the shower drain P-trap can become dry and allow sewer gas to escape. This is easily solved by running the shower for a few minutes each month or so.

Odors can also come from the soap scum that is allowed to build-up in the pipes. The scum and the dark, moist conditions are the perfect feeding ground for odor-causing bacteria and mold. Regular use and monthly cleaning of a shower will keep odors at bay.

  1. Remove the drain cover. Clean it thoroughly with hot water and an all-purpose cleaner. If necessary, scrub with an old toothbrush, then throw the toothbrush away.
  2. Add baking soda and vinegar. Pour 1 cup of baking soda into the drain, then add 1 cup of distilled white vinegar. Let it foam and fizz for at least 10 minutes.
  3. Flush the drain. Pour hot water down the drain to clear it. Replace the drain cover.

To kill odor-causing mold:

  1. Remove the drain cover. Allow it to soak for at least 10 minutes in water with 2 teaspoons of chlorine bleach.
  2. Clear the drain. Mix 1/2 cup of liquid chlorine bleach in 2 cups of hot water. Pour the solution down the drain and let it sit for at least one hour.
  3. Flush the drain. Pour more hot water down the drain. Clean, rinse, and replace the drain cover.

Read Next: How to Make Your Glass Shower Doors Sparkle

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