How to Remove a Bathtub Drain

You may want to remove your bathtub drain fitting for one of several reasons. For example, you might have a drain fitting with a strainer that prevents you from getting a drain snake into the drain to clear a clog. Or, you may want to upgrade to a better drain stopper. It's also possible that a design update in your bathroom calls for a brass drain, and the one you have is chrome. In any case, replacing the drain fitting means that you have to remove the entire drain flange, which is the visible part of the drain.

Bathroom with Skylight Over Bathtub
credit: KatieDobies/iStock/GettyImages
You can remove a bathtub drain flange from inside the tub.

Most of the drain assembly is under the tub, and, thankfully, you don't have to worry about that when you're replacing the drain flange. If replacing the entire drain becomes necessary, you need access to the underside of the tub, and in some cases, the only way to get access is to pull up the tub. Simply removing the drain flange is a straightforward job that you can do from inside the tub.

Tools for Removing a Tub Drain

The drain flange is a fitting that screws into the drain tailpiece (sometimes called a tub shoe), which is the pipe just under the bathtub that goes to the drain pipe in the wall. The outside of the drain flange is threaded, and that's what threads into the tailpiece. To remove the flange, you simply have to unscrew it from the tailpiece.

Smart dumbbell drain tool.
credit: Plumbing Supply
A smart dumbbell hooks onto the drain crossbar so you can turn the flange.

It's possible to remove a drain flange with tools you have around the house, but it isn't easy. For example, if the existing drain has crossbars, you can wedge a screwdriver between them and use it to turn the flange. The problem with this approach is that the screwdriver usually doesn't make solid contact with the crossbar so that you can't apply much torque. Some plumbers have success using a hammer to unscrew drains, but it only works with certain drains and certain hammers.

The job is much easier if you have one of two types of special drain removal tools. A smart dumbbell is a key-like tool that fits into the crossbar in the drain flange, and you turn the dumbbell with a wrench or a screwdriver (using it as a lever). If your drain fitting doesn't have a crossbar, use a drain key or a drain extractor. This has expanding wings or a reverse-thread system to grip the inside of the drain flange, allowing you to turn the flange with a wrench. All of these tools are commonly sold at hardware stores and plumbing supply outlets.

Remove the Drain Stopper First

Before you can remove the drain flange, you have to remove the stopper, and the procedure for doing that depends on the stopper mechanism. If your tub has a lever on the back, you can just lift out the stopper. Grasp it and pull upward, then immediately pull toward the back of the tub to extract the rocker arm. Other types of stoppers require a bit more effort.

Drain stopper and flange.
credit: Plumbing Supply
Before you can unscrew the flange, you have to remove the stopper.
  • Toe-touch stopper: Open the stopper and grasp the head with one hand while you grasp the shaft to which it's attached with the other hand or with a wrench. Turn the head counterclockwise to unscrew it from the drain crossbar. Sometimes the head just pops off to reveal a screw that you can loosen with a screwdriver.
  • Push-pull stopper: With the stopper in the open or closed position, grasp the head with one hand and turn the knob on top counterclockwise. If it's stuck, wrap a rag around it, and turn it with pliers. After removing the knob, unscrew the post inside from the crossbar, using a screwdriver.
  • Lift & turn stopper: Open the stopper and turn it until you see a setscrew on the knob. Loosen the setscrew with a hex wrench or screwdriver, then remove the knob, lift the stopper off the post and unscrew the post from the crossbar. If you don't see a setscrew, you should be able to unscrew the entire stopper from the crossbar with your fingers or a wrench.
  • Pres-flo stopper: This is the easiest type of stopper to remove. Just grasp the stopper, or the knob, if there is one, and pull straight up. It should just pop out of the drain.

How to Remove a Tub Drain Flange

Using a drain removal tool.
credit: Plumbing Supply
The smart dumbbell hooks onto the drain crossbar.

Things You'll Need

  • Sponge

  • Drain key or smart dumbbell

  • Wrench or screwdriver

  • Short length of pipe (Optional)

  • Putty knife

  • Household cleaner

  • Toothbrush

  • Zip-It drain tool (Optional)

Step 1 Clean Out the Drain Opening

Clean the drain if it is full of soap scum and hair. Remove all gunk from around the drain, and clean inside the flange with a sponge to get a clear view the flange and the drain opening. Don't worry about getting hair out from inside the drain, though, until you remove the flange.

Step 2 Lock the Drain Removal Tool Onto the Drain

Insert a drain key into the drain opening and clamp a wrench onto the nut on top of the key. Turn the key counterclockwise until the wings engage with the sides of the drain and the key is difficult to turn. If you're using a smart dumbbell, insert it into the drain opening and engage the tines of the dumbbell with the crossbar or strainer. Insert a screwdriver into the holes on the body of the tool to use as a lever.

Step 3 Turn the Flange Counterclockwise

Unscrew the flange by turning the removal tool counterclockwise. You may find this harder to do than it sounds, and it's usually because calcium deposits and hardened plumber's putty are creating resistance. It's difficult to get lubricant where you need it in this situation, so the answer is to apply more force. If necessary, give yourself some more leverage by slipping a length of steel pipe over the handle of the screwdriver or wrench to effectively extend the handle.

Tips

If you absolutely can't get the flange to turn, apply heat with a hairdryer for several minutes. This doesn't have any effect on scale, but it softens putty that has hardened in the threads, and that's usually enough to loosen the flange so you can turn it.

Step 4 Clean Up the Drain Opening

Remove all the old putty with a putty knife or a flat screwdriver, and wipe away any gunk or rust with a household cleaner. Use an old toothbrush to clean the threads of the drain tailpiece so you can install a new flange. If the drain was blocked, now is the best time to fish out the hair with a Zip-It tool.


Chris Deziel

Chris Deziel

Chris Deziel is a contractor, builder and general fix-it pro who has been active in the construction trades for 40 years. He has degrees in science and humanities and years of teaching experience. An avid craftsman and musician, Deziel began writing on home improvement topics in 2010. He worked as an expert consultant with eHow Now and Pro Referral -- a Home Depot site. A DIYer by nature, Deziel regularly shares tips and tricks for a better home and garden at Hunker.com.