Don't let a dysfunctional bathroom drain interrupt your morning routine. Learn how to fix it with this step-by-step tutorial.

January 26, 2019

Bathroom sinks are notorious for problems. Between hair and general gunk, it's no surprise that the bathroom drain is one of the first to block. If your sink is clogged or not working properly, it's important to troubleshoot the problem before you try to fix it. After all, a pop-up assembly only looks complicated. A pivot rod, connected to the lift rod with a clevis strap, raises and lowers the stopper.

This tutorial shows you how to both diagnose and fix drainage problems. Prepare to spend an hour or so on most repairs. 

Troubleshooting Tips

The pop-up assembly on a bathroom drain has several moving parts that wear out over time. These are some of the common problems you may find: 

  • If a stopper is loose and won't stay open, tighten the pivot ball retaining nut.
  • If a stopper is difficult to raise, loosen the pivot ball retaining nut. If that doesn't work remove the pivot rod, clean out the opening in the drain body, and replace worn gaskets or washers. If the stopper does not seat all the way into the drain body when you pull up on the lift rod, adjust the lift rod.
  • If a stopper does not hold water, remove it and clean the rubber seal. If there is an O-ring, replace it or the stopper.
  • If water leaks from the pivot rod, tighten the retaining nut. If it still leaks, remove the pivot rod and replace the gaskets.
  • If the unit is made of thin metal or plastic that is easily bent or broken, you may not be able to repair it.

What You Need

  • Long-nose pliers
  • Groove-joint pliers
  • Screwdriver
  • Replacement 1-1/4-inch rubber or plastic washers
  • Plumber's putty
  • New gaskets (optional)
  • New drain assembly  (optional)

How to Adjust the Stopper

Step 1: Remove the Stopper

Some stoppers can be removed simply by pulling up. With others you twist a quarter-turn or so, then lift. A third type has a hole through which the pivot rod passes (shown); remove the pivot rod first. Check the O-ring for damage; replace it if necessary.

Step 2: Loosen and Slide Rod

To adjust a stopper up or down, loosen the lift rod screw with your fingers or with a pair of long-nose pliers if it is corroded. Slide the clevis strap up or down as needed, tighten the nut, and test.

How to Replace the Drain Body

Step 1: Disconnect and Loosen Parts

Disconnect the trap. Slide the clevis strap off the pivot rod, loosen the retaining nut, and remove the pivot rod. Insert a screwdriver into the drain opening in the sink to keep it from turning, and loosen the locknut with pliers.

Step 2: Unscrew Locknut and Drain Body

Unscrew the locknut. Push down on the sink flange with one hand while you unscrew the drain body with the other.

Step 3: Install New Assembly

Buy a new drain assembly with a lift rod that fits through your faucet or buy a new faucet and drain body. Slip the sink flange through the hole in the sink and screw on the drain body. Tighten the locknut, install the pivot rod, attach it to the clevis strap with the spring clip, and adjust.

More Important Skills

How to Replace Washers

Loosen the slip nuts on the curved trap piece with a pair of groove-joint pliers. Slide the nuts and rubber washer out of the way and pull the pieces apart. Unless the rubber washers are in pristine condition, replace them. If the trap is damaged, replace it.

How to Fix a Drain Without a Gasket

A bathroom sink flange may come with a rubber gasket that seals it to the sink. If not, apply a rope of plumber's putty to the underside of the flange before installing it. Excess putty will squeeze out as you tighten the locknut.


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