How to Block a Bathtub Drain Without a Plug

You would think a drain would be a simple concept, and the general idea is. While most people struggling with a drain are trying to unclog it without having to pay a professional plumber to do it, sometimes you have the opposite problem where there’s a drain without a plug – which makes bathing very difficult. Depending on the setup of the original drain there might be different solutions, but that is the good news: there are many options when it comes to creating a make-shift plug and blocking a bathtub drain without an actual plug.

Let’s jump into some of the most common options, which are most effective, and give you solutions to block that bathtub drain without any long-term issues.

water draining
Bit hard to take a bath with the water pouring down the drain like that.

Blocking a Bathtub Drain Without a Plug

The solutions vary based on what you’re looking for whether it’s a semi-permanent solution, something as a one or two use temporary solution, or if you are setting up the situation for a longer-term repair. That said, there are several popular options that even many professional plumbers have touted as a good temporary stop gap to block a bathtub drain without a plug.

While there are multiple methods for blocking a bathtub drain without a plug the commonly used best ways are plugging the drain with a washcloth stuffed inside a plastic bag, using duck tape, or plumber’s putty.

These classic solutions just scratch the surface, but let’s dive into them further and go into other potential solutions that might fit the tools you have on hand so you can see which one is the best fit for you.

The Classic Washcloth & Plastic Bag Trick

This is the trick that will come up on every single list on this topic. Even very experienced plumbers have talked about how the washcloth and plastic bag trick is ideal for temporarily stopping up a bathtub drain, which is very reassuring for those of us who need the quick solution.

This involves taking a basic small plastic Ziploc bag, the type that you would toss a sandwich or some slices of fruit into, and then a washcloth (though other things can be used in some cases) that are folded in the corner of the plastic bag. Make sure to press as much air out of the bag as possible before sealing it, and then fold it to make a stop.

That’s it. The plastic bag will be wedged in solidly and keep the water in the tub, so you will be good to go.

Warning: Of course, this is dependent on the pipe having a catch, guard, or brace, but all modern bathtub pipes should have some type of brace or pipe a little bit down in the pipe to make sure nothing big gets in and straight out plugs up the pipe. That said, check and confirm before using this method.

This uses paper instead of a wash cloth, but it’s a variation of this classic method and shows clearly how it works so you can replicate it after watching this video for only 2 minutes.

Plumber’s Putty Solution

Plumber’s putty is an incredible tool and can be an extremely effective way to temporarily stop the drain but this must be used with a tool of some type like a pipe, or possibly the handle of something like a plunger handle. The reason is that plumber’s putty isn’t an adhesive.

Whether a thin pipe, a plunger handle, or a broken drain that hasn’t been sealing properly are all pieces that can be used with putty to fully seal the drain at least on a temporary basis.

If this is confusing take a look at the picture below and think of plumber’s putty as being similar in use to thinks like caulk and you will have much better idea of how this substance is properly used.

plumber's putty
Good plumber’s putty can do wonders for the right home plumbing project.

Won’t plumber’s putty stick and cause a problem?

No! I had the same worry before I learned how to properly use plumber’s putty and although it looks like it would have some adhesive properties, it does not. This is more like a clay or conventional putty so you can use this around a pipe, a jar lid, a variety of different things along with the plumber putty make a temporary plug, allowing you to enjoy a good bath before cleanly removing everything at the end.

The lack of stickiness is part of the reason that plumber putty is such a good tool for this type of situation, as it can work with other items to jury-rig a solution that otherwise might not be there.

Recommended Plumber Putty: Harvey’s Plumber’s Putty it’s reliable, a recognized name, and inexpensive on Amazon. Click on the link to see up to date pricing or to learn more.

Use Duck Tape to Tape the Drain Hole Shut

This can work on a temporary basis, though it does have some drawbacks. However, if you absolutely want a bath now, duck tape is literally built to keep water out. Placing a few strips of duck tape down over the drain, preferably in a slightly overlapping pattern, will work as a solid cover that water shouldn’t get past.

The biggest thing to remember is the overlapping is not only piece of duck tape on piece of duck tape, as well as overlap on both sides so the edge of the pieces aren’t too close to the drain hole itself.

Cross-taping also gives more stability. Make sure to press the tape down so the seal is solid prior to pouring water out of the faucet.

The hardest part comes with pulling up the edges to drain the water, and there will be some bits of adhesive on the tub itself, which could potentially be a drawback, especially if you do this repeatedly, resulting in some loose or really set in bits of adhesive remaining there, possibly catching your feet with an unpleasant sticky sensation after 5, 10, or 20 times using this method.

This is a relatively minor negative, especially considering if you’re in a living situation and bathroom situation like this then the chances of you living in a really decent apartment or house is pretty low.

Though it is worth pointing out that in the long run, buying even a basic silicone plug is going to be a cheaper and more reliable solution than repeated use of duck tape, but as a one-off or two-off before the next Amazon shipment comes in, this can work extremely reliably and way back in the days before Amazon during my college days I used this technique more than once when a shower just wasn’t enough.

Re-Purposing an Empty Coffee Pod

Some of those one-cup self-serve coffee machines can have an additional use even after you have had your morning cup of Joe. The empty coffee pod has a design that can allow it to fit well into some drains. If this can fit perfectly in the drain and holds up, that can work perfectly to block off the drain, while using this with the previously aforementioned plumbing putty makes it even more likely to be successful.

That putty might give the empty coffee pod just a bit extra support to stay down and in place (and make sure there’s no loose leak on the sides) as the water comes down on your stop-gap stopper made from an empty coffee pod.

The Jar Lid Trick

This will work with some jar lids but not others, but it can be a useful option if nothing else is at hand. Find a jar lid that is solid and doesn’t have any dents. This needs to cover the entire drain, and using your hand you want to push down to make an air-tight seal.

With that jar lid in place, your palm pressing it down firmly, use your other hand to turn on the water. Wait until water has fully covered the jar lid. If the seal has been made the pressure should keep it in place.

Continue with filling up the tub, and then you should be good to go for your bath.

The downside? Kicking it out the way by accident, draining your bath before you’re ready to be done.

Or You Could Just Buy a Replacement Bathtub Plug

Replacement bathtub plugs are actually very inexpensive and it’s not hard to find a good plug that will take care of virtually any bathtub drain, giving you an option that plugs the hole and is removed easily.

This can be a traditional silicone design with a small metal chain to pull it out when you’re done, or there are even more modern designs like the popular Tub Shroom that not only work as a make shift drain but also can catch hair, debris, and other stuff that would otherwise collect in the pipes and potentially block things up.

Good illustration of how the Tub shroom works. Picture copyright of Tub shroom, originally found at:

A traditional rubber stop is only $6 or so, and there are even cheaper versions without the yank chain if you are looking at counting every penny and want an even less expensive option.

Even if you’re dealing with a drain where the end is fit with a screwed in grate there are stopper and grate combos that can take care of everything until you can figure out if you need a replacement grate, an addition, or just a workover.

I personally prefer a rubber stopper that has a chain or pull to it than the ones that don’t but that is a preference thing.

These are all excellent replacement options that also remove the need to come up with another jury-rigged solution every time you want to take an actual bath as opposed to just a shower.

You can choose the one that works best for you and even buy a backup for less than $20, or even less than $10 and rest easy knowing that this is a problem you won’t have to face again.

In Conclusion

There are several options to blocking a bathtub when the original plug is gone, though the number of options you have also depends on the design of the drain as I’ve had apartments where the drain went with a screwed in metal grate filter that…became a gigantic problem when it stopped working. Those who have had these types of bathtubs know the issue.

That said, there are many ways to block up a bathtub drain and the options provided in this article are tried and true, and are going to reliably get the job done until you get a more permanent bathtub stopper or other solution that takes care of the bathtub drainage issue.

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