I Can't Unscrew a Pop-up Bathtub Drain Stopper

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Drain stoppers are often connected to linkage.
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When the little bathtub plug won't unscrew, it can seem like a big problem. Pulling out a stuck pop-up bathtub stopper requires an understanding of what's beneath that stubborn disc and how to safely dislodge it from its fittings. Take your time and be prepared to confront a mucky mess.

Tips to Removing Bathtub Stoppers

Working on the bathtub stopper doesn't require expensive tools, but it does require some precautions.

Hair, soap scum and general debris tend to collect just below that shiny drain cap. Have a stack of clean cloths handy to clean up any muck that comes from the drain when the bathtub stopper is pulled out. Work gloves can help you get a grip on slippery parts and a stubborn bathtub stopper that won't unscrew.

A clean cloth can also protect the finish of the bathtub as you work. Place a few protective cloths around the drain to lay down parts as they come off the tub's bottom. Have a small plastic cup or bucket to hold pieces so they don't get lost.

How the Stopper Works

Knowing what lies beneath the stuck stopper can help you troubleshoot why it won't pop off. It uses a trip lever or turn style mechanism to fill or drain the bathtub. The pop-up uses an internal push rod on the overflow. This rod pushes against a rocker arm that is attached to the stopper. A pop-up stopper can have a trip lever that moves left or right or up or down.

Pop-Up Bathtub Drain Stopper

The old-style pop-up bathtub drain stopper should just pull out of the drain, trailed by the hinged rocker arm. Push the pop-up bathtub stopper to the open position by flipping the trip lever or rotating the overflow faceplate above the drain. If the top of the bathtub stopper doesn't lift out easily, wiggle it back and forth and pull up simultaneously.

A stopper with a rocker arm attached to the wall assembly will only lift so high, exposing the mechanism. You will need to take some precautions with the rocker arm. Get a clean rag and place it on the tub surface around the drain so that the finish doesn't get scratched. Gently pull up the stopper and move it to the side when it begins to resist. Lay the arm down and clean out the drain.

If you are replacing the pop-up bathtub stopper, then you may want to consider a different kind of stopper. A conversion kit for the pop-up bathtub stopper includes all you need to install a new, more convenient, drain assembly.

Remove a Stubborn Stuck Stopper

A bathtub stopper that is stuck in the closed position can be tricky. Slip the edge of a flathead screwdriver or thin blade under the cap and run it around the entire edge. Lift under the bathtub stopper on each side, moving back and forth from side to side to jostle the fixture free.

If the bathtub pop-up drain stopper is stuck and simply won't unscrew, use a pair of pliers around the round cap to wiggle it loose. Placing a soft, thin cloth between the pliers and the top of the stopper can help prevent damage. Wiggle the stopper left and right and up and down to free it.

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Kimberley McGee is an award-winning journalist with 20+ years of experience writing for a variety of clients, including The New York Times, Las Vegas Review-Journal Home section and other national publications. As a professional writer she has researched, interviewed sources and written about home improvement, interior design and related business trends. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Her full bio and clips can be viewed at www.vegaswriter.com.

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