Expert advice on how to repair a bathtub, with illustrated diagrams and information on how to fix a bathtub drain stopper, spa jets, and bathtub cleaning tips.
Tubs tend to work without mishap for years, except for minor problems such as clogs, which are commonly caused by hair buildup, and issues with pop-up stoppers that control the tub’s drain. We’ll look at problems with pop-up stoppers on this page. For a tub that drains poorly, see Clearing Bathtub Drain Problems.
How to Fix a Pop-Up Drain Stopper
A common problem with bathtubs is that the pop-up stopper doesn’t close fully, fit the drain flange tightly, or open easily when the lever or knob is engaged. Stoppers that don’t close can keep the tub from filling properly, thereby wasting water. Stoppers that don’t open readily or don’t open all the way make water drain sluggishly. These kinds of stopper problems are mechanical and can be solved with simple adjustments to their workings.
A bathtub pop-up is a two-part mechanism: first, the stopper, which has a rocker arm that extends back toward the drain, and second, the overflow assembly, a lever that lifts or lowers a rod with a spring-like end. When you flip the overflow lever up, it pushes the rod down on the stopper’s rocker arm, which raises the stopper. Flip the lever up, and it lifts the rod, allowing the stopper to drop down and plug the drain.
Depending upon the type of pop-up, you adjust the way the stopper seats either by adjusting the length of the striker rod or by adjusting the rocker arm.
To adjust the overflow assembly, remove the screws that secure the overflow cover plate, and pull the plate and lever away from the overflow hole, partially pulling out the mechanism. Adjust the nut that lengthens or shortens the rod assembly—lengthen it to raise the stopper higher or shorten it to let it drop lower. Then push the assembly back in and replace the cover plate.
To adjust the stopper, simply lift it out of the drain along with the rocker arm. Check the rubber seal, if there is one, for damage, and replace it if need be. Clean off hair and debris, and adjust the nut on its underside to shorten or lengthen its connection to the rocker arm. Then work the arm and stopper back down into the drain hole to make sure the flange is tightly seated (though older tubs may have corroded flanges).
Keeping the drain clear of hair, soap and shampoo residue, and other debris is one of the best ways to help keep the stopper in good working order.
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