Install a Pop Up Drain in a Bathroom Sink

A pop-up drain in a bathroom sink.
What You'll Need
Wet/dry shop-vac
Pop-up drain assembly
Plumber's putty

It’s easy to forget all about the little pop-up drain in your bathroom sink, until it malfunctions and ruins your day. A pop-up drain looks simple, but there's a whole lot more than just the stopper. If it's really clogged, you can't run a pipe snake past the pop-up. According to Ed Cholfin, President of award-winning Atlanta design/build remodeling firm AK Complete Home Renovation, "You will likely need to remove the pop-up drain. Most drains would not allow for most snakes without removing the pop-up. Also to get the snake to resolve the clog would require the flexibility of moving the snake around which the pop-up could prevent."

Installing a pop-up drain takes a little work, but it's definitely not impossible. Before calling that plumber, sit back and learn how to install that drain yourself.

Step 1 - Prepare the Area

The first step is to remove any excess water from the sink and clean it up. The last thing you want is to remove the drain trap and have half a gallon of water fall on you. Depending on how much standing water there is you can use a cup or a ladle or a wet/dry shop-vac. There will always be some water left in the drain, so put a pan or bucket under the sink.

Step 2 - Remove the Old Drain

If you look under the sink, you’ll see the drain assembly and the pop-up lift rod. First, unscrew the lift rod and take it out. Now using a pair of pliers, grab the lock nut and loosen it. The lock nut is near the top of the drain trap.

Install a Pop Up Drain in a Bathroom Sink

With the lock nut loose, push up on the assembly and wiggle it around a bit to loosen everything. This is when the residual water will spill out.

Return to the top of the sink and unscrew the pop-up ring. With the top ring removed, the pop-up assembly should just come out from the bottom. Congratulations, you’re ready to install the new pop-up.

Step 3 - Install the New Drain Flange

Clean any old caulk or putty from around the drain hole. Place plumber’s putty completely around the bottom of the chrome ring at the top of the new flange. Don’t worry about getting just the right amount, all that matters is that the underside is covered. Some assemblies will have a rubber gasket or you can also use silicone sealant, but plumber’s putty work’s the best.

Step 4 - Prepare the Bottom Assembly

Begin by putting a pipe joint putty on the rubber washer of the bottom assembly. This will ensure you get a good seal on the bottom of the sink. Push the bottom assembly up through the bottom of the sink until the rubber gasket has a good seal.

Screw the top flange into the bottom assembly that is sticking out from the top of the sink. It doesn’t have to be tight on the top. All that matters is that it is connected and not cross threaded. Using a wrench or pliers, tighten the lock nut on the bottom assembly. The excess putty will squeeze out between the ring and the surface of the sink. Just clean it up with a rag.

Step 5 - Install the Stopper

bathroom sink mounted to a wall

Put the stopper into the top of the drain and make sure the hole faces the rear of the sink. Once again, head back to the bottom. The rest of the stopper unit consists of a ball and rod. With the ball on the inside of the nut, thread it into the pipe. Make sure the unit works by pushing on the rod to see if the drain moves up and down. If it does, then tighten the nut and if not, then move the stopper around until it catches the rod.

Step 6 - Set the Pop-up Lever

A drain isn’t much of a drain unless you can work it from the top of the sink. The pop-up lever controls the position of the drain stopper and is usually placed behind the faucet. Simply feed the lever through the hole in the sink and connect the horizontal rod with the vertical lever. Ed Cholfin, who comments frequently on this topic on, adds, "adjust the height level by moving the extension pin to a different slot (up or down)."

Press the lever on the top and see if the drain stopper moves with it. You can now check installing a pop-up drain off your to-do list.

The Hair Clog

If the drain is running slow, but isn't ready to be replaced, the problem could be a hair clog. If that's the case, Ed has a solution for you. "The DIY method is not glamorous, but often effective. Take a coat hanger and unbend it so you can slide the curved end into the drain hole. Move it around to scrape hair off the sides of the drain and slowly pull it out of the drain, dragging the hair out." Alternately, head to the hardware store and track down a hair snake, specifically made for this purpose.

"To remove build-up incurred around the hair clog, pour some Drano or like product into the drain and wait 30 minutes before running hot water to flush the drain."

"If you don’t want to use harsh chemicals you can pour three-quarters-cup baking soda down the drain, followed by a half-cup white vinegar. Cover the drain quickly with a rag stuffed into the drain hole. The baking soda and vinegar will produce a reaction, so it is important to keep the drain hole covered so the contents do not escape. (Or, erupt!)"

"Remove the drain plug after 30 minutes and slowly pour 1 gallon of boiling hot water down the drain."