Drain Stoppers and Strainers

The kindest thing you can do for drain stoppers-and for your drains-is to clean them regularly. It's amazing how quickly hair and soap scum can clog them, causing slow-draining sinks and tubs, and contributing to drain clogs down the pipes. Adjusting and replacing the stoppers is also an easy fix-it job.


If a strainer that's sealed to the sink with caulking is leaking, first unscrew the slip nut on the drainpipe, and then the locknut, that connects the drainpipe to the strainer. This will expose any gaskets that may need to be replaced and will also allow you to remove the strainer from the sink (use a utility knife to break the strainer's seal if necessary).

Clean off any old putty or caulking where the strainer met the sink, dry the area, and lay a new bead of silicone caulking. Press the strainer into place, and then replace the gaskets (use new ones) and the nuts in the reverse order from how you removed them.

Shower and tub drain strainers can often be removed using long-nose pliers. Open the pliers so that the arms grip the strainer, and twist counterclockwise. Clean out the strainer and the drain, and reinsert the strainer, turning clockwise to seal it tightly.

Pull-Up/Push-Down Stoppers

To remove a pull-up stopper in a sink or tub drain, turn the knob on the stopper counterclockwise to remove it. This will reveal a screw on the stopper itself, which you can then turn to remove the entire stopper. A small screwdriver will help you remove any debris in the drain.

If the stopper is no longer sealing, the gasket that sits between the stopper and the drain may be failing, or the stopper mechanism may be wearing. Take the stopper to your home center, and-especially if you can't buy a new gasket for it-buy a replacement to match. Screw the stopper back into the drain, and then attach the knob to the stopper.

Pop-Up Sink Stoppers

A sink stopper operated at the faucet is often referred to as a pop-up sink stopper. Take a look at the mechanism under the sink that connects the pop-up handle at the faucet with the stopper under the sink. Basically, you're looking at a perforated strap (the clevis strap) that runs down from the handle and connects to a rod (the pivot rod) that operates the stopper.

To remove the stopper to clean it out, pull the stopper handle up to raise the stopper. Feel for the retaining nut on the pivot rod where the rod enters the drainpipe. Unscrew it, and pull the rod out of the drainpipe. Pull the stopper up out of the drain, and clean the stopper and the drain (depending on how the stopper connects to the pivot rod, you may need to twist the stopper counterclockwise as you lift it).

Check the stopper's gasket, and replace it if it's worn or damaged. Replace the stopper in the drain, lining it up so that the pivot rod will reinsert into it. Tighten the retaining nut.

To fix a pop-up sink stopper:

  • If the stopper won't stay up when you pull up on the handle, or there's water leaking from the retaining nut, tighten or replace the retaining nut.

  • If the stopper isn't seating correctly in the drain, undo the clevis screw, push the stopper into the right position in the drain, and tighten the clevis screw in a higher position on the lift rod.

  • To raise the stopper so that it allows water to drain more quickly, adjust the clevis screw so that it's in a lower position on the lift rod.

  • If adjusting the clevis screw doesn't work, adjust the pivot rod position: Pinch the spring clip that holds the rod in place so that you can remove it from its existing hole in the clevis strap and place it in either a higher or lower hole.

The names of a pop-up sink stopper's components may sound strange, but once you see how they connect to each other, solving stopper problems becomes much easier.

Pop-Up Tub Stoppers

Pop-up tub stoppers (that usually have the stopper handle on the tub overflow plate) work by dropping either a plunger mechanism down behind the overflow plate that prevents the water from draining out, or a rocker arm mechanism that operates a stopper in the tub drain. Both mechanisms can be cleaned and adjusted in a similar way.

First, unscrew the overflow plate. Carefully pull the plate away from the tub; the stopper mechanism will come with it. Remove any debris from the mechanism, and scrub it clean with a toothbrush. For a rocker arm mechanism, carefully pull the stopper out of the drain, and clean it, too.

If the stopper or plunger isn't sealing the drain properly, adjust the mechanism by unscrewing the adjusting nut on the lift rod and sliding the link up so that the mechanism is shorter. Alternatively, if the stopper or plunger doesn't reach high enough to let the water drain properly slide the link down so that the mechanism becomes longer.

This shows a pop-up stopper with a rocker arm mechanism. A stopper with a plunger would connect to a plunger instead of the rocker arm spring.

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