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How to Remove a Bathtub Drain | Step-by-Step Guide

How to Remove a Bathtub Drain | Step-by-Step Guide

Wondering how to remove a bathtub drain? You’re in the right place. I used to work in the plumbing department at Menards, so I consider myself an expert in all things plumbing. Read on to learn the steps to take.

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If you’re going to replace your tub, you need to know how to remove a bathtub drain. You might also need to remove the bathtub drain to replace it or even to remove a tough clog. With plenty of DIY and professional plumbing experience, we’ve put together this complete guide to bathtub drain removal. 

Removing a Bathtub Drain: Summary of Steps

Removing the drain from a bathtub is pretty straightforward, and you don’t usually need any specialty tools.

You’ll need to identify the type of drain you have, remove the stopper, and then unscrew the drain basket. And, if you don’t mind spending a few extra dollars, you could get a drain wrench to make things even easier. 

How to Remove a Bathtub Drain in Six Steps

Removing a bathtub drain can be done in six steps. Below are all the steps you need to follow to get this job done.

Step 1: Identify Your Type of Drain Stopper

There are many different types of drain stoppers. That’s the part that prevents water from going down the drain when you want to fill the tub. Since they’re all different, the first step is to look carefully at what you have, so you can figure the best way to remove it. 

Many stoppers are quite simple. Some old-fashioned tubs have a stopper on a chain, making removal nothing more than a quick tug. Other tub drains have a pop-up stopper, where you can use your toe to press it down and seal the tub and then press it again to open the drain.

Pop-up drains almost always simply unscrew counterclockwise. Sometimes, your drain stopper might have a set-screw that holds it in place, so if you can’t figure how to remove the stopper, look around for a small screw. 

Here’s a quick list of different stopper types to help point you in the right direction:

  • Toe-Touch Stoppers — Usually unscrew 
  • Push-Pull Stoppers — Usually unscrew 
  • Lift-and-Turn Stoppers — Usually unscrew
  • Chain Stoppers — Pull it off and set it aside
  • Lever-operated Stoppers — Requires dismantling the lever system

Some lever-operated systems are a bit complicated. But with a bit of patience, you can figure out how to remove the stopper fairly easily. Oftentimes, the whole mechanism is attached to the faceplate at the overflow drain, so make sure to expose as much of the system as you can to investigate how it comes apart. 

Step 2: Remove the Stopper

Now that you have identified the type of stopper that you have, you can remove it. Removal of the stopper will reveal the internal parts of the drain and the basket that threads into the tub drain. So, getting it out of the way is required. Once it’s out, set it aside. 

If you’re planning to reinstall it, make sure to secure any loose parts. I like to tape any screws or gaskets right to the stopper so I don’t lose anything. You might even want to consider doing a deep clean while it’s out of the tub. 

Step 3: Heat the Plumber’s Putty

Around the drain on the floor of the tub, you’ll probably see a bit of tough sealant. Plumbers use putty to ensure a watertight seal when they install a tub drain. To soften up that putty and make things easier, you want to heat it up a bit. 

To do so, you can use a hairdryer or a small torch. It won’t take much heat, so don’t go crazy. You could also heat it up by drawing a very hot bath, soaking it for a few minutes, and then draining the tub. 

Just remember not to let the water sit unattended if you have little ones around. Drowning is the leading cause of injury-related death for children between one and four. It won’t take long to warm up the putty enough to soften it, so it’s probably best to wait right at the tubside. 

Step 4: Remove Any Internal Hardware

On the simplest drains, you can skip this step, as not every drain has internal hardware. Some drains are more complicated than others. For example, if you have a trip-lever style drain, you’ll need to remove the overflow drain’s faceplate to access the internals.

But, the connecting hardware will likely come out as you remove the faceplate, as it’s usually all one piece. Other drains have a sleeve or cylinder that needs removal.

You’ll see it when you look down the drain. Just unscrew it with your hand. If it doesn’t move easily, there might be a small set-screw you need to remove first. If it’s stubborn, use a pair of pliers. 

If you’re struggling to get the internals out of the way, just take a break and look at things again. You’re probably missing a small screw that needs loosening before the stopper or hardware comes out. 

Step 5: Remove the Drain Basket

Once you’ve removed the drain stopper and any hardware inside the drain, it’s time to remove the basket. That’s the part of the drain that connects your home’s plumbing to the tub.

Sometimes, a plumber or parts guy will call it a drain flange. Look down into the drain. There will be a crossbar visible in the opening. If you have one, you can use a drain removal tool or a pair of pliers to grip the crossbar.

Whichever tool you use, make sure to get a solid grip. Start applying a gentle counterclockwise force. Increase the pressure steadily and gradually until the basket starts to turn. 

It’s important not to jerk or bounce your wrench. Steady and even pressure will give the best results. Bathtub drains are often quite long, so be prepared to turn the basket many times to free it. 

Step 6: Cleanup

With the drain basket out of the way, you can remove any plumbing putty left behind. Try not to let it fall down the drain hole. If you’re removing the tub, you can move on to that task. Or, you can install your new bathtub drain. 

Things to Consider: Important!

Image helping highlight the steps to take when learning how to remove a bathtub drain

Tagwaran/Shutterstock

Drains can range from complex to quite simple, so keep in mind some important considerations:

  • Check the drain diagrams — if you have access, they can reveal any tricks you need to know
  • Be patient
  • Use a drain removal wrench if you need to twist the basket really hard
  • Don’t drop anything down the drain

Frequently Asked Questions

Still having issues figuring out how to remove the bathtub drain? Here are some tips that may help:

How do you unscrew a bathtub drain?

Unscrewing a bathtub drain is relatively easy, most of the time. Just remove the stopper and any hardware, and use pliers or a specialty wrench to unscrew the basket.

How do you remove a bathtub drain without the tool?

You can usually use a set of pliers to remove the drain basket without the special tool. Just make sure your pliers are small enough to fit in the drain opening and offer a strong grip on the crossbar. You might try using vise-grip pliers to grab the crossbar and another wrench to turn them.

What is the best tool to unclog a tub drain?

That depends on the size and stubbornness of the clog. For a small clog, baking soda and vinegar poured down the drain might be a solution. If the clog is tougher, a commercial product might be your best solution. Just remember that many of these products contain caustic chemicals and can be extremely dangerous if misused. If neither of those tricks is successful, you might need to use a plumbing snake to physically free the clog.

How do you remove different tub drains?

The process is always the same. Remove the stopper, then the hardware, and then the drain itself. But, since there are so many types of drains, there is a bit of variation in the specifics. Anytime you install a drain, especially one that’s sort of complicated, it’s a good idea to keep the instructions for future reference.

How do you remove a bathtub drain without crossbars?

Removing a drain without crossbars can be tricky. Most drains had crossbars at one time, but it’s not unheard of for them to break. In order to remove the basket without crossbars to grip with your wrench, you’ll need to find a way to get pressure on the inside of the basket. You can buy a special tool for this if you want.

Or, you can try spreading the grips of your wrench in the hole and then forcing something between them to push the grips into the metal. Some people use the head of a hammer and a set of needle-nose pliers to create enough leverage. This trick isn’t a standard technique, so if you’re stuck, you may need a pro.

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So, How Do You Remove a Bathtub Drain?

So there you have it — how to remove a bathtub drain. In short, to remove a drain from your tub, identify the type of stopper and remove it, then remove all the hardware. Now, you can heat up the old drain putty and twist the drain basket out with a wrench. Make sure to remove all the old putty and clean up.

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