How to Fix a Bathtub Stopper

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When operating correctly, a bathtub stopper prevents water from flowing down the drain, allowing the tub to fill. It also opens fully when released, allowing the tub to drain easily. Hair, soap or sludge buildup, and improper adjustment of the stopper's lift rod assembly impede stopper function, preventing it from either opening fully or seating correctly. Cleaning and adjusting the stopper and its mechanism, and replacing worn or broken parts, restores proper bathtub stopper function.

Things You'll Need

  • Screwdriver
  • Pliers
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Toothbrush
  • Silicone grease
  • Baking soda
  • White vinegar
  • Remove the screws securing the trip-lever cover plate. Carefully remove the plate, pulling the lift rod assembly and stopper (plunger) out of the overflow drain.

  • Remove hair and loose debris from the lift rod assembly and stopper. Using vinegar and a hard-bristle toothbrush, remove any residual soap or sludge buildup.

  • Inspect all parts for damage or wear. Replace any broken or overly worn parts. If either of the two halves of the lift rod assembly is bent, carefully straighten it.

  • Lubricate the assembly and stopper with silicone grease (or petroleum jelly, if silicone grease is unavailable).

  • While the assembly is removed, pour 1/2 cup of baking soda into both the tub and overflow drains, following each with either 1/2 or 1 cup of white vinegar. Flush liberally with hot tap water.

  • Reinstall the assembly/stopper in the overflow drain. Close the drain and begin filling the tub. If the drain does not hold water, drain the tub and remove the assembly. With pliers or an adjustable wrench, loosen the lock nut at the base of the clevis attaching the trip lever to the upper half of the linkage assembly. Rotate the upper half of the lift rod clockwise three turns and tighten the lock nut. Reinstall and test, repeating the procedure if necessary. If the drain flow slows, remove the assembly, loosen the lock nut and rotate the upper lift rod counterclockwise, adjusting until flow improves. Tighten the lock nut and reinstall.

Tips & Warnings

  • Be careful when reinstalling the lift rod assembly so that the loops connecting the top and bottom rods do not become twisted on each other, which shortens the assembly.
  • Thoroughly flush drains and overflows clear of commercial drain cleaners before removing and servicing parts.

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