How to Fix Problems With Your Bathtub Drain Stopper

Updated on March 14, 2012

What is a Bathtub Stopper?

A bathtub stopper is a device that essentially seals water in the bathtub and prevents it from draining. There are a few kinds of of different bathtub stoppers available; each of them serve the same purpose even though they may look slightly different, or be made of different material.

Bathtub drain stoppers generally function quite well for many years. However, over time they may become clogged or may not seal or function as well as they used to. If you are experiencing problems with your bathtub stopper then you might be able to fix the problem yourself instead of calling out a plumber and paying an expensive service fee.

The following information will help you to understand the different types of bathtub drain stoppers so that you may first identify which one of them best describes your own. Then, we will take a look at the possible reasons for your bathtub drain repair. You may need to completely replace the stopper unit, or perhaps the problem can be fixed more easily just by simply learning how to clean and unclog a bathtub drain.

Different Kinds of Bathtub Drain Stoppers

There are basically 5 different kinds of bathtub drain stopper that all perform the basic function of preventing water from flowing down the drain.

  • Rubber
  • Plunger
  • Pop-Up
  • Lift and Turn
  • Roller Ball

How do Bathtub Stoppers Work?

Rubber stoppers are the simplest form of drain stopper. These round little stoppers sit easily in the bathtub drain and form a tight seal to prevent the water from escaping. Rubber stoppers usually have a metal ring or chain attached to them, so with a simple pull of the chain the stopper can be completely removed to allow the water to drain. Even though rubber bathtub stoppers are not used as much these days, they can be found in certain older-style bathtubs. The nice thing about the simplicity of rubber stoppers is that they can be replaced very easily by buying a new one from your local hardware store, for just a couple of dollars.

Plunger drain stoppers can be recognised by their large handle and sliding devices that, when activated, create and release a tight seal with the bathtub drain. By pressing a plunger stopper into a drain the sliding portion of the unit firmly pushes down a seal to stop the water from going down the drain. By pulling the lever the second sliding device operates as a “plunger” to break the seal. Sometimes the plunger can become unattached from its connection and will not operate until it is simply reconnected back into place.

Pop-up stoppers are also operated by the use of a lever. The lever, located in the overflow drain plate is attached to an arm that changes the position of the stopper in the drain. By pushing or pulling the lever, a spring mechanism at the end of the arm seals or releases the stopper. Because of the rapid movement caused by the spring, this particular stopper literally “pops up”.

Lift and Turn Stopper
Lift and Turn Stopper

Lift and Turn Stoppers are more common these days, especially in brand new homes. Lift and Turn Stoppers are not operated by a lever, but instead by a little handle located directly on top of the stopper itself, as featured in the photograph opposite. By taking hold of the handle, the stopper can be released by simply lifting and turning. By turning and pushing down the handle, the stopper moves low down into the drain and forms a seal to prevent the water from escaping from the tub.

Roller Ball Stoppers are also quite similar to Lift and Turn Stoppers, in that they have a handle on top of the stopper which is used to activate it. But instead of turning the handle to screw this stopper in and out of the drain, you simply lift the handle upwards to release the stopper and then push it back down to close the drain again.

Recognizing Problems with Your Bathtub Drain Stopper

Bathtub stoppers do a great job of sealing water in a bathtub when they function correctly. However they are very prone to getting clogged by hair, dead skin cells, soap and other bath products. If not cleaned out regularly then it is possible that your bathtub stopper is not functioning correctly simply because the blockage is preventing the device from opening up enough to allow the water to pass freely down the drain.

Another consideration is that over time, bathtub stoppers are subject to certain wear and tear that could cause the rubber seal to become worn or cracked. If this happens, the rubber seal cannot correctly perform its task of properly sealing the water in the tub, and consequently the water drains out when it shouldn’t. Sometimes, a simple adjustment to the assembly might be required to reposition the rocker arm into place.

Recommended Plunger
Recommended Plunger

How to Unclog a Bathtub Drain

If your bathtub drain is clogged up with hair and grime, then the easiest way to get it cleaned and working properly again is to use a plunger, or in tougher situations, a plumber’s snake.

There are 2 types of plungers available to buy, and the recommended type is featured in the photograph opposite. This type of plunger produces a lot more air than the cheaper version, and so will probably do a better job of unclogging your bathtub drain.

First, remove the bathtub stopper to get access to the drain. Refer to the section below “Bathtub Drain Repair” to learn how to remove the stopper.

Watch this instructional video to see how a professional plumber correctly uses a plunger and plumber’s snake to unclog a bathtub drain.

There are also some excellent hubs available with further information on how to successfully unclog a bathtub drain, here are my recommended links:

Recommended Products from Amazon

Danco 1-1/4-Inch Rubber Drain Stopper, White, Carded, 80225
Danco 1-1/4-Inch Rubber Drain Stopper, White, Carded, 80225

Simple and affordable rubber style bath stopper, 1-1/4", long lasting and stain proof


How to Replace a Bathtub Stopper

Lift and Turn Stoppers and Roller Ball stoppers are very simple to replace; just unscrew counter-clockwise until the stopper is removed from the drain. The stopper can then be cleaned, or replaced with a new one. These little stoppers are quite inexpensive to purchase from Amazon or any home improvement store, costing less than $10.

Lever bathtub stoppers, such as the Plunger or Pop-Up style, can also be easily repaired and replaced by yourself at home, without needing to call out a plumber.

  • Turn the lever to “open”
  • Gently move the drain stopper from side to side to loosen and remove it
  • Use a bathroom cleaner and brush to clean up the unit if it is still in good condition, otherwise purchase a new stopper assembly unit from Amazon or any home improvement store for around $40
  • Replace the new stopper unit and check for any leaks before use

For a really complete visual tutorial, watch this video for easy step-by-step instructions. It has been put together by a professional plumber and he does an excellent job of explaining how you can do your own bathtub drain repair at home.

After all that hard work, you’ll be able to relax knowing that you have identified and fixed the problems with your bathtub drain stopper. What better way to reward yourself than by enjoying a nice long relaxing soak in the tub!


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    • profile image

      Karen Aspen 8 months ago

      One of my renters broke my stopper in my jacuzzi and hasn't fixed it the two prongs are broke on one side so can i just get a new one or does this mean i have to replace the other part where you push the stopper in i have the twist and turn

    • profile image

      Becky 8 months ago

      I have the lift and turn and it will not unscrew. What do I do now?

    • profile image

      Linda 8 months ago

      I think mine is a roller ball type and it is stuck in the "up" position and won't drain unless you sit there and hold it down until the tub drains completely. What do I do?

    • profile image

      Yazerazer 17 months ago

      I have a brand new chain lever drain for a brand new soaker tub and the stopper does not seal, brand has high markings and manufacturer has sent both a new drain and another type of stopper and still no luck. What would be the best replacement stopper? An alternative without having to change the entire system?

    • Cloverleaf profile image

      Cloverleaf 6 years ago from Calgary, AB, Canada

      Hi Felicity,

      Yes I had to laugh when reading your comment because I remember trying to take a bath at a friend's house once and the rubber stopper just wouldn't sit properly in the drain - it turned out to be not a very relaxing soak in the tub!


    • felicitylovespari profile image

      felicitylovespari 6 years ago

      As a huge fans of baths, bathtub stoppers can be a menace if not working. Leaking out your water or god forbid when you are in a house or apartment without one. :)

    • Cloverleaf profile image

      Cloverleaf 6 years ago from Calgary, AB, Canada

      Thanks, Carrie!

    • carriethomson profile image

      carriethomson 6 years ago from United Kingdom

      Hey that's a great hub with a lot of details and information!! and congratulation for the prize!!


    • Cloverleaf profile image

      Cloverleaf 6 years ago from Calgary, AB, Canada

      Tina, so kind of you to read my hub and make this wonderful comment! I loving soaking in the tub so, like you, I think it's one of those small things that just needs to work correctly!!!

      Hope your weekend is going great!


    • thougtforce profile image

      Christina Lornemark 6 years ago from Sweden

      You did a great job on this hub! A bathroom stopper is one of those small things that need to work if the experience is going to be how we want it to be.

      And I agree about what you say in the comment above, It is a bit funny what we can do to write a good hub:))

      Thanks for sharing your knowledge in an excellent way,


    • Cloverleaf profile image

      Cloverleaf 6 years ago from Calgary, AB, Canada

      Hi MM,

      I can't believe how much I am learning, and I had to laugh at myself crawling into my bathtub to take pictures. Lots of work and research seems to pay off - it was a wonderful surprise to learn that I had been selected for a daily prize.


    • Movie Master profile image

      Movie Master 6 years ago from United Kingdom

      Hi Cloverleaf, I agree with Susie, it's not easy to get excited about bathroom stoppers!!

      You have put a lot of work in this one and it has paid off, congratultions on winning the Daily Drawing prize for Day 12 of the Clogs to Coins contest!

      Well done x

    • Cloverleaf profile image

      Cloverleaf 6 years ago from Calgary, AB, Canada

      Susie, thanks I put a lot of work into this one!!!


    • profile image

      Susieq42 6 years ago

      Sorry, I had to force myself to read about bathroom stoppers. I just can't think of anything interesting about them. (I just wrote an article for Textbroker about plumbers in Fort Worth or somewhere like that) Anyway, after seeing how much work you put into it I'm am totally impressed! Great job, Clover!

    • Cloverleaf profile image

      Cloverleaf 6 years ago from Calgary, AB, Canada

      Carco, thanks for taking the time to read and comment on on my hub! Until recently I had never thought about using a plunger in the tub either, I am glad to be able to pass on this information to people who find it interesting.

      All the best,


    • carcro profile image

      Paul Cronin 6 years ago from Winnipeg

      Really good hub, covers stoppers and drain problems. I never tried using a plunger in the tub before, thanks for sharing! Voted Up and Useful!