How to Remove and Clean 5 Types of Bathtub Drain Stoppers

Methods differ depending on the stopper design

Bath plug
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When a bathtub drain stopper fails to hold water when closed, or when the tub drains too slowly when the stopper is in the open position, the culprit is usually a hair or soap buildup on the stopper, or a stopper that is worn out and in need of replacement. Removing the stopper is the first step to addressing these problems. You may also need to remove the stopper when working on the drain, such as when replacing the drain strainer body, or when addressing a clog.

There are many styles of bathtub drain stopper, and the techniques for removing them for cleaning or replacement varies quite a bit from style to style. Failure to clean a strain stopper when the tub first starts to show signs of sluggishness can lead to a full-blown clog, so address the problem as soon as you notice it. It usually takes only a few minutes and can prevent a lot of future trouble.

Tools and Supplies You Will Need

  • Screwdriver
  • Pliers (as needed)
  • Allen wrenches (as needed)
  • Bucket
  • Small scrub brush
  • Household cleaner
  • Lime-removal product

Instructions

The tools required depend on the type of stopper design. Identify your stopper type first from the descriptions below, then select the tools and materials you'll need from the list above.

Toe-Touch Drain Stoppers

Perhaps the simplest stopper of them all, toe-touch drain stoppers are spring-loaded devices that operate with a simple push of your toes. One push down closes the stopper; the next toe-touch allows it to spring up again. These stoppers are very easy to remove and clean.

  1. To remove the outer cap on the stopper, first set the stopper in the open position, then turn the cap on the stopper counter-clockwise to remove it.
  2. Next, unscrew the shaft cylinder portion of the stopper—the section that fits in the drain opening. This portion usually has a post that is threaded into an opening in the bottom of the drain fitting. On some types, you may need to remove this cylinder with a screwdriver.
  3. Use a small scrub brush to pull out any hair or debris you see in the drain opening.
  4. Use the scrub brush and a household cleaner mixed in water to scour the stopper, removing any hair and soap scum.
  5. Polish the visible chrome surfaces on the stopper body and cap, using either a commercial chrome polish product or a household substance that is known to work on chrome (lemon and baking soda, or vinegar, are good choices).
  6. Inspect the condition of the seals on the stopper. If they are cracked, or dry and worn out, buy a replacement stopper and install it.
  7. Insert the cylinder portion of the stopper back into the drain opening by threading the post back into the drain fitting.
  1. Reattach the stopper cap by threading it back onto the cylinder.
  2. Test the stopper for proper operation.

Push-Pull Drain Stoppers

Push-pull drain stoppers are quite similar to toe-touch styles, but rather than being spring-loaded, they are simply raised and lowered by hand by means of a small knob on the top.

  1. Lift the stopper to the open position.
  2. Hold the stopper body firmly by hand, and twist the knob counterclockwise to remove it. Usually, you can simply do this by hand, but if the knob is stubborn, you may need to grip the stopper with one pair of pliers while twisting the cap with another pair.
  3. With the cap removed, unscrew the mounting post beneath the cap counterclockwise to separate the stopper from the drain fitting.
  4. Use a small scrub brush to pull out any hair or debris you see in the drain opening.
  5. Use the scrub brush and a household cleaner mixed in water to scour the stopper, removing any hair and soap scum.
  6. Polish the visible chrome surfaces on the stopper body and cap, using either a commercial chrome polish product or a household substance that is known to work on chrome (lemon and baking soda, or vinegar are good choices).
  7. Thread the mounting post of the stopper back into the bottom drain fitting.
  8. Reattach the knurled knob on top of the stopper.
  9. Test to make sure the stopper operates correctly.

    Twist-and-Pull Drain Stoppers

    Another very common drain stopper, a variation of the push-pull is the twist-and-pull stopper, sometimes called the lift-and-turn. They’re easily recognizable by a small knurled knob on the top of the stopper. The stopper is opened and closed by twisting the knob by hand.

    1. Open the drain stopper by pulling up on the knob and turning until the stopper is in the open position.
    2. Look for a visible set-screw on the knob that sits atop the stopper. If the setscrew is present, loosen it with an Allen wrench or small screwdriver. If there is no set-screw, then try simply twisting the entire stopper to until a pin on the mounting post aligns with a release channel on the strainer. Lift the stopper off the mounting post.
    3. Unscrew the mounting post from the drain fitting, using pliers or a screwdriver (depending on the style of stopper).
    4. Inspect the rubber seals on the stopper. If they are worn out, the stopper should be replaced.
    5. Use a small scrub brush to remove soap scum or hair from inside the drain opening.
    6. Use the scrub brush and a liquid cleaning solution to scrub the mounting post and stopper body, removing any visible hair or soap scum.
    7. Polish the visible chrome surfaces on the stopper body and cap knob, using either a commercial chrome polish product or a household substance that is known to work on chrome (lemon and baking soda, or vinegar are good choices).
    1. Reattach the mounting post to the bottom of the drain fitting, then place the stopper back onto the mounting post. Secure the set-screw to anchor the stopper to the mounting post.
    2. Test the stopper for proper operation.

    Flip-It Drain Stoppers

    Flip-It drain stoppers are a proprietary design that operates much like a commercial wine cork device used to seal wine bottles after they have been opened. The toggle lever expands the shaft of the stopper to seal a pair of O-rings and block the drain.

    1. With the stopper in the open position, simply grasp the plug by hand and pull upwards with a wiggling motion to remove it from the drain opening.
    2. Use a small scrub brush to remove soap scum or hair inside the drain opening.
    3. Use the scrub brush and a liquid cleaning solution to scrub the body of the stopper, removing any hair and soap scum.
    4. Inspect the O-rings on the shaft of the stopper; if they are cracked or broken, install new O-rings or replace the entire stopper.
    5. Polish the visible chrome surfaces on the stopper body, using either a commercial chrome polish product or a household substance that is known to work on chrome (lemon and baking soda, or vinegar are good choices).
    6. With the stopper toggle lever in the open position, insert the shaft of the stopper in the drain opening and press down firmly until it snaps down into place.
    7. Test the stopper for proper operation.

    Flip-Lever Drain Stoppers

    Some bathtub drain stoppers are operated by a flip lever mounted the overflow opening on the tub. A connecting rod with a spring attached to the end moves up and down inside the overflow pipe; this raises and lowers a pivot arm that runs through a horizontal pipe arm and is attached to the stopper. Removing this type of stopper is slightly different than for the other pop-up stoppers since it is attached to an articulated linkage arm that must be extracted as you remove the drain stopper from the opening.

    1. Set the drain stopper lever (in some instances, this is a rotating dial) to the open position.
    2. Carefully pull the drain stopper up from the drain opening, and pull the entire rocker arm linkage from the drain opening. It may take some wiggling to extract the arm.
    3. Clean any hair, soap scum, or debris off the pop-up stopper and the rocker arm. This style of drain stopper is more likely to collect debris than other types.
    4. If there is lime buildup on the brass rocker arm, clean it off with a commercial lime cleaner (such as Lime-Away), or by soaking it in vinegar.
    5. Polish the visible chrome surfaces on the stopper body, using either a commercial chrome polish product or a household substance that is known to work on chrome (lemon and baking soda, or vinegar, are good choices).
    6. Once clean, carefully reinsert the rocker arm into the drain opening until the stopper fits into the drain opening.
    7. Test the flip-lever to make sure the stopper operates correctly.