Has life gotten the best of you, and all you dream about is soaking all your sorrows in the tub? It all sounds nice, but what if you get to the bathroom only to find out that your bathtub misses the plug? You could jump into your trousers and hurry to the closest home improvement store to buy one. Or you could do what any DIYer does best – find functional solutions with items you have at hand.
In fact, there are countless creative ways to block a bathtub drain without a plug. You could use tape, a plastic bag, or even a clean toilet plunger to seal the drain. Or you could seal a jar lead with a plumber’s putty and use it as an ad-hoc stopper.
What is a Bathtub Plug?
A bathtub plug is a bathtub drain stopper – a.k.a. the flat disc that stops water from draining when you want to take a hot bath. There are various ways of stoppers, from classic models that are nothing more than rubber discs that create a seal in a way gaskets do to fancy pop-up, toe-push, or trip lever stoppers that are attached to the drain with a screw.
While modern bathtubs rarely miss the plug – because, as we said, they are screwed onto the drain – an older tub could miss it.
How does a bathtub plug work?
A bathtub plug works by blocking the drain opening and preventing water from flowing. Modern plugs are generally connected to a lever. When the lever is up, the plug is held in place and keeps your tub filled with water. To empty the tub, you have to move the lever down to release the plug.
Old-style stoppers aren’t connected to a lever. You can push the stopper down to stop the water. The rubber will seal the drain and keep the water in the tub. When you want to drain the water, grab the chain attached to the stopper and pull it out.
10 Ways to Create a Makeshift Bath Plug
Finding the right bath plug substitute could seem challenging, but we bet you have a lot of options around the house. Here are some of them.
1. Toilet Plunger
Rubber can easily create a seal on the tub’s smooth surface, and this method is one of the easiest to implement.
Grab a toilet plunger (preferably a new one, but if you only have a used plunger, clean it with a solution of bleach first) and push it against the tub’s drain. You’ll know it’s sealed when you don’t see the rubber cup “popping” back up.
You can now remove the handle if its hole doesn’t go all the way through the rubber. If it does, leave the handle where it is and fill the tub.
2. Marine Drain Twist Plug
Do you or someone in your household love fishing? You’re in luck. Fishermen always have a marine drain twist plug in their toolkit.
This plug is generally used on boat fish tanks, allowing fishermen to empty the tanks and change the water on those instances when they spend several days out on the sea. The plug fits most bath drains, and you can use it as an old-school stopper.
Push the plug in the drain and turn its handle clockwise to ensure a grip. Enjoy your bath, then turn the handle counterclockwise to remove it.
3. Single-Serve Coffee Pod
Do you love coffee and have a coffee machine that uses plastic pods? Sacrifice a pod and use it as a makeshift stopper.
This one’s really easy, as you only have to insert the pod into the drain. Larger pods may require a bit of squeezing, but the flexible plastic will generally bend and mold itself against the drain hole. It will also fit snugly enough that you won’t have to worry about it popping up while you’re enjoying the bubbles.
4. Washcloth in a Bag
If you have nothing of the above in your home, you certainly have a washcloth or small towel and a plastic bag.
Soak the washcloth in water. You want it to be as heavy as possible. Place it in a plastic bag and tie the bag in a knot.
Place the makeshift stopper over the drain and push gently. This method works wonders, sealing the drain almost perfectly. However, make sure the washcloth or towel is large enough to block the drain without risking being flushed.
5. Jar Lid
You might struggle slightly with this method, but covering the drain with a jar lid could also work.
It is best to use a lid that is only slightly larger than the drain. Hold your hand above the drain and turn on the faucet. Let the tub fill until the water level goes above your hand (not the most comfortable position, but this step is essential), then remove your hand and place the lid in a fast, swift motion.
The vacuum created by the water should suck the lid down, while the weight of the water above it should hold it in place.
If it doesn’t work, you can seal the drain before filling the tub by applying the plumber’s putty to the lid. Press it against the surface and let the putty dry for half an hour or so. You can then run your bath. When you’re done, use a putty knife or utility knife to remove the lid.
Another jar lid method that could work is with a small lid (think about small, chutney jars). If the diameter of the lid is only slightly smaller than the drain but still large enough to fit snugly, drill a hole in the middle of the lid.
Place a screw in the hole and fix it with a nut on the other side, then push the lid into the drain. Enjoy your bath, then remove the lid by pulling the screw.
6. Plastic Bag Filled with Water
This method works in the same way as the washcloth and plastic bag method, but all you have to do is fill the bag with water.
Fill about half the bag so that you can manipulate it easily and push it gently against the strain. You don’t have to keep it in place while you’re filling the tub since the water in the bag is generally heavy enough to stay in its place.
7. A Tall Glass
Similar to the jar lid method, a tall glass can prevent the water from leaking. The heavier the glass, the more likely you are to succeed.
Place the bottom of the glass on the drain and fill it with water. Then, proceed to fill the tub.
If the bottom of the tub isn’t perfectly flat (and chances are it isn’t), you can seal the edges of the glass with waterproof duct tape or plumber’s putty.
8. Waterproof Duct Tape
This method is more than intuitive: all you have to do is stick the duct tape above the drain. There are a few things to know about if you want to achieve success, though.
First, the tub has to be perfectly dry when you’re applying the tape. While water won’t pass through waterproof duct tape, the adhesive on its sticky side will only stick to dry surfaces. In addition, the tub also has to be clean and free of traces of soap or shampoo.
Second, you must apply more than one layer. Start from one side of the drain and stick the first strip of duct tape that goes only slightly over the hole’s edge. Cut another strip and overlap it with the first; half of the new strip should go over the first strip you attached to the tub and half over the drain. Continue until you’ve covered the drain completely, then stick a second layer that overlaps the first one perpendicularly (in a cross pattern).
This layout ensures an excellent seal with no or very few holes through which water can leak. When you’re done, peel the duct tape off the drain.
9. Plumber’s Putty
If you have the original stopper, but its gasket is worn out and doesn’t seal the drain anymore, the plumber’s putty can provide you with a temporary solution.
Grab a dollop of putty and make it into a thin snake. Wrap it around the stopper’s seal, and press the stopper into the drain.
You don’t have to wait for the putty to dry because the stopper is already fitted to your tub. Fill the bathtub with water and enjoy your pampering.
10. Rubber Grommet and Waterproof Duct Tape
If you’re an avid DIYer and have all sorts of materials stashed in some drawer, go rummage through the stuff and see if you can find a rubber grommet. Its diameter should more or less match the diameter of your drain.
Seal its top with waterproof duct tape and create a sort of duct tape handle. Push the grommet into the drain, then pull the handle to remove it when you want to drain the tub.
5 Useful DIY Tips to Stop Your Bathtub From Draining
While all methods above can help you enjoy a bath, the truth is that it’s near impossible to seal the drain completely. The tips below should help you keep the tub filled for longer.
1. Use something with a diameter as close as possible to the drain
When creating a makeshift stopper, the golden rule is to use objects with a diameter as close as possible to that of the drain. For instance, a glass or jar lid with a smaller diameter is likely to provide a better seal than one with a wider diameter.
That’s because bathtubs don’t have level floors, but the closer you get to the drain, the more likely you are to find a level surface for your makeshift stopper, so you can place it without worrying about holes and gaps.
2. Use a makeshift stopper you can push into the drain
Another thing to keep in mind is that objects that you can push slightly down the drain are likely to provide a better seal. Thus, you should try the washcloth or water bag method before anything else. The only exception is the waterproof duct tape, as long as the tub is perfectly dry when you’re applying it.
3. Seal the overflow too
No matter what method you use, no makeshift stopper will provide a perfect seal. However, you can enjoy the bath for longer if you fill the tub higher. To do that, block the overflow with waterproof duct tape and fill the tub all the way to the brim.
4. Move the water delicately
When you get into the tub, try to move as gently as possible. In this way, you won’t risk moving or dislodging your DIY plug.
5. Refill the tub as needed
Last but not least, nothing stops you from refilling the tub as many times as you want. When the water level drops below the one you enjoy, turn on the faucet.
This comes with another advantage – it allows you to keep the water warm for longer, so you can enjoy a long bath.
We hope the methods above can help you enjoy the bath you deserve. But if you still have questions, we will try to answer them below.
Can I use a plunger on a bathtub drain?
Yes, you can use a plunger on a bathtub drain, either to unclog it or to create a seal and keep it filled.
Why do bathtubs have an overflow drain?
The overflow drain prevents the tub from overflowing if you forget to turn the water off in a timely manner.
How do you replace a pop-up bathtub plug?
Generally, all you have to do is to unscrew the worn-out plug from the drain and replace it with a new one that fits your drain size and tub model.
Enjoying a bath even when your tub is missing the plug doesn’t have to be hard. Use any of the methods above or your creativity to find an alternative solution.
Have you ever tried any of these makeshift plugs? Do you have a favorite one? Which method do you plan to use? Tell us in a comment.