For most bathroom sinks, the drain stopper apparatus is a pop-up assembly that works by means of a small vertical rod attached to a pivot rod below the sink. This lift rod slides up and down through a small hole in the back of the faucet body. The pivot rod moves a linkage inside the drain tailpiece, lifting or lowering the stopper as needed.
You'll need to install a new drain stopper whenever you install a new sink. And sometimes when you are installing a new faucet, it may come with a stopper assembly that needs to be swapped out with the old stopper. Finally, if a sink drain begins to leak, you can buy a new stopper assembly to replace the old faulty one.
Installation of a drain stopper is usually fairly straightforward and simple, but occasionally the process can become a little more complicated due to variations in the fixture or fittings.
Before You Begin
Sink stoppers are available in different metal finishes for the visible drain ring and stopper to match whatever faucet hardware you have. The lower drain assembly can be made of durable metal or less expensive plastic. Professional plumbers sometimes feel that metal assemblies are preferable, but plastic pop-up assemblies are generally fine for DIYers, though they can be slightly prone to breakage if you over-tighten the nuts during installation.
In addition to the traditional pop-up stoppers that use a lift rod, pivot rod, and internal ball to lift and lower the stopper, there are now spring-loaded sink stoppers that have none of these pivot parts. These stoppers resemble the type of drain stopper now very popular for bathtubs. These spring-loaded stoppers open and close simply by pushing down on the stopper from inside the sink; one push down causes the stopper to lock in the closed position, the next push releases the stopper and allows the internal spring to push it back up to the open position. These stoppers are worth considering, as they are quite easy to install. They do, however, require the user to reach through standing water to release the stopper and drain the sink.
When professionals are installing a complete bathroom sink and faucet assembly, they often do the work while the vanity top is still removed from the base cabinet. It's much easier to attach the faucet and various drain parts during this time, while you have open access. That's the process shown in the project demonstrated here. However, in many situations you'll be installing the stopper assembly on a sink and countertop that's already in place—usually working from below the sink, inside the vanity cabinet. The process for installing the pop-up stopper assembly is the same, but the work will look a little different and you may find it a little more difficult due to the limited access.
Watch Now: How to Install a Pop-Up Drain Stopper
Equipment / Tools
- Channel-type pliers
- Pop-up drain assembly
- Pipe joint compound
- Plumber's putty
Remove the Old Drain Assembly
Loosen and remove the P-trap from the branch drain and sink drain tailpiece, using channel-type pliers. With some traps, you may be able to loosen and remove the trap by hand, without a wrench. It's possible there will be some water in the trap, so position a bucket under the trap to catch this water.
Next, extract the old pop-up linkage assembly, if there is one.
Now, use channel-type pliers to remove the mounting nut from the tailpiece on the old drain assembly. Lift the entire drain assembly clear of the sink. This may require some wiggling of the tailpiece to break the seal on the drain flange.
With the drain assembly removed, clean the sink thoroughly of debris and old plumber's putty.
Prepare the New Pop-Up Drain Stopper
Disassemble the pieces of the new pop-up assembly, then unscrew and remove the mounting nut from the drain tailpiece. Install the plastic washer, then the rubber washer; push them all the way down on top of the mounting nut, as shown here.
Apply Pipe Joint Compound
Apply a thin layer of pipe joint compound to the top side of the rubber washer that will fit against the sink. Using joint compound on the rubber will ensure that it seals against the bottom of the sink drain opening. While pipe joint compound is not strictly necessary, without it you might have trouble getting the rubber to seal.
Apply Plumber's Putty
Apply a generous bead of plumber's putty to the underside of the flange on the sink drain ring. The putty will help the upper part of the drain assembly seal against the sink drain opening.
If you do not have plumber's putty or cannot use it on your type of sink, then you can use silicone caulk. Some pop-up assemblies come with a foam or rubber gasket to use instead of plumber's putty or caulk.
Scoop out a ball of plumber's putty and roll it in your hand to form a long rope, then lay the rope around the edge of the drain ring. The putty will compress better if it has been warmed by rolling it between your hands.
Connect the Drain Parts
Push the pop-up drain tailpiece assembly up through the drain opening from under the sink as high as you can. While holding the drain piece in place, fit the drain ring into the opening from above the sink, and thread the ring onto the drain tailpiece as far as you can by hand. (Make sure the pieces are threaded correctly and are not cross-threaded.) For now, it only needs to be hand-tightened to hold it in place.
Tighten the Drain Assembly
From under the sink, hold the drain tailpiece motionless with one hand and tighten the mounting nut upwards toward the bottom of the sink. Make sure the opening in the tailpiece (where the pop-up pivot lever will fit) is pointing straight back toward the wall.
Tighten the mounting nut with channel-type pliers while continuing to hold the tailpiece in place. Do not over-tighten this nut, but make sure it is secure enough so that the drain assembly does not spin in the drain opening.
Scrape up the oozed out plumber's putty from around the drain opening, and put it back into the container. As long as it's clean, the putty is perfectly good to reuse.
Put the Drain Stopper Into Place
Insert the pop-up stopper down into the drain opening inside the sink, making sure the hole in the linkage is facing toward the back of the sink. From under the sink, insert the pivot rod into the opening in the side of the tailpiece. Usually, there is a plastic washer on each side of the plastic ball. You should be able to feel the tip of the pivot rod slide through the opening in the stopper linkage inside the drain assembly.
Screw the pivot rod nut onto the threaded fitting on the side of the tailpiece, so the ball is secured inside the tailpiece. Test the action of the pivot rod to make sure the stopper goes up and down freely in the drain. If the pop-up is working properly, you can tighten the nut hand-tight. If the pop-up is not working, reposition the stopper and pivot rod so the pieces connect properly.
If the pop-up assembly is hard to move when you move the pivot rod, it's likely that the pivot rod nut has been tightened down too much and needs to be slightly loosened.
Install the Pop-Up Lever
Feed the vertical pop-up lever down through the hole behind the spout of the faucet. Before connecting the horizontal pivot rod to the vertical lever, make sure your stopper is in the fully up (open) position.
From below the sink, attach the connecting strap to the end of the vertical pop-up lever. Tighten the screw on the connecting strap to secure it to the pivot rod.
Connect the Pop-Up Lever and Pivot Rod
Connect the vertical strap to the horizontal pivot rod by threading the spring clip onto the rod; one end of the clip attaches on each side of the strap.
Check to make sure that the pop-up stopper opens and closes fully inside the drain opening. If it doesn’t, you can make some adjustments to the rod connections by pinching and moving the spring clip.
Reassemble the Drain Trap
Finish the job by reconnecting the P-trap to the drain pipe and drain tailpiece. Check for leaks by closing the stopper, filling up the sink, then opening the stopper and letting the water drain out while you look for leaks from below. Connections that leak can be slightly tightened with channel-type pliers, but take care not to over-tighten them.