How to Remove Tub Drain - No Special Tools Needed

  • 01 of 06

    How to Remove Tub Drain

    Removing and Installing a Bathtub Drain
    Removing and Installing a Bathtub Drain. BanksPhotos / Getty Images

    When changing out your present bathtub, augering the drain, performing minor bathroom repairs, or even something as basic as running a plastic Zip-It to remove hair, you will need to remove the tub drain.

    But this is not so easy, because the drain assembly was designed to stay firmly in place.  Start with five FAQs that are not obvious just from looking at the drain:

    Is the Metal Thing with Holes the Drain?

    No.  That is the screen, and it is there to prevent large objects from going down the drain.

    Use a fingernail or flat head screwdriver to get under the edge of it and lift it out.  

    Then What Is the Drain?

    The drain is the assembly below the screen and it is attached to the tub itself.  Below that is the drain pipe that eventually leads to the sewer system.

    Does the Drain Lift Out or Turn Out?

    It unscrews counter-clockwise.

    Will It Be Hard To Turn Out?

    Yes. You cannot do this with your fingers alone.  Initial tightening, rust, gunk, but most especially, plumber's putty, all act together to hold the drain assembly firmly in place.

    What Is Plumber's Putty? 

    It is a clay-like substance that plumbers use as a kind of hand-moldable caulk to make sure that plumbing parts remain waterproof. You will also be using plumber's putty when you replace the drain.

    Can I Ruin My Tub Surface? 

    Possibly. Use a towel so that you do not drop a tool or the heavy drain assembly on the tub surface.

    Are Special Tools Required? 

    No, but they are recommended.

    Tools and Materials

    • Special Tool (Recommended): A plug wrench is one of those ultra-cheap tools that you can use for only one thing--removing a drain. If you have a few extra minutes to run down to your nearest hardware store and get a plug wrench, you will save much frustration. It is a dead-simple tool that will make your job much easier. (Buy From Amazon - Superior Tool Plug Wrench)
    • Ordinary Tools (Alternative): Needle-nose Vise-Grip tool and regular pliers.
    • Plumber's Putty: Absolutely necessary in order to turn the drain assembly back in place and prevent water from leaking. Bathtub caulk is not a substitute. (Buy From Amazon - Oatley Hercules Plumber's Putty)
    Continue to 2 of 6 below.
  • 02 of 06

    Bathtub Drain Assembly "X"

    Bathtub Drain
    Bathtub Drain. Getty / Thinkstock

    Your bathtub drain will have an "X" at the bottom. This "X" will be the part that you grab onto to make it turn.

    There are countless ways to grab this "X" and turn a drain. When looking for improvised tools, keep in mind:

    • The space within the drain is small, so you need to select tools accordingly.
    • The drain will be very hard to turn, due to the plumber's putty and years of accumulated gunk.
    • If you turn too hard, you can accidentally snap off pieces of that "X", creating an even bigger problem.
    Continue to 3 of 6 below.
  • 03 of 06

    Clamp Vise-Grip Onto the "X"

    How to Remove a Tub Drain
    Lee Wallender

    The best substitute for a plug wrench is a needle-nose Vise-Grip. Failing that, needle-nose pliers or any other pliers small enough to reach into the drain will work as a substitute.

    Push the Vise-Grip down as far as possible.

    Clamp it onto the "X." Make sure that the Vise-Grip is clamped onto the center hub of the "X" rather than onto one section of the "X." If you are clamped onto one section only, there is a good chance that you will break the drain assembly.

    Continue to 4 of 6 below.
  • 04 of 06

    Hold Vise Grip With Another Wrench

    How to Remove a Tub Drain
    Lee Wallender

    With the Vise-Grip firmly in place, clamp your second set of pliers onto the Vise-Grip. In this photo, Klein lineman's pliers are being used.

    Clamp the pliers as low as possible on the Vise-Grip so that it does not interfere with the locking action of the vise grip.

    Turn counter-clockwise.

    Tip: What If It Is Hard To Turn?

    Be patient and go slowly. Warmer temperatures help loosen plumber's putty. If this is an especially cold tub, blow warm air from a hair drier over it for a few minutes or put a space heater in your bathroom.

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    Switch to Manual Grip Again

    How to Remove a Tub Drain
    Lee Wallender

    After a rotation or two, the tub drain should be loose enough so that you can unclamp the pliers and turn it off by hand.

    Bathtub drains have a long, deep thread, so it will take many turns to remove drain completely.

    Continue to 6 of 6 below.
  • 06 of 06

    This Is the Tub Drain Removed from Tub

    How to Remove a Tub Drain
    Lee Wallender

    Finished. The drain is shown. Plumber's putty will remain on the drain and on the tub.

    When re-installing the drain, remove the old plumber's putty by rubbing with a towel and scraping with a screwdriver.

    Before re-installing, use fresh plumber's putty. If you do not use new putty, the bathtub will probably leak.