Removing a Trip-Lever Tub Drain Stopper

Tub drain plunger

A bathtub with a trip-lever drain stopper works using an internal plunger that moves up and down inside the waste-and-overflow tube to pivot a drain stopper in the drain opening. When the plunger is down, it presses down on the stopper lever and forces the stopper up into the open position. When the plunger is pulled up, it levers the drain stopper down into the closed position. From time to time you may need to remove this drain plunger or order to work on the drain, and this can be hard to do if for some reason the plunger has become stuck in the waste-and-overflow tube. For example, if the stopper has not been used for a long time, it may become stuck—a problem that can occur with both brass and plastic plunger units. 

How to Remove a Stuck Drain Stopper

If, when you remove the overflow cover plate, the plunger and rod will not lift out of the overflow tube, try these steps to increase your chances of getting the plunger out.

  • Remove the clip that holds the overflow cover plate to the plunger rod. Removing this clip will allow you to detach the cover plate from the rod, giving you more room to maneuver the rod and pull up on the plunger. 
  • Try spraying some liquid wrench or WD-40 down the overflow drain pipe where to plunger sits. The lubrication may help to loosen up the stuck plunger from the walls of the overflow tube. You might start by tugging lightly on the trip level rod. The plunger rod offers the best means for removing the plunger, so try hard not to break it. A bit of up and down motion may free a stuck plunger. 
  • Use pliers to grip the rod and attempt to lift straight up. Avoid pulling at an angle, but rather try to pull straight up in the limited space you have. Wiggle the plunger rod up a few times and then spray more lubricant into the pipe if necessary. If you have the patience and luck, it should eventually loosen up and come out intact.

If the plunger rod breaks during your attempts, you are now in a more serious situation. In rare cases, you may be able to fish down through the overflow tube and hook onto the plunger with a piece of stiff wire or a drain snake, But more likely you now will be forced to remove the entire drain-and-overflow pipe to remove the broken plunger and rod mechanism.