Saturday, September 30, 2023


Hairball snarls in the drain? Here’s help!

By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Seems like it comes with age. That gradual slowing down. Those times when you don’t want to have to deploy RV stabilizers manually. Yeah, age can really be a drag. But how about in the bathroom? No, we’re not selling you some sort of intestinal nostrum. It’s when you take a shower and the water sluggishly moves, perhaps building up around your ankles. It’s that old slow draining process. Age has loosened your hair grip – and now you’ve got hairball snarls in the drain!

Here’s one way to deal with hairball snarls – quickly, safely, and relatively painlessly. You can probably use stuff you already have in the cupboard, and this method won’t chew up your plumbing nor pollute your gray water tank. But let’s talk about what happens in the shower that can cause such grief to start with.

The hairs on your head are numbered

Every one of us sheds hair on a daily basis. Professionals tell us we all lose somewhere between 50 and 100 hairs a day. Happily, hair tends to grow back, but when we start losing more than we replace, it can really create issues for our drain pipes.

Not is it just hair in the drain that creates the hairball snare issue, there are other factors involved. No, it has nothing to do with bad housekeeping. Consider what happens when you step in the shower for a good wash up. You apply various forms of cleansing agents – soaps and shampoos. Soap contains oil – it’s essential to make the stuff work. Many shampoos have oils in them. Rinse all that good stuff off your bod and where does it go? Down the drain!

Sadly, the oils in the soap and shampoo don’t just make a quick trip to the gray water tank, and after a coffee break there, out into the vast sewage system of the world. No, a certain amount of the oils in the cleansing agents try and get a supporting role in a Star Trek feature. They become cling-ons! Yep, some of those oils stick to the plumbing, and plenty in the drain trap down below your shower. When those nasty Klingons – er – cling-ons have a meet-up with your hair, the results are terrifying! Hairball snarls! And no amount of photon torpedoes or phaser fire knock those bad boys out. But you’ve got the secret weapon in your cupboard already.

Back to the future – with Enterprise!

In case of a serious infestation of hairball snarls, a bit of physical removal may be required. Start with pulling the drain screen off – it’s usually held in place with a single screw. Now use a wire with a hook bent into it to reach down and snare as much of the offending hair as possible. One enterprising (sorry, Captain Kirk [now a bona fide space traveler!]) Tupperware fan finds that the plastic citrus peeler so popular at TWare parties is just the trick to snag hair. Just be careful not to lose the tool down the drain.

First tamp in soda. R & T De Maris

If you’ve cleared the worst out, or you don’t have too much hair down there to start with, move to the next step. Fish about in your cupboard for the bottle of vinegar and a box of baking soda. Yeah, either cider or white vinegar is fine – the latter is cheaper. With the drain screen off making for easier access, funnel in a cup of baking soda. You’ll probably need to use your wire or other tool to encourage all that soda to get down into the drain.

Vinegar in — your foaming weapon at work. R & T De Maris

With the soda crammed into the drain, you move to that glorious reaction. Like the one you did as a kid with the papier-mâché volcano, make it go! Pour in a cup of vinegar and step back – the hairball snare secret weapon is at work. The chemical reaction knocks the grease for a loop, and hair comes unstuck.

The aftermath won’t likely be pretty. R & T De Maris

Prepare yourself for a good thorough shower pan scrubbing. The stuff that’s gurgled back up by that volcano-like reaction isn’t apt to be pretty. Contain yourself, and let the brew sit in the drain for a few minutes.

Follow-up flush

Meanwhile, warm yourself up some hot water. NOT boiling water. PVC pipe is rated to 140 degrees Fahrenheit and can begin to swell, distort, and make its way to death and destruction at higher temperatures. (Some folks will take their drain water up to 165 on occasion and hope for the best.) Pour this hot water down the drain and, if successful, quick flow should be returned! A follow-up with hot tap water from the shower hose applied to the top of the drain will ensure a good flush out. Be sure to reinstall the drain screen.

You’ll note in the photos that the RV owners of this rig have an add-on hair diverter. A cheap rubber cap, good for showers, you don’t wear it on your head. It sticks fairly well on its own over the top of the drain and generally catches most of those escaping hairs. Ounce of prevention, eh?

In any event, the soda and vinegar trick should probably knock out those hairball snarls with ease. Should it fail to do the job on the first whack, give it another try. If you find you really have a solid snarl that just won’t clear, the next step is accessing the drain trap under the shower, physically removing it, and evicting those Klingons. Live long and prosper!


More stories from Russ and Tiña De Maris


Russ and Tiña De Maris
Russ and Tiña De Maris
Russ and Tiña went from childhood tent camping to RVing in the 1980s when the ground got too hard. They've been tutored in the ways of RVing (and RV repair) by a series of rigs, from truck campers, to a fifth-wheel, and several travel trailers. In addition to writing scores of articles on RVing topics, they've also taught college classes for folks new to RVing. They authored the book, RV Boondocking Basics.


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Ron Lane
1 year ago

Many (probably most) rv’s today are equipped with the Hepvo device that takes the place of the P-trap. It has a plyable membrane that is commonly called a “duck bill” that allows the water to flow in one direction only and also keeps the sewer odors from backing up into the shower/sink. If you use a wire with a hook or one of those “drain cobras” (mentioned in a comment below) and push it down past this duck bill…… pulling it back out will probably destroy the duck bill and will need replacing.

1 year ago

I use a drain cobra. It is a thin plastic stick about a foot long with hooks on the side. I insert it in the drain several times to get almost all of the hair out. I follow it up with a couple of doses of the baking soda/vinegar mix and then flush with some really hot water.

1 year ago

Love this! I’m still laughing at the cling-on references. Great job!

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