How To Remove Tub Drains

If you need to remove a tub drain but aren’t sure where to start, check out this handy how-to article.
No matter how diligent you are, tub drains will inevitably fail at some point. Nearly every time we use a tub or shower, we send much more than just water down the drain. Over time the vast array of personal care products, dirt, and hair builds up in the pipe and can lead to a clog.


When you first notice your drain is slow or isn’t working at all, you’ll probably want to fix it. If you’ve tried drain cleaner with little or no success, you’ll likely need to remove the drain. Regardless of what type your tub has, learning how to remove tub drains is easy. Plus, it only requires a few materials.

Before You Begin

Before you start removing your tub drain carefully inspect its condition carefully. Any of the following signs might mean you’re facing a more significant problem that requires a professional:

  • Excessive rust on the drain parts
  • Visible decay of the drain parts
  • Large amounts of mildew or mold
  • Recurring clogs

Next, identify what type of drain your tub has. In general, there are two categories of tub drain, those with trip levers and those without. There are a few varieties within each of these categories but don’t worry. They are all very similar. Follow the steps below, and you’ll know how to remove tub drains in no time at all.

Also, before you start working, be sure to gather all of the tools you will need to complete the job. For most drain removals you will need the following items:

  • Adjustable Wrench
  • Screwdriver
  • Recurring clogs
  • Smart Dumbell Tool (sometimes called a tub wrench) or Drain Key
  • Blow Dryer (optional, but highly recommended)

You probably have most of the tools you need already. But, if something is missing from your toolbox, you can source any of these items at your local home repair store.

Step 1: Remove the Stopper

Drains Without Trip Levers

Compared to their trip lever counterparts, these drains are simple in design. In this category of tub drains, you will find foot lock drains, roller ball drains, and lift and turn drains. Each of these drains is easy to identify and straightforward to remove.

As the name suggests, foot lock drains are operated or “locked” into place with the foot. They are smooth across the top of the plug and feature a rubber ring on the underside. The rollerball type is similar, but these have a small stem for pulling the plug up or pushing it down. Lift and turn drains are those that lift up and twist into place when draining the tub.

 Foot Lock and Roller Ball Drains

To remove both foot lock and roller ball drains, begin by removing the stopper. Both types of stoppers can be removed by merely turning them counterclockwise. After the stopper is loose simply, lift it to withdraw it from the tub.

Lift and Turn Drains

To remove the stopper of a lift and turn drain, first lift the stopper and locate the set screw. Carefully loosen the set screw until you can lift the stopper out of the drain. If the set screw is difficult to turn, a few easy taps with a wrench may help loosen it. If the stopper is still stuck, use a wrench to get the motion started.

If you resort to using a wrench to loosen the set screw, be careful with the amount of force you use. Excessive force may lead to damage that will have to be repaired by a professional.

Trip Lever Drains

There are two basic types of trip lever drains, pop-up and plunger. If you bathtub drain functions with a trip lever it is simple to tell the two types of drains apart. If there is a visible stopper in your tub that moves up and down with the trip lever, it is a pop-up drain. If there is no visible stopper, it is a plunger type.

Pop-Up Drains

When removing the stopper from a pop-up drain, first make sure that the lever is entirely in the open position. Next, pull up on the stopper. This action should allow the stopper and rocker arm to come out of the drain.

To remove the rest of the drain parts, unscrew the fasteners on the overflow drain cover. Keep these screws somewhere safe so that you do not lose them. Pull the cover away from the wall to remove the trip lever and lift linkage.

Plunger Drains

It may look as though plunger drains have no stopper at all, but the truth is that the stopper merely is out of sight. To remove the hidden stopper from a plunger drain, use your screwdriver to remove the screws from the overflow plate. Set the screws aside and gently pull the overflow plate away from the wall.

As you pull the plate away from the wall, the stopper will also come out. Be careful not to lose any of the parts or pull too quickly.

Step 2: Remove the Overflow Plate

If you have a trip-lever drain, skip forward to step three. You removed the overflow plate during the first step.

While simple drains don’t have parts threaded inside of the overflow drain, it is still useful to remove the overflow plate when doing bathtub maintenance or repairs. Just like removing the stopper, removing the overflow plate is easy.

To remove the overflow plate, use your screwdriver to remove the screws on the front of the plate. Keep these screws in a safe spot and don’t let them fall into the drain. Pull the circular piece of metal away from the wall and set to the side.

Step 3: Remove the Drain Flange

Now that the stopper and overflow plate have been removed, you can remove the drain flange. Keep in mind, removing a drain flange is a straightforward task, but it requires a good deal of muscle. If your tub is rather old, it will be probably quite difficult to remove this particular part.

As we mentioned above, if you can see excessive rust, damage, mold, or mildew, you may need to contact a professional. You may also want to contact a professional if you feel unsure of what you are doing. Remember, once you have removed the drain flange, it cannot be replaced appropriately without plumber’s putty.

Removal Using a Smart Dumbbell Tool

To remove your drain flange using a smart dumbbell, start by determining which end to use. There are two common drains installed in a majority of all bathtubs. Each end of the tub wrench will fit one of these common drains.

When you find the correct fit, make sure that the tool is properly in place. It should feel secure and well-seated. Once the device is in place, attach an adjustable wrench to the dumbbell tool. Make sure that your adjustable wrench is thoroughly tightened.
At this point, you can grab ahold of the adjustable wrench and begin turning the dumbbell tool in a counterclockwise motion. This motion will likely take a good deal of arm strength. Proceed with caution and take your time to avoid damaging the tub’s finish.

Removal Using a Drain Key

If you choose to use a drain key instead of a smart dumbbell, you will need two adjustable wrenches in addition to the drain key itself. To use a drain key, first, you must understand the three parts of this tool. At the top is a drive screw, in the middle a large hex nut, and at the base you’ll find drain key shoes.The shoes usually have notches on them.

Start by placing the tool in your bathtub drain making sure that it sits well. With one hand hold the hex nut in place while using your other hand to turn the drive screw counterclockwise. As you turn the screw, the drive shoes will expand to fit your tub drain.
Once the drive shoes have created a secure fit, attach your first adjustable wrench to the hex nut. Then, connect the second adjustable wrench to the drive screw. Continue turning the drive screw in a counterclockwise motion.

As you continue turning the drive screw, higher tension will be created by the drain key. Eventually, you will feel the drain begin to loosen as you keep turning the drive screw. Once the drain is thoroughly loosened, you can remove your drain key by twisting the hex nut in counterclockwise. Now, you can remove the drain from the tub with your fingers.

Overall, learning how to remove tub drains is an easy process. While the task at hand may take a few hours to complete, it is crucial that you remain patient. Remember, your bathtub drain has been in place for quite some time, and removing the part will take patience and care.

The steps above provide a great starting place for anyone looking to remove the drain from their tub. But, if you feel uncertain at any point during the process, do hesitate to contact a professional plumber.

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