The ability of a bathtub to hold and drain water is made possible by the stopper. If your tub won’t just hold water, that is where you need to start checking.
If your bathtub is not holding water, you have a problem with the drain stopper. It could be that the plunger has disconnected, the rod length is not properly adjusted, the rods are entangled or mineral deposits/debris/hair are inhibiting its proper functioning.
Most bathtubs use a trip-lever stopper which is normally installed on the side of the tub. There are other that also use different types f stoppers, usually installed at the bottom of the tub. We will start with the trip-lever tub stopper since it’s the most common.
Note: If you would like to know how to plug a bathtub drain without a stopper, please check out this article
How a Trip-Lever Bathtub Stopper Works
A trip-lever drain stopper is usually installed on the tub’s overflow drain and also comes with a decorative plate cover. Inside the overflow drain the trip lever is connected to 2 swiveling rods, while the bottom rod is connected to a plunger.
How this stopper works is that when you flip the lever upwards, the plunger drops down and plugs off the bathtub drain. When you flip the lever down, the plunger lifts off allowing water in the tub to flow down the drain.
If the trip lever’s rod is shorter than it should be, the rods are entangled or the plunger is dirty, it will not move up and down the full length leaving the tub drain partially opening causing it not to hold water.
This is also usually the case when you have a slow draining bathtub. A slow draining bathtub could however also be caused by a partially clogged bathtub drain.
How to Remove a Trip Lever Bathtub Stopper
Fixing a bathtub that won’t hold water is a really easy task. You just need to remove and check the condition of the whole trip-lever assembly and fix it accordingly. The only tool needed is a Philips screwdriver.
Proceed as follows:
- Cover the bathtub drain to prevent any piece from falling down the drain.
- Use the screwdriver to remove the 2 screws on the trip-lever’s cover plate.
- To properly remove the whole assembly, pull it towards yourself and then straight upwards. If this piece has not been changed for a long time, pull it out might be a little hard. Grab the lever with a pliers and pull it out, starting off gently.
- Check the condition of the 2 rods. Are they entangled? Is the plunger covered in mineral deposits, hair, dirt or even soap scum?
- Clean the whole assembly in the bathroom sink to remove any debris from it.
- You will notice that the top rod is threaded to a lock nut. Trip-levers are usually designed that way to fit bathtubs of different sizes. Loosen the lock nut (about 4 turns counterclockwise) to increase the length of the rod.
- Now put back the whole assembly back inside the overflow drain being careful not to entangle the 2 rods.
- Screw in the cover plat in place.
- Flip the trip-lever upwards so that the bathtub drain is plugged off.
- Turn on the water for about 1 minute.
- Turn off the water.
- Keenly observe if the bathtub is holding the water.
This repair will most of the time fix a bathtub that isn’t holding water. The good thing is that it is so easy and you won’t need to pay a plumber.
Apart from trip lever bathtub stoppers, there are 5 other types of tub stoppers. Let us look at them and how you can remove and replace them.
How to Remove a Lift and Turn Tub Stopper
A lift and turn stopper is the one with a small knob on top of the drain stopper cap. To close a lift and turn stopper, you usually turn the knob until the stopper goes down. If you want to open it, lift it and turn it in the opposite direction.
Here is how to remove a lift and turn tub stopper:
- Have the stopper in the open position.
- Use one hand to hold down the body of the stopper.
- Turn the knob in the counterclockwise direction slowly with your other hand, looking for a screw on the knob.
- Use a flathead screwdriver or an Allen wrench to loosen the screw. Note that you do not need to completely remove the screw lest it falls down the drain.
- If there is no screw on the knob, turn the stopper counterclockwise to unthread it from the strainer.
How to Remove a Push Pull Tub Stopper
A push pull bathtub drain stopper is very similar in design to the lift and turn tub drain stopper. As its name suggests, you normally push the stopper cap down to close it and pull it up to open it.
The stopper body is usually attached to the drain using a screw found under the cap of the stopper. Here is how to remove a push and pull tub drain stopper.
- Remove the knob at the top of the stopper. To do this, hold the body of the drain stopper down with one hand and use the other hand to turn the knob counterclockwise all the way until it is out. Sometimes the knob is too tight and won’t just come off. Wrap a rag or duct tape on the knob and use a pair of pliers to turn it.
- You will now see a long screw that connects the stopper to the drain crossbar. Use a screwdriver to remove it and lift off the stopper.
How to Remove a Toe Touch Tub Stopper
A toe touch tub stopper, also known as a foot-actuated tub stopper looks very much like the push and pull tub stopper but is usually operated using the toe but is flat at the top, with no knobs. The stopper is spring-loaded, and normally attached to the drain bar using a screw founder underneath the cap.
Here is how to remove a toe touch tub stopper:
- Hold the base of the stopper with one hand and use the other hand to turn the cap counterclockwise. The cap should come off but if it doesn’t and instead the whole cylinder body is turning, probably the whole assembling is threaded to the crossbar. Release it with your first hand and turn it to unthread it.
- Seeing as there are several versions of this tub stoppers, some will come off easily while others will need you to use a screwdriver to disconnect it from the crossbar.
How to Remove a Flip-It Tub Stopper
A flip-it bathtub drain stopper is the easiest to remove and install. A toggle lever attached to the top of the stopper is pushed side to side to open or close it.
A flip-it tub stopper is not threaded to the drain opening and needs no tools to remove or install. The in-built O-ring holds it in place creating a water tight seal.
To remove a flip-it tub stopper, hold it and rock it about gently as you pull it up. Depending on how long it has been in place, it will either require more or less force.