How to Fix a Leaky, Hard-to-Reach Tub Drain

One of the more complex types of tub drain commonly found in the home is a plug or stopper-type drain. These types of drains are somewhat difficult to access by hand, as they contain different pieces that move by means of a mechanical system. Some of the components are not reachable without first dismantling the entire stopper system. However, once you have removed the stopper mechanism, the parts are easy to clean and the leak can readily be fixed in most cases. Follow these steps to clean your hard-to-reach stopper-type tub drain and fix any leaks present.

Step 1 -- Gather Your Materials

Collect the following tools before you begin this project:

  • Screwdriver
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Thin wire brush
  • Vinegar
  • Heat-proof grease

If a portion of the drain mechanism is broken, you may need to replace that part. Nonetheless, that is difficult to tell at the outset of the project, so it does not generally make sense to purchase any replacement parts before you've had a chance to take the stopper system apart and to examine it.

Step 2 -- Remove the Face Plate

Find the lever that operates the stopper mechanism, typically just above or below the faucet in the tub, and carefully unscrew the screws on the faceplate. Take the faceplate off the lever mechanism and carefully set it and the screws aside. If you worry that you might drop any of these pieces down the exposed drain, cover the drain hole before beginning this step.

Step 3 -- Check and Clean the Lever Mechanism

Examine the lever mechanism for signs of cracks or damage. These are potential sources of a leaky tub drain. If the mechanism, including the plunger and the linkage mechanism, appears to be in good condition, clean them gently with the wire brush and treat them with a small bit of your grease. This will help to ensure that the stopper mechanism functions smoothly.

Step 4 -- Tighten the Linkage Mechanism

If the linkage becomes loose, it can lead to a leaky tub drain. This is the most common cause of leaks in stopper-style tub drains. The linkage comes out of alignment and the rest of the mechanism doesn't open and close completely, resulting in a leak. Take the linkage mechanism out of the stopper system and remove the small locknut using needle-nose pliers. Adjust the threaded rod down by a millimeter or two, and then tighten the locknut again. Be careful not to over-tighten the locknut, as this can contribute to further leaks or other types of damage to the stopper system.

After you've adjusted the locknut and the linkage system, re-install the entire component and put the faceplate back on top of the lever. Check to make sure that the leak has stopped. If it has not, you may need to replace one or more components of the stopper mechanism.

For replacement pieces and any further advice on fixing hard-to-reach leaks, consult with a plumber or a service person at your local hardware store.