How To: Remove a Tub Drain

If your tub drain just isn't doing its job, you may need to take it out to clean or replace it. Rest assured that in just a few simple steps you'll have the drain out and be on your way to resolving your tub trouble.

How to Remove a Tub Drain

Photo: Zillow Digs home in Los Angeles, CA

It’s unfortunate but true: Over time tub drains clog and sometimes even corrode. After all, your bathtub is put to the test every day as you and the other members of your household bathe, forcing all sorts of body care products—and copious amounts of human hair—through the drain and into the pipes beyond. The day may come when your drain ceases to function. When that happens, you’ll probably need to remove the drain for inspection, followed by either a careful cleaning or a complete replacement. The removal process isn’t particularly difficult or time-consuming, taking anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours from start to finish, depending on the type of drain you’re dealing with. Yet, as with all things DIY, a few simple instructions will help the task go more smoothly.

While bathtub drains vary by type, they can be sorted into two broad categories: simple drains (including foot lock, roller ball, and lift-and-turn types) and drains with a trip lever (such as pop-up and plunger drains). Instructions for removing both types appear below. Just find your drain style, and follow the step-by-step to remove it yourself.

 

Type #1: Simple Drains (Foot Lock, Roller Ball, and Lift-and-Turn)

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Rubber gloves
- Screwdriver
- Wrench
- Vinegar
- Baking soda
- Mild cleanser (optional)
- Blow dryer (optional)
- Drain key or smart dumbbell (if you’re e moving the entire drain, including the flange)

STEP 1
Before you disassemble your tub drain, it’s important to note its condition. Excessive amounts of rust, mildew, or decay may indicate a larger problem, in which case professional assistance may be needed. Otherwise, if the drain is in good shape, pull on a pair of rubber gloves and continue on your mission.

• For a foot lock or roller ball plug, simply rotate it counterclockwise until it separates completely from the drain shaft.

• In the case of a lift-and-turn drain, lift the plug and free it by loosening the setscrew underneath. If you find that the setscrew on your lift-and-turn drain is stuck, a series of light-to-medium taps may help to loosen it. Use your wrench or screwdriver to nudge it into motion if necessary, but be careful not to use too much force, which could damage the drain.

STEP 2
Once the drain basket is fully exposed, use a mild cleanser or a mixture of one part vinegar and one part baking soda to wash it off. Also clean the plug or stopper if you’re planning to reinsert it rather than replace it.

Now, fill the tub with an inch or so of water and watch it drain. If the water still drains too slowly, move on to a stronger drain cleaner (one that specifies that it’s suitable for tubs) or turn to a tried-and-true DIY drain cleaner that uses materials you already have on hand. Fill the tub again with about an inch of water, and watch it drain. Repeat as necessary until the tub empties at a reasonable rate, then proceed to reinstall or replace the part(s) you’ve removed.

STEP 3
If you’re removing the entire drain apparatus, including the basket (also known as the flange), insert your drain key or smart dumbbell into the opening. Turn it counterclockwise and continue turning until the drain flange is released, then remove the flange while it’s still attached to the drain key.

Tip: If the flange is stuck, use a hair dryer to heat it up and loosen the putty, then try again.

STEP 4
Once the drain flange has been removed, be sure to clear out any old putty residue from the base of the opening before replacing the flange or installing a new one.

 

Type #2: Drains with Trip Levers (Pop-Up and Plunger)

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Rubber gloves
- Screwdriver
- Wrench
- Drain key or smart dumbbell (if removing the entire drain, including the flange)
- Blow dryer (optional)
- Vinegar and baking soda, or mild cleanser (optional)

STEP 1
Before you begin, check the drain for excessive rust, mildew, or decay, which may indicate a larger problem that may require the services of a professional. If the drain looks to be in good shape, it’s probably fine to proceed.

• If your drain has a visible stopper, then set the lever to the open position and use a screwdriver to remove the trip lever faceplate as well as the lever and linkage.

• If your drain has a trip lever without a visible stopper, use a screwdriver to remove the screws on the trip lever faceplate and move it away from the tub wall; the attached plunger should come out along with it.

STEP 2
Once the drain has been disassembled, use a mild cleanser or a mixture of one part vinegar and one part baking soda to wash it off. Also clean the plug or stopper if you’re planning to reinsert it rather than replace it.

Now, fill the tub with approximately one inch of water and watch it drain. If the tub still drains slowly, try your luck with a stronger, tub-specific commercial drain cleaner or a homemade cleaner and repeat the drain test.

STEP 3
When the tub again drains properly, reinstall the cleaned drain parts or replace them with new ones. If you choose to remove the entire drain apparatus, including the flange, use a drain key or smart dumbbell as described in Steps 3 and 4 above.

 

Although a number of DIY plumbing projects fall outside of most homeowners’ comfort zones, removing a tub drain is a relatively accessible task. The best rule of thumb when you’re tackling any new plumbing job is to proceed with an abundance of caution and remember that if complications arise, a professional plumber is just a quick phone call away.


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