How To Remove A Tub Drain With Broken Crosshairs Easily

While there is nothing more frustrating than a clogged tub drain, most people know that all you have to do is to remove the drain to clean it from scum and debris. You can do this easily with a large screwdriver and a pair of pliers, but only if the crosshairs are intact. Problems arise when the crosshairs – those tiny metal bars that form a cross inside the drain – have broken due to corrosion. 

The easiest way to remove a tub drain with broken crosshairs is with a drain extractor or drain key. Alternatively, you could use a combination of hammer, screwdriver, and cutting wheel. You may find the basic tool method the most accessible, but it requires lots of determination and elbow grease.

Role Of Crosshair In Tub Drain

To understand why the crosshair is important, you must first understand the tub drain’s anatomy. Most modern drains consist of three parts: the stopper, the flange, and the drain shoe.

Old-school stoppers are nothing but rubber discs that seal the drain and allow the tub to fill with water. They are not screwed to the drain but could be attached to the overflow with a chain. Most modern stoppers are either screwed into a threaded drain or attached to the drain’s crossbar with a regular screw.

The drain shoe is the part of the pipe that bends toward the sanitary tee that connects the overflow and tub drain to the main drain pipe. 

Between the drain’s crossbar and the shoe (or between the strain and the shoe in older style drains), you can find the crosshairs. 

The crosshairs are two perpendicular metal rods whose sole purpose is to allow plumbers to tighten and loosen the drain. When these crosshairs are broken, your pliers can’t grab anything, and you’ll have to find different ways to remove and replace the drain.

3 Reasons Why Your Bathtub Drain Got Damaged

Tub drain crosshair rarely gets damaged, but it can happen. Here are three of the most common reason.

1. Manufacturing Defects 

Sometimes, you may buy lower-quality products to save some bucks. Bathtub drains aren’t generally expensive, but the cheaper ones are made of poor-quality materials and could present manufacturing defects. 

One of the most common problems is improperly welded crosshairs that crack or break as you’re installing the drain. You may not notice the damage straight away, but the crosshairs could come loose as you’re trying to remove the drain.

2. Physical Damage while Installing/Removing the Drain

Even if you buy the best quality drains, improper handling can damage the crosshairs. Again, most problems happen during installation.

Overtightening the drain can cause the crosshairs to break due to too much pressure applied. Likewise, you may apply too much pressure when trying to loosen an overtightened drain. The increased force could bend or break the crosshairs. 

3. Corrosion

Lastly, most tub drains get damaged because of rust and corrosion. The problem is more likely to happen if you have hard water and don’t clean the drain properly each time after using the tub. 

Hair, soap scum, and debris gathering around the crosshairs can trap moisture and keep the drain damp at all times. This excessive humidity, paired with the hardness minerals in the water, can attack even the strongest metal.

While most drains feature a chrome finish that protects from hard water and corrosion, improper maintenance could cause the chrome coat to peel or flake, exposing the metal beneath. That’s all it takes for water and oxidation to do the rest, corroding the material.

Corrosion doesn’t happen overnight, but crosshairs might break on older drains due to it. With this in mind, let’s see how to remove a bathtub drain with broken crosshairs.

How To Remove Bathtub Drain With Broken Crosshairs: 3 Proven Methods

There are three main ways to remove a tub drain with broken crosshairs: with a drain extractor, with a drain key, or with a hammer, screwdriver, and cutting wheel. Check each method below and pick your favorite.

Removing the Drain with a Drain Extractor Tool

Things You Will Need

  • Drain extractor tool
  • 1-inch screw
  • Screwdriver 
  • Ratchet 
  • Hammer 

Step 1 – Remove the tub stopper 

To remove the drain, you have to access the crosshairs (even if they’re broken), so inspect the type of stopper you have and remove it accordingly.

Depending on the stopper type, you may have to turn it counterclockwise to unscrew it from the drain or remove its top plate and unfasten the screw that connects the stopper to the drain’s crossbar.

Step 2 – Insert the drain extractor tool into the drain

Tub drain extractors work well with drains with a diameter of up to 1 ½ inches. Insert the tool into the drain and make sure its unique knurl bites are in contact with the drain surface. 

Step 3 – Tighten the drain extractor tool 

A tight grip is essential if you want to remove the broken drain easily. To tighten it, strike its top firmly with a hammer to push the tool as much as possible into the drain. Try to pull it out – if you can’t, it means it has a good grip. If you can pull it out, continue hammering until it doesn’t come loose anymore.

Step 4 – Fit a screw inside the extractor 

The only way to remove the extractor (and the drain) is by removing it with a ratchet. To do this, you need a screw to attach the ratchet. 

Drain extractor tools don’t come with screws, but you can use any large fastener for the purpose. Use a 1-inch screw and insert it into the tool, turning it clockwise to tighten it.

Step 5 – Remove the drain 

Get a ratchet, unlock it, and fix it on the screw. Tighten it to your needs, then start turning counterclockwise. Apply torque until you feel the drain starts to rotate. Keep turning the tool until you’ve unscrewed the drain completely.

Once the drain is out, you can simply pull the extractor tool out. Tap its sides with the hammer and apply a few drops of plumber’s lube or WD-40 to remove it if it doesn’t come out easily.

Remove the Drain with a Drain Key 

Things You Will Need

  • Drain key
  • Hex nut
  • Adjustable wrench

Step 1 – Insert the drain key into the drain 

Assuming you’ve removed the tub stopper as explained above, position the drain key with the drive screw on top and insert it into the drain basket until the expanding shoes are inside the drain. 

Step 2 – Tighten the drain key

Tighten the drain key by turning the drive screw. Turn and tighten by hand as much as you can. When you can’t turn anymore, fix the hex nut and get ready to remove the drain.

Step 3 – Break and remove the drain

Grab the hex nut with the adjustable wrench and start turning clockwise to expand the expanding shoes. Keep applying torque until you hear the drain crack and break. This process requires a lot of force and time, so be patient and keep turning until you succeed.

Step 4 – Remove the drain

Once you’ve broken the drain, turn the nut counterclockwise to retract the expanding shoes. The drain pieces will start falling, and you’ll be able to pull out the rest of the drain.

Remove the Drain with a Hammer, Screwdriver, and Cutting Wheel

Things You Will Need

  • Hammer
  • Cutting wheel
  • Screwdriver 
  • Pliers 

Step 1 – Cut a notch in the drain collar 

The drain collar – or flange – is the ring visible on top of the drain. Use the cutting wheel to cut a notch in this collar. The notch should be large enough to allow you to insert the tip of a screwdriver.

Step 2 – Break the flange 

Insert the screwdriver in the notch you just cut and start hitting its handle with a hammer. Apply sufficient force and keep hammering until you break the flange. Once the flange is removed, you should be able to pull the rest of the drain out.

Step 3 – Remove the drain

Grab the edge of the drain with a pair of pliers and pull it out. Alternatively, you can try to rotate the drain with the screw as you’re hammering it. Keep rotating until it comes out. You can now install a new tub drain.

Is It Possible To Remove Broken Tub Drain Without A Tool?

No, it is not possible to remove a broken tub drain without a tool. Whether you decide to use a drain extractor, drain key, or a hammer, screwdriver, and cutting tool, you have to use some kind of tool to loosen and extract the drain.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you still have questions? Check out the answers below.

Why does a bathtub drain clog?

Hair, soap scum, and hardness minerals depositing on the drain are the most common reasons why the bathtub drain clogs. To prevent it, make sure to clean the drain each time after using the bathtub.

How much does it cost to move a bathtub drain?

You can expect to pay around $130 for materials and up to $705 for labor and materials for one drain.

What can dissolve hair in a drain?

A chemical clog remover provides the easiest way to dissolve hair in a drain. You could also try to dissolve it with homemade clog removers, such as baking soda and white vinegar, or with bleach.

Next Steps

Now that you removed the broken tub drain, focus on maintaining the new drain to prevent future clogs and broken crosshairs. Maintenance is key, so stick to a cleaning schedule and always remove debris from the drain after bathing.

Did you manage to remove the drain using the methods above? Do you have any questions or tips? Leave us a comment.

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