Bathtub drain plugs function for years at a time without incident. When your bathtub's drain plug starts to experience problems, you will need to understand how the stopper works by moving the lever on the bathtub's overflow drain cover. Once you understand how the plug mechanism functions, you will be better equipped to determine the cause of the problem.
A bathtub's drain stopper assembly feeds down the bathtub's overflow pipe. When water is washed down the bathtub's overflow, some of the debris in the water collects on the plug's assembly. If enough debris builds onto the bathtub's drain plug assembly, the assembly will become gummed up and unable to move. By removing the assembly from the tub's overflow, you can clean off any debris using a rag. Feeding a drain auger down the overflow and through the P-trap under the bathtub will also clear out any debris the stopper mechanism is catching on.
In addition to the linkage mechanism that feeds down the bathtub's overflow, a pop-up stopper also has a rocker arm that attaches to the underside of the actual stopper piece. Clogs and debris can build up on the stopper's rocker arm as well, impeding its movement, which you can clean off with a rag.
You may find that you must lubricate certain parts of the bathtub's stopper mechanism so they can start moving as they should. These parts may freeze up from a lack of use, or from hard water deposits gathering on them through the years. You need to apply a penetrating lubricant to areas like a stopper's lever on both the front and back of the overflow drain's cover, the connection with the linkage mechanism and the joints in the stopper's rocker arm. The penetrating lubricant needs to sit on the parts for at least five minutes and you should verify the parts are moving before putting the stopper mechanism back together.
A drain plug may appear to be stuck, when in fact the mechanism needs to be adjusted properly, allowing the stopper to function as it should. Adjusting the linkage that attaches to the stopper's lever only takes loosening the locknut on the linkage so you can move the position of the rod on the linkage. For pop-up stoppers, you can adjust how the stopper itself sits in the drain by turning the nut on the bottom of the stopper either clockwise or counterclockwise
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