Snaking a Clogged Bathtub Drain through a Drum Trap

Things have been a bit quiet around here on the blog lately, but I assure you I’ve been keeping busy. Why just today I did some plumbing! I plumbed all sorts of things!

Ok, just one thing. We went on vacation for 10 days over Christmas and when we got back, our bathtub was completely clogged. I’m not really sure how a bathtub clogs while nobody is around to use it, but ours did.

Normally you’d be able to run a drain snake right down through the bathtub and be done with it, but that wasn’t really possible with our old tub for two reasons. First, we have an old-timey drum trap rather than a modern p trap, which generally doesn’t allow a snake through. Second, our tub has an old-timey pop-up drain that also doesn’t really allow a snake through.

Here’s what we were dealing with:

Old-Timey Drum Trap on Bathtub Drain.

Old-Timey Drum Trap on Bathtub Drain.

A lot of folks recommend just getting rid of the drum trap altogether and replacing it with a more modern P trap. But I wasn’t confident I could do that without opening a can of worms that I didn’t want to open right now. I just wanted to be able to clear the pipes without having to replace them right now.

Theoretically, the top of that cylinder just unscrews from the rest of it. However, a quick google search turns up dozens of accounts of people who weren’t able to get the top off because the threads were all rusted shut. My experience was similar. I pushed and shoved on it as much as I could, but it wouldn’t budge. The previous owners of the house left some Liquid Wrench, which I applied liberally, but no luck.

Liqued Wrench from the 70's or Something.

Liqued Wrench from the 70′s or Something.

Again, I turned to the internet, and people recommended using a reciprocating saw to just cut the top off. I also found a few recommendations to drill a 2″ hole in the top, but cutting the top off just sounded easier. And it was. It took me about 2 minutes to saw the top off the trap. I was worried that it would be difficult to keep the saw from riding up or down, and I’d wind up with a jagged mess, but the blade just seemed to guide itself and I had a smooth cut with little effort.

Open Drum Trap

Open Drum Trap

The underside of a Drum Trap after it was cut off with a reciprocating saw.

The underside of a Drum Trap after it was cut off with a reciprocating saw.

After I had the cap off, it was simple to run a drain snake through the pipes. And when I say “simple”, I mean easy, but that job totally sucks because when the drain snake starts spinning, you are literally flinging poo around the room.

Anyway, after the drain has been cleared, the only challenge is trying to figure out how to cap off the top of the drum trap. Since we cut the old cap off, it’s not as simple as just screwing a new one in place. A lot of folks on the internet recommended using a rubber test cap. I used a 4″ cap, and it was just a little bit large, but it was simple to just cinch it down.

Rubber Test Cap on Drum Trap

Rubber Test Cap on Drum Trap

Success. This set-up is water-tight, and still allows easy access into the drum trap in the future.

I’d recommend this strategy to others if they are in a similar situation and want to be able to clear the pipes without having to replace them.

4 comments to Snaking a Clogged Bathtub Drain through a Drum Trap

  • Neal Pearson

    Reuben,

    That is an ingenious fix. My aunt has a similar fix that needs to be done with old pipes, but it would require replacing a large section of the waste pluming system (including the central stack which is pricy). Thank you for sharing your experience.

  • Al

    I have a trap that will not budge. I might have to saw off the top myself. only problem is that it is flush with the floor. What a pain.

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