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

By Amanda Lauren and Lisa Milbrand
Updated March 17, 2021
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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. But while tips on cleaning shower drain problems are helpful, it's really best to take precautionary measures.

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 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 using a plumber who is both licensed and insured.

Why Your Shower Drain Gets Smelly

There are several causes of shower drain smells—so first you need to play detective to figure out what's behind your shower drain odor.

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Do the smell test

Lean down and take a quick whiff. If the smell is musty, you may have mold growing underneath your drain cover. Feel the drain cover to see if it's loose. If your drain cover isn't perfectly sealed, that small wet space will be a breeding ground for mold.

Clean the area around your drain

At this point, the cover needs to be removed and the area cleaned. Tilex Mold and Mildew Remover ($24; amazon.com) is a great product for this. Simply spray, leave on for a few minutes, and wipe down.

If the situation is really bad, you may need to scrub the cover and tub with an old toothbrush (just remember to throw it out when you're finished!). If these steps don't work, it's time to buy a new drain cover.

Clean your pipes

While you can go out and buy chemical cleaning products, more likely than not, you have everything you need in your kitchen to tackle your mold problem immediately.

Pour half a cup of bleach down the drain and let it sit for approximately one hour. Then boil four cups of water and pour half of it down the drain. If you have PVC (plastic) pipes, note the boiling water can cause major damage, so make sure you check first. If this is the case, just use hot water from your tap.

Then sprinkle a quarter-cup of baking soda down the drain. Follow that with a cup of white or cleaning vinegar. You may hear a fizzing sound from the baking soda and vinegar reacting. Wait a few minutes, then pour the rest of the boiling (or hot) water down the drain. Finish by running the hot water for a few minutes. This should take care of both the odor and the source.

Related: 10 All-Natural Cleaning Products

If the smell coming from the drain isn't musty, the problem could be soap scum. An easy solution is to simply clean your drain with boiling water. If this issue reoccurs, treat with boiling water weekly.

Check the P-trap

If you have a sulfur odor coming from your drain, you likely have a dry P-trap. A P-trap is a P-shaped pipe designed to prevent sewer gas from entering your home by trapping a little bit of water. To check, shine a flashlight down the drain. If you see water, your P-trap isn't dry and it may be a good idea to call a plumber.

If the P-trap is dry, pour two cups of water down the drain and wait an hour. Then check to see if the water is still there.

If the shower isn't frequently used or perhaps it's in a guest bathroom, pour four ounces of oil down the drain—any cooking oil you already have on hand should do. Oil evaporates at a slower rate than water does. This should prevent the odor from coming back.

Cleaning Hair From the Shower Drain

Trapped hair is a major cause of shower drain clogs and odors, but it is preventable. Try brushing your hair out before washing it in the shower. This will remove any loose, tangled, or excess hair that would otherwise clog the drain.

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Install a hair catcher

Assess your shower drain situation. If you have an open drain hole without any kind of cover (the kind you plug a stopper in), you may want to consider buying a shower drain hair catcher ($12; amazon.com).

Even if you don't have an uncovered drain hole, you may want to replace your current drain cover with this device because it easily prevents hair clog problems in the long term.

Clear hair from your shower drain

If your shower drain is already clogged with hair, you can try using a product that will dissolve hair, soap scum, and other odor-causing debris, such as Green Gobbler Main Line Opener ($24; amazon.com).

How to Clean the Shower Drain

Sometimes an obstruction, like hair, needs to be physically moved down the pipe in order to get it clean and get your drain flowing again.

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Break out the toilet plunger

Your first line of defense for a clogged shower drain is actually a toilet plunger.

Fill the tub with enough water to make sure the rubber tip on the plunger is covered. Then plunge away. The water should go down. If it doesn't or if it drains slowly, try again.

Break out a drain snake

To clear the most hardcore clogs, you may want to try using a drain snake, which is sometimes called a toilet auger ($34; amazon.com).

It's easy to do: Just remove the drain cover, then push the snake in and crank the handle. When you start to feel resistance, you've hit the cause of the clog.

Don't pull up the snake. Keep rotating. This will break up whatever is clogging the drain.

When you stop feeling resistance, then you can slowly pull the snake from the drain. Finally, run the water for a few minutes to make sure everything is clear.

Related: You've Probably Never Cleaned This Part of Your Shower (and It's Kind of Gross)