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If you’re ready to replace your bathtub drain and love DIY projects, check out this easy to follow how-to article. If your bathtub drain isn’t working well, is unsightly, or is visibly worn out, it may be time to replace it. It may seem intimidating at first but learning how to replace bathtub drains is a straightforward process. Below we’ve outlined the details you need to know to replace your tub drain with one that is new, works well and will improve your shower experience.

Before You Begin

Plumbing can be complicated. After all, that’s why we pay plumbers to take care of the problems we can’t tackle. Replacing your tub drain is a relatively straightforward process, but if you feel uneasy or experience trouble along the way, don’t hesitate to contact a professional. Failing to install a drain correctly can lead to water damage and dangerous living conditions.Once you decide that you need to replace your drain, give your current drain a close inspection. If you find any significant damage, excessive erosion, mold, or mildew, you may be dealing with a more substantial issue that requires professional intervention.After you have inspected your drain and decided that you can accomplish the job yourself, you should gather your tools. Luckily, most of the tools needed to get the job done are widely available and relatively inexpensive.

Necessary Tools

You’ll need the following tools to get started:

  • Replacement Drain
  • Plumber’s Putty
  • Smart Dumbbell or Narrow Pliers
  • Adjustable Wrench
  • Small Screwdriver
  • Rubber Gloves (optional)

It probably goes without saying, but before you can replace your drain, you must first remove the old one. To remove the drain, insert the Smart Dumbbell, attach the adjustable wrench to it and twist the old part counterclockwise. It will take some muscle to remove the drain.If you don’t have a smart dumbbell, you may be able to use narrow pliers instead. Merely grip onto the crossbars in the drain and turn the pliers in a counterclockwise direction. Whichever method you choose, remember to be careful. You don’t want to damage the finish of your tub. Once you remove your drain, follow the steps below to replace it.

Step 1: Inspect the Rubber Washer

Between your bathtub and the waste elbow below it, there will be a rubber washer. Without removing this washer, look for any apparent signs of damage. If there is no visible damage to the gasket, just leave it in place and move on to the next step.If you notice that the rubber gasket is worn out, torn, or otherwise corroded, you will need to change it out. The replacement drain that you purchased will likely have a rubber washer with it. Changing these washers out can be pretty tricky so take your time.Also, because the waste elbow is connected to the rest of the pipes, using too much force can cause the entire system to be knocked out of place. Using care and a gentle touch while removing and replacing the washer is crucial. Additionally, to keep the gasket from falling into the space below the tub, hold your screwdriver in the center of the ring.To remove the ring, you may have to push gently on the waste elbow. This action will create enough space to slide the gasket out from between the tub and the pipe. If you cannot reach the pipe with your hand, use the handle of the screwdriver. Use your fingers to take out the old washer carefully.To replace the rubber ring, just push it into place. Again, use caution to prevent it from falling into the space underneath the tub. You should not need to push down on the pipe to fit the new gasket into place, but if you do, be gentle. Once you have successfully placed the new rubber washer into position, move on to the next step.

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Step 2: Prepare the Drain with Plumber’s Putty

You will only need a small amount of putty when replacing your drain. Scoop out enough putty to form a ball that is roughly 1” to 1¼ ” in diameter. You may want to wear rubber gloves for this process, but it is not required.    
When you first open your container of plumber’s putty, you will notice that it is quite hard. To soften the putty you will need to massage it in your hands. It can be helpful to warm your hands up first by rubbing them together or holding them over a heater. Once the putty is soft, roll it into a smooth ball.    
After you have formed the putty into a ball, you will next shape it into a narrow rope shape. Ideally, your putty rope should be between ¼” and ½” in diameter and about eight inches long. You can form the cable in between your hands or roll it on a flat surface. If you choose to move it on a surface, make sure the surface is clean. Also be aware that this putty can stain.    
Once you’ve finished shaping your plumber’s putty, you will attach it to the new drain. It’s a good idea to wipe down the drain with a dry towel to remove any dust or debris. Press the putty along the flat overhanging part of the drain. Flatten the putty against the drain flange evenly.    
During this process, be careful not to get any putty in the threads of the new drain. Also, make sure that there is no visible seam where you joined the two ends of the putty together around the drain flange. Once the putty is even along the edge of the drain, then you are ready to install the drain.

a hand reaching for the Tongue-and-groove pliers lying on the bathtub

Step 3: Install the Drain

Now that your drain is adequately prepared with plumber’s putty, it’s time to install it into the bathtub. To install the drain, first use your fingers to grab the inside of it. If your fingers do not fit, you can also use narrow pliers to grab onto the crossbars. Fit the drain inside of the tub and gently twist it into place using a clockwise motion.After you tighten the drain enough to stay in place, grab a tool to finish the tightening job. Either a smart dumbbell or a pair of narrow pliers will work well for this task. Choose one of the two tools mentioned above and secure it to the crossbars of the drain. Attach your adjustable wrench to the device and continue turning the drain in a clockwise motion.Be careful not to exert too much force while turning the drain. Because the drain is metal and the drain pipe is plastic, it is straightforward to strip the threading. Also, exerting too much force can cause unwanted damage to the finish of your tub.

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Tips for Tightening Your Drain

As we mentioned above, it’s crucial that you not overtighten your drain. But, how do you know when you’ve tightened it enough? Below you’ll find a few tips for making sure your drain is tightly secured.Apply pressure to the tub while twisting the drain into place.Twist the parts slowly.Listen for any noise from the drain when standing in the shower.Always err on the side of caution.After your drain is thoroughly tightened, be sure to clean the excess plumber’s putty out of the tub. Use care while removing the excess putty. If the putty falls into the drain, it may cause unwanted obstructions.

a person putting plumber's putty on the bathtub drain

Step 4: Install the Stopper

At this point, your bathtub drain is technically replaced. But, no tub drain is complete without its stopper. The difficulty of this step is directly related to the type of stopper you want to use. For example, if you are content using an old-fashioned rubber stopper, all you have to do is buy one and be finished. If you’re looking for something more sophisticated, keep reading.

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Drains Without Trip Levers

These drains are relatively simple in design, and installing the stopper for them is quite easy. Stoppers in this category include those with the rollerball, lift and turn, and toe touch devices. To attach each of these types of stoppers, you will follow the process outlined below.Locate the set screw underneath the cap of the stopper.Screw the set screw into the threaded center hole of the drain’s crossbars.Check to make sure the stopper functions appropriately.

tighting the bathtub trip lever

Drains With Trip Levers

Drains with trip levers are a bit more complicated than those without. In this category, there are drains with visible stoppers and drains without visible stoppers. For both types begin by removing the overflow drain plate.Next, feed the trip lever parts into the overflow drain pipe and secure the new cover plate. For drains with a “pop-up” style stopper, carefully feed the rocker arm and stopper into place. Test out the seal of the stopper mechanism and adjust the length of the linkages as needed.Overall, learning how to replace bathtub drains is a straightforward process. You will need to be patient as you follow the steps outlined above. Also, as we mentioned, don’t hesitate to contact a professional plumber if you feel unsure about the project.

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