A clogged or stuck bathtub drain can be annoying and inconvenient when you want to take a nice hot bath to relax and unwind. We’ve all been there – excited for a soothing soak only to find the water draining slowly or not at all.
Not to worry! With a few simple tools and some easy-to-follow steps, you can have your tub drained and working again in no time. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the different types of tub drain stoppers, identify why they get stuck, and detail proven methods to safely remove them.
Bathtub Drain Stopper: What is it and How Does it Work?
A bathtub drain stopper is a device that helps you drain the tub or plug the drain to prevent water from draining (i.e., it allows you to fill the tub with water). The bathtub drain stopper is essentially a small piece within the drain that can be manually moved up or down to open or close the drain.
There are different types of bathtub drain stoppers and we’ll be looking at each of them briefly:
- Toe-Touch Stoppers: This type of drain stopper has a circular button that can be operated with a toe. The toe can be used to push it down (if you want to seal the drain) or up (if you want to open the drain).
- Push-Pull Stoppers: As the name implies, the stopper uses a knob located on the top that you can pull up to open the drain and push down to close the drain.
- Lift-and-Turn Stoppers: Just like the Push-Pull stoppers, these stoppers also have a small knob on the top. However, with Lift-and-Turn stop stoppers, you lift and turn it like a screw to raise or lower the stopper.
- Flip-It Stoppers: A flip-it stopper employs a horizontal toggle that flips up or down to control the drain much like a light switch. One position seals the drain while flipping it to the other position releases the water. These are easy to identify by the flip toggle.
- PresFlo® Stoppers: PresFlo® stoppers utilize an o-ring seal and spinning mechanism to open and close the drain. The stopper lays flat and rotates in place to control water flow. Ideal for accessibility since no bending over is required.
- Lift Bucket Stoppers: Lift bucket drain stoppers also use a trip lever or turn style plate. Activating the overflow mechanism raises and lowers an internal plunger that stops water flow. No visible stopper is present in the tub drain itself. These have a strainer covering the drain opening.
- Pop-Up Stoppers: Pop-up drain stoppers utilize an overflow plate or trip lever located near the tub’s overflow drain. Pulling the trip lever or turning the overflow plate causes a linkage to raise or lower a visible stopper present over the main tub drain itself.
- Trip-Lever Stoppers: Trip-lever or plunger-style stoppers also employ an overflow plate trip lever. However, engaging the lever causes an internal plunger to raise or lower inside the overflow pipe rather than externally over the main tub drain. So, a physical stopper is not visible.
Identifying the specific type of bathtub drain stopper is a critical first step you must take before attempting to remove a stuck one. This allows you to use the proper method to dislodge it.
How to Fix a Bathtub Drain Stopper Stuck in Closed Position
As you now know, there are different types of stoppers, and each type uses a slightly different mechanism to drain the bathtub or seal it.
At this point you must have identified the type of bathtub you have in your home so in this section, we’ll walk you through specific instructions tailored to each type of stopper. This makes it easy for you to find your stopper type and fix it. Without further ado, let’s dive straight into it:
How to Fix a Stuck Closed Plunger-Style Drain Stopper
A plunger-style stopper works by lowering an internal plunger to seal off the drainpipe when you pull the trip lever. If your tub isn’t draining properly because the stopper is stuck shut, we can fix that! Just follow these handy steps.
Step 1: Cover the Strainer – Let’s start by taking a clean rag and fully covering up the decorative drain strainer. This will catch any parts that come loose so they don’t get lost down the drain.
Step 2: Unscrew the Screws of the Overflow Plate – Next, use a screwdriver (a flathead screwdriver or Allen wrench) to remove all of the screws holding the overflow plate surrounding the overflow drain. This plate needs to come off to access the inner workings. The overflow plate is located near the top of the tub surrounding the overflow drain.
Step 3: Remove the Overflow Plate – With the screws out, carefully maneuver the overflow plate off. On most tubs, the plate attaches to the trip lever linkage behind it. Go slowly so you don’t damage anything. Once off, you’ll see that linkage the plate was connected to. Note: Gently remove the plate and watch for any springs or chains connecting it to the plunger below. You’ll need all these parts later!
Step 4: Grab and Apply Pressure to Remove Plunger Stopper – See the rod behind the plate? It connects to the plunger below. Carefully but firmly push down on that rod to lift and dislodge the stuck plunger. It likely needs some force to get it unstuck. Apply steady pressure and up the plunger will pop!
How to Fix a Toe-Touch Drain Stopper
A toe-touch stopper uses a spring-loaded button mechanism that seals the drain when pressed down with your toe. If you use this type of stopper and it has gotten stuck and won’t pop back up, try the following fixes:
Step 1: Try Moving the Stopper with Pliers – With the stopper stuck in the closed position, first try grasping the circular button with a pair of pliers. Attempt to manually move and shake the stopper up and down or side to side to release it. Applying upward pressure with locked pliers may help lift the stuck stopper. Wear gloves to protect your hands from any sharp edges or dirt.
Step 2: Apply Penetrating Oil – If you are unable to manually move the stopper with pliers, apply a penetrating lubricant oil. Apply a few drops directly down into the drain and around the edges of the stuck stopper button. Let it sit for 10-15 minutes. The lubricant will seep behind the stopper and help loosen it from corrosion and mineral deposits. After letting it soak, retry moving the stopper using pliers. You should use a suitable type of oil, such as WD-40 or Liquid Wrench, and avoid using any flammable or corrosive substances.
Step 3: Unscrew Parts to Remove the Stopper – If steps 1 and 2 fail to open the stuck toe-touch stopper, more invasive disassembly is required. First use a flat screwdriver to detach and unscrew the decorative drain cover. Then insert the screwdriver under the button assembly and detach the screw or threads attaching it down inside the drain apparatus. If you do it correctly, you should be able to fully remove and disengage the entire toe-touch drain stopper unit so the drainpipe can be cleared.
How to Fix a Pop-Up Drain Stopper
A pop-up bathtub drain stopper uses a trip lever or overflow plate to raise and lower the stopper over the actual drain. If this type of stopper gets stuck shut, use these tips:
Step 1: Clean Debris and Rust – Start by checking around the stopper and the overflow plate components for any buildup, debris, or rust that could be interfering with the operation. Carefully use a small wire brush or pipe cleaner to scrub the assemblies. You can also use penetrating oil to remove the rust and residue. Just apply it to the surface and once it softens, you can clean off the debris from the stopper’s top. Note: Having debris and corrosion around the stopper can impede movement. You should also wear gloves and eye protection when using a wire brush or penetrating oil, as they can cause injuries or irritation.
Step 2: Move the Lever or Rotate the Plate to Access Stopper – Pop-up stoppers are controlled by either flipping the trip lever up or down or rotating the overflow plate left and right. Refer to any markings on the overflow plate for proper orientation, then flip the lever or rotate the plate so that the stopper is in the open, raised position.
Step 3: Pull the Stopper Straight Up – With the trip lever or overflow plate oriented properly for the open position, the stopper below should be released. Reach down with pliers or fingers and grasp the stopper firmly. Apply slow and steady upward pressure while gently wiggling back and forth to lift the stopper up and out of the drainpipe. When pulling off the stopper from the bathtub, place a rag beneath it to catch residue and dirt that may come out from the tub and drain the stopper. This is important because it keeps the bottom of the tub free from residue saving you extra work. Removing the entire pop-up stopper apparatus provides full access to the drain for cleaning hair, soap residue, or other debris that may be plugging it. Replace the unit once the drainpipe is cleared. Be cautious of any linkage rods connected when removing them. Note: If you have tried wiggling the stopper and you are still unable to remove it, chances are that there’s still debris around it preventing it from doing so. To remove it, pour boiling water – it’ll help with dislodging the residue and removing the stopper.
Step 4: Pull the stopper horizontally – You may notice that your stuck drain stopper has a brass arm (or a rocker arm). If it does, it’s not uncommon, some stoppers have them. If that’s the case for you the removal steps will be slightly different because the brass arm connects with the bottom of the stopper which makes it capable of preventing, you from pulling the tub stopper. So in this case, to remove the stopper, pull it upwards (just enough to clear the drain), then pull it horizontally away from the drain. Doing it this way, helps you unmount the stopper but be careful not to damage your expensive acrylic or porcelain bathtub. You should also inspect the brass arm for any signs of wear or damage and replace it if necessary.
How to Fix a Flip-It® Stopper
Flip-it stoppers are one of the easiest to remove, as they only have O-rings that secure the device to the drain. You won’t need any tools to remove a flip-it stopper. Here’s how to do it.
Step 1: Flip the lever – Flip the lever to open the drain so you can access the assembly.
Step 2: Rotate and pull the stopper – Grab the drive stopper firmly. Avoid grabbing the toggle as you rotate the stopper in either direction while pulling upwards at the same time. It does not matter in which direction you rotate the stopper. Sometimes wiggling back and forth while pulling up may work as well.
Step 3: Remove the stopper – Pull the entire stopper out of the drain body. The divide should come loose from the previous step, so all you need to do is lift the entire piece out of your drain. After removing it, clean and reinstall the stopper or replace it with a new one if damaged.
How to Fix a PresFlo® Stopper
A PresFlo® stopper uses an o-ring seal and spins open and closed. Fixing this unique stopper involves removing it using a suction cup. Here’s how to do it:
Step 1: Ensure the Stopper is Flat – Make sure the PresFlo® stopper is sitting flat and level in the drain pipe opening. Proper orientation is key for the next steps.
Step 2: Firmly Press Down the Suction Cup – Take a small suction cup (often provided with new PresFlo® stoppers) and place it directly center onto the spinning portion of the stopper. Push down firmly until the suction cup makes a tight seal on the surface.
Step 3: Pull Straight Up While Gripping the Suction Cup – With one hand securely holding the suction cup and ensuring the seal is airtight, use your other hand to provide support underneath as you twist and pull straight up. The suction cup allows you to grab and remove the stopper.
Step 4: Remove the Stopper and Clean the Components – Fully extract the PresFlo® stopper unit out from the drain pipe. Wipe away any hair, debris, and scale buildup from the o-rings and stopper surfaces. Inspect closely for cracks or defects.
Step 5: Reinstall the Stopper Properly – Once cleaned and checked, simply reverse the process by pushing the PresFlo® stopper back into the drain opening correctly until it seats flat. Test operation spinning open and closed. May require adjustment to align properly.
How to Fix Lift-Turn and Push-Pull Stoppers
Both lift-turn and push-pull bathtub drain stoppers use a knob on top that controls the stopper. If stuck shut, use these tips:
Step 1: Unscrew Knob – The first step is to remove the decorative knob from the top of the stopper assembly. It may be screwed or threaded on. If the knob is stuck, you may need to apply firm pressure with the pliers to turn it. Use pliers wrapped in a rag to turn the knob counterclockwise. Unscrew it completely and detach the knob from the stopper mechanism. Wear gloves to protect your hands from any sharp edges or dirt.
Step 2: Use Screwdriver to Detach Shaft – With the knob removed, a threaded brass shaft will now be revealed protruding up in the center. Take a flathead screwdriver placed into the notch in this shaft and turn counterclockwise to unscrew the shaft from the stopper body threaded into the drain tube below. Some stoppers may have a set screw under the knob that needs to be loosened with an Allen wrench before unscrewing the shaft. Note: Before trying a flathead screwdriver, check the type of screwdriver you need, as some stoppers may have a Phillips head or a hex head instead of a flat head.
Step 3: Slide the Screwdriver to Pry Off the Stopper – With the center shaft now detached from the threaded drain body, the remaining stopper should be loose enough to remove. Carefully slide the flat screwdriver along the edge of the stopper and use it as leverage to pry up one side, then alternate to lift the other side. This should pop the stopper loose from the drain threads so it can be fully extracted. Some stoppers may not have a screw top and can be removed as a whole piece by twisting them counterclockwise. You should also be careful not to damage the drain threads or the stopper while prying them off.
How to Fix a Lift Bucket Drain Stopper
A lift bucket drain stopper is operated by a trip lever or turn style mechanism on the overflow plate. An internal plunger seals the drain pipe when engaged. Follow these steps to fix this type of stopper:
Step 1: Unscrew and Remove Drain Cover Plate – Use a screwdriver to detach and unscrew the decorative drain cover plate located over the tub drain. This plate is threaded into the drain apparatus.
Step 2: Remove One Screw From Plate – Look at the overflow plate above and you will see two screws holding it in place. Use your screwdriver to remove ONLY one of these screws first.
Step 3: Loosen and Pivot Overflow Plate – Hold the overflow plate securely with one hand. Then use the screwdriver to gently start unscrewing the second screw, causing the plate to become loose. When it can pivot down, stop unscrewing.
Step 4: Reinstall First Screw – Take the initial screw you removed and reinstall it into the hole that is now exposed in the overflow elbow pipe. Thread it in a few turns. This will prevent the elbow from falling down.
Step 5: Fully Remove Second Screw – Keep holding the plate and finish unscrewing the second screw completely with the screwdriver to fully detach the overflow plate.
Step 6: Remove Trip Lever – The trip lever can now be wiggled free from the overflow pipe. Remove the entire lever apparatus. You should also inspect the lever and the plunger for any signs of wear or damage, such as bends, breaks, or corrosion. If they are damaged, you should replace them with new ones.
Step 7: Replace Components – Replace the defective stopper trip lever and plunger components with new ones. Reattach the trip lever, making sure all linkages connect properly. Pivot the overflow plate back and reinstall both screws. Test stopper several times. Ensure the drain is unobstructed.
We’ve come to the end of our clogged drain stopper removal guide. By now, you should have clearance to enjoy relaxing, sudsy baths again thanks to our easy-to-follow instructions tailored for different tub drain types.
Remember, acting quickly at the first sign of a slow drain can help prevent major obstructions. Consider using hair and debris catchers and regularly performing light maintenance on the stopper components while cleaning your tub. Taking good care of your drains makes it last.
Most importantly – don’t force or overtighten mechanisms in frustration. Always use proper tools, steady hands, and gentle technique. This ensures you don’t accidentally damage delicate finishes or connections. Patience pays off.
We hope mild jam-ups are a thing of the past. But should they occur, you’ve now got the skills and confidence to tackle them!