Pampering yourself with a hot bath is the best thing you can do to unwind after a stressful day, at least until the drain stopper gets stuck and you can’t empty the tub. Mishaps happen to everyone, and there is no need to despair – we know just how to fix it.
How you can fix a bathtub drain that is stuck in the closed position depends on the type of stopper you have. A suction cup, for instance, can help you unstuck a flip-it stopper. Other stopper types may require you to use an Allen wrench, screwdriver, pliers, or a combination of those tools.
How Bathtub Drain Stoppers Work
There are various types of bathtub drain stoppers, but they all work in essentially the same way: they cover the drain hole to prevent the water from draining. Some older stopper styles are made of rubber and cut to the drain hole dimension to create a tight seal.
Modern stoppers use O-rings, which are rubber seals that work the same way as an old-school rubber stopper.
Depending on their design, bathtub stoppers have a ring you can grab and pull to remove the stopper from the hole, or you can use a lever or knob for popping them out. With this in mind, let’s check out the different bathtub drain stoppers on the market.
Different Types of Bathtub Drain Stoppers
The first tub and sink stoppers were simple, round rubber discs connected to a ring and sometimes attached to the tub or sink with a chain. These round stoppers were fitted into the drain manually and removed easily by pulling the ring. However, this model is rarely used nowadays. Check out below the six most common bathtub drain stopper types.
One of the most common types of drain stoppers, the lift-and-turn, features a small knob located in the center of the stopper. To open and close it, all you have to do is turn the knob clockwise or counterclockwise.
This type of stopper isn’t supposed to be removed from the tub and is screwed into the threaded center of the drain’s crossbar. Removing it is child’s play, though, as long as the screw wasn’t overtightened. All you have to do is to unfasten the setscrew.
This foot-actuated stopper can be found in tubs but is a more popular option for showers. As its name suggests, you have to push it down with your foot to close it. A spring-loaded mechanism keeps the stopper close until you push it with your toe again to release it.
A toe-touch stopper is virtually trouble-free, but the spring-loaded mechanism could wear down. When this happens, you’ll have to replace the stopper.
Similar to the lift-and-turn, the push-and-pull stopper requires you to push it down to close and pull it up to open. You don’t have to twist any knob or screw, a thing that makes it easier to use for kids and people with hand mobility issues.
The push-and-pull stoppers are held in place with a setscrew that is easy to unfasten if the stopper blocks or if you have to change the drain.
One of the easiest stoppers to install, the flip-it type features a toggle lever attached to its top. All you have to do is move the lever from side to side to open and close the stopper.
To install it, simply push the stopper down the drain. Its O-rings will keep it in place and create a watertight seal when you close it. If it gets stuck in a closed position, you can use a suction cup or another tool to lift and remove it from the drain.
The pop-up stopper is perhaps the most complex type. A linkage rod connects this stopper to a lever located on the tub’s overflow plate. You can close it by pushing it down the drain with your hand or toe, but to open it, you’ll have to use the overflow lever.
This type of drain stopper is more susceptible to gathering debris and hair but is more complicated to remove and clean compared to all other stoppers above.
To remove it, you’ll have to extract the rocker arm and stopper through the drain opening, then extract the connecting rod through the overflow plate hole.
Similar to the pop-up, a trip lever stopper also features a lever on the overflow plate, but all you can see in the drain hole is a strainer similar to those used in kitchen sinks. The lever operates a sort of plunger that opens when the lever is up and closes when it is down.
Like the pop-up stopper, the trip lever stopper is more complicated to open or remove if it gets stuck in a closed position.
Tools Required To Remove Bathtub Drain Stoppers Stuck In Closed Position
Opening some types of drain stoppers is more difficult, but you can still carry on the task yourself. Here’s a list of tools you’ll need.
- Adjustable wrench
- Scrub brush
- New stopper
How To Fix A Trip Lever Drain System
Trip levers and pop-up stoppers work more or less in the same way, and the method to open and remove them is similar. So, if you know how trip-lever drain stoppers work – or how the pop-up ones work, as a matter of fact – you can rest assured you’ll be able to deal with either of the two types.
Stuck Push-To-Pop-Up Drain Stopper
Step 1 – Remove the cover plate and connecting rod
Use the screwdrivers to unfasten the overflow plate on your tub, then remove the connecting rod through the overflow hole.
Step 2 – Clean the spring
Pop-up stoppers have a spring system that helps keep them closed or open them when you switch the lever. This spring can gather debris, so clean all hair and build-up scum.
Step 3 – Adjust the connecting rod
More often than not, the connecting rod bends slightly over time. This bent prevents it from applying sufficient force to open the closed stopper, so you’ll have to adjust the rod and lengthen it to the original size to fix the issue. If the rod is too damaged, consider changing the entire stopper system.
Step 4 – Reassemble the stopper
Insert the rod back in its place through the overflow hole and attach the cover plate. Turn on the water and operate the stopper to see if it works correctly.
Stuck Lift Bucket Drain Stopper
Lift bucket and trip-lever drain stoppers are one and the same. Here’s how to fix them.
Step 1 – Remove the cover plate and plunger
The main difference between the pop-up and lift bucket stoppers is that the latter uses a plunger system rather than a spring. Unscrew the overflow plate and extract the plunger through the opening.
Step 2 – Clean the plunger
Use a small scrub brush to clean the debris and scum off the plunger. While you’re at it, inspect the part and make sure it’s not overly damaged by corrosion. If it is, consider replacing the stopper with a new one.
Step 3 – Adjust the linkage and reassemble the stopper
As explained above, adjust the linkage rod’s length and reassemble the stopper. Turn on the water and check if it works properly.
Tub Drain Won’t Unscrew: Try this
Trying to unscrew a tub drain that won’t budge can be frustrating. However, you should be able to remove it fast with a pair of pliers. Use the tool around the drain’s round cap to wiggle it loose, then grip it with the pliers’ nose. Move it left and right until it comes loose. You might have to use some elbow grease, but the method is unlikely to fail.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do you still have questions? Check out the answers below.
Do all tub drains unscrew?
Not, some tub drains don’t use screws or other types of fasteners. The flip-it stopper type, for instance, is held in place by O-rings and isn’t mounted to the drain with screws.
Can you remove a bathtub drain without a tool?
It is rather hard to remove a stuck drain without a tool. Even the flip-it type might require you to use a suction cup or a utility knife to pull out the stopper from the drain. That said, all tools required to remove a drain are tools you might have in your home already.
Tub stoppers can sometimes get stuck, but it’s not the end of the world. Removing a stuck stopper and replacing it is so easy that you might not have to call in a plumber at all.
Do you have any tips or questions? Tell us your thoughts in a comment below.