How to Remove a Tub Drain

Use Pliers or a Plug Wrench to Remove Your Bathtub Drain

Use the Other Pliers to Turn the Locking Pliers
Lee Wallender
  • 01 of 04

    Remove Your Tub Drain With Pliers or a Plug Wrench

    Removing and Installing a Bathtub Drain
    BanksPhotos/Getty Images

    Removing your tub drain is a necessary task that you often need to do in service of other bathroom remodeling projects. Whether replacing your current bathtub, augering the drain, performing minor bathroom repairs, or even as basic a task as running a plastic Zip-It to remove hair, you will need to remove your bathtub 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. The drain screws out by rotating it counter-clockwise.

    But this isn't as simple as reaching in and turning out the drain assembly. Initial over-tightening, rust, gunk, and time all contribute to hold the drain assembly firmly in place. Often, the culprit is plumber's putty. This thick, clay-like substance has likely hardened around the threads of the drain assembly. You need a tool or set of tools that will reach into the confined space of the drain and firmly grab the assembly so that you can turn it out. 

    Tools and Materials

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  • 02 of 04

    Remove the Tub Stopper and the Screen

    Remove the Tub Screen
    Lee Wallender

    Two elements first need to be removed before you can remove the tub drain: the stopper and the screen. Your tub may or may not either piece.

    • Stopper: Most bathtubs have a stopper of some type to retain the water and let the user take a bath. The stopper can be as simple as a rubber plug or it might be a metal piece that is integrated into the drain assembly. To remove the latter type, unscrew it by turning it counter-clockwise until it releases from the drain assembly. Set the stopper aside.
    • Screen: The screen is the upper metal disc with holes in it. The screen is there to prevent large objects from going down the drain. Use a fingernail or a flat head screwdriver to get under the edge of it and lift it straight up. Set it aside.
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  • 03 of 04

    Clamp the Drain With the Locking Pliers

    Clamp the Drain With the Locking Pliers
    Lee Wallender

    Your bathtub drain will have a metal cross or "X" at the bottom. This cross will be the part that you grab to make it turn.

    • Plug Wrench: A plug wrench is a small wrench made of cast iron or steel, milled to fit the cross of several different types of drain assemblies. If you expect to be removing your tub drain more than once, it will be worthwhile for you to purchase this inexpensive item. Also, because the head is form-fitted to the drain's cross, there is less chance of accidentally breaking off the cross.
    • Pliers: Short of a plug wrench, the best substitute is a set of needle-nose locking pliers. The pliers need to be small enough to reach into the drain and through the cross. Push down as far as possible. Clamp the pliers onto the cross. Make sure that the locking pliers are clamped onto the center hub of the cross rather than onto one arm of the cross. If you are clamped onto one section only, there is a good chance that you will break the drain assembly.
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  • 04 of 04

    Use the Other Pliers to Turn the Locking Pliers

    Use the Other Pliers to Turn the Locking Pliers
    Lee Wallender
    1. With the locking pliers firmly in place, clamp your second set of pliers onto the locking pliers. Clamp the pliers as low as possible on the locking pliers so that they do not interfere with the locking action of the locking pliers.
    2. Turn counter-clockwise. Be patient and go slowly. Warmer temperatures help loosen plumber's putty. If this is an especially cold tub, gently blow warm air from a heat gun or a hair drier over it for a few minutes.
    3. After a rotation or two, the tub drain should be loose enough so that you can unclamp the second set of pliers and turn by hand with the first set of pliers. Bathtub drains have a long, deep thread, so it will take many turns to remove the drain completely.​
    4. Set the drain assembly aside. Plumber's putty will remain on the drain and on the tub.
    5. When re-installing the drain, first remove the old plumber's putty by rubbing with a towel and gently scraping with a screwdriver. Before re-installing, use fresh plumber's putty. If you do not use new putty, you increase the chances of the bathtub drain leaking to areas below.