Introduction: Fix a Sink Stopper

Picture of Fix a Sink Stopper

A sink stopper with a push/pull rod control at the faucet is a great modern convenience. But, sink stoppers fail. When they do, they are often unsightly and an irritation. This is a repair you can do yourself.  

Step 1: Materials and Tools

Picture of Materials and Tools

The photo shows a typical array of tools and supplies that may be needed to replace a stopper.

When you go to the store to buy a replacement stopper, you want to look for a pop-up assembly. Most are 1 1/4 x 12 inches. They come with a lift rod and linkage. Often you can buy the linkage rod with ball and a stopper without buying the whole pop-up assembly. I chose to replace the whole pop-up assembly. The cost is very little more and I am beginning with all new parts.

A slip joint pliers is a good tool to have nearby. An adjustable wrench and a screwdriver may be needed, but it happened that I did not use them on this project. A sealant of some type will also be required. Shown is a container of plumber's putty. As I was in the middle of replacing the pop-up assembly I discovered that my plumber's putty has a warning label that says it is not to be used with marble or plastic. I ran to a store to get some silicone sealant formulated for use in the bathroom, including with plastics.

Step 2: What Goes Wrong

Picture of What Goes Wrong

It is tempting to think something merely separated from another part and you can restore the function of the stopper by manipulating the operating rod while holding the stopper in place or twisting it somehow. See the photo. In reality parts have either broken or badly deteriorated from rust and will need to be replaced. 

Step 3: First Steps

Picture of First Steps

There are instructions on the pop-up assembly package, but I learned some things I wish I had known at the beginning. The instructions on the package I bought for this project say to shut off the water supply to the sink. That is not necessary, but a pan under the pipe connections and some paper towels nearby are a good idea.

In the photo I am removing the top retainer nut on the P-trap. I do not know why it is named that, but it always contains water in the low bend of the trap. That makes a seal to keep sewer vapors from coming into the house. If a house is left unoccupied for a long while, you may smell sewer gas. Just run water for a minute or two wherever there is a drain for water, and you will solve the problem.

The parts on this P-trap are plastic and I really did not need the slip joint plier to loosen them. Some P-traps are chrome plated brass and a plier or a wrench would be necessary to loosen the retaining nuts. With a catch pan under the P-trap loosen both retainer nuts and place the P-trap in the pan.

Step 4: Disconnect the Lifting Rod Assembly

Picture of Disconnect the Lifting Rod Assembly

Pinch the ends of the "C"-shaped retainer clip together and slide off the end of the linkage rod. See the text boxes.

Step 5: Loosen the Pop-up Assembly Retainer Nut

Picture of Loosen the Pop-up Assembly Retainer Nut

The old pop-up assembly is metal and has a brass retaining nut under the sink. Loosen it with the plier.

Step 6: Remove the Finished Flange

Picture of Remove the Finished Flange

Once the pop-up assembly nut is loose a few turns, rock the pop-up assembly back and forth to loosen the old sealant below the finished flange at the bottom of the sink. Push up  on the pop-up assembly and grasp the finished flange with a pair of pliers. Hold it and turn the body of the pop-up assembly below to unscrew it from the finished flange.

Step 7: The Old Sealant

Picture of The Old Sealant

This is what you will see when the finished flange is unscrewed from the body of the pop-up assembly. The old sealant cracks and breaks away easily. Remove all of it. The old finished flange will not be needed. Discard it.

Step 8: Surprise!

Picture of Surprise!

Something will always be as it should not be. The old metal finished flange screwed into threads on the inside of the body of the pop-up assembly. But, the new chrome-plated plastic finished flange screws onto threads on the outside of the pop-up assembly. The diameter of the threaded area on the new finished flange is too great to slip into the hole for it in the bottom of the sink. Fortunately, there is a plastic ring molded into the bottom of the sink. I trimmed it with a sharp knife and then the finished flange fit the hole just fine.

Step 9: Apply Sealant to the Flange

Picture of Apply Sealant to the Flange

Apply a bead of sealant around the finished flange where it will contact the sink. Press it into the hole and down on the sink. Check to be sure there is enough sealant and no gaps or air pockets. Add more sealant if needed. You will need to clean away excess sealant later. Do not use more than necessary.

Step 10: Sealant to Prevent Leaks

Picture of Sealant to Prevent Leaks

See the text boxes for where to put sealant. I added some sealant at the top end of the threaded portion, too. The design of this pop-up assembly could allow leakage because the flange fits on the outside rather than on the inside of the body. Insert the body into the hole in the sink from below the sink. Screw the body onto the finished flange without disturbinng the finished flange and its seal. Hold the body of the pop-up assembly so the fitting for the linkage points toward the rear of the sink, that is, the side toward the wall.

Step 11: Tighten the Body Nut

Picture of Tighten the Body Nut

Tighten the nut on the pop-up assembly body. This plastic one is made to tighten sufficiently with fingers only and no pliers. Tighten the body nut as tightly as your fingers can tighten it. Be careful that the body of the pop-up assembly does not rotate out of its position. Hold it firmly while tightening.

Step 12: Load the Linkage Into the Retainer Nut

Picture of Load the Linkage Into the Retainer Nut

Slide the linkage into the nut. There is a teflon ring in the body of the pop-up assembly that is a seal bettween the ball and the body. Feel to make certain it is still in place. It has a concave indentation to fit the ball on the linkage rod. There is also a piece of similar white plastic that falls out when the linkage retainer nut is removed from the body. You can just see it inside the nut visible in the photo. If your pop-up assembly is metal, be careful not to tighten the nut too much with a pair of pliers. Part of the metal nut is a thin washer mounted in the nut and it can push out. Once it does, you will have difficulty making the nut hold the ball on the linkage rod so there are no leaks. In some ways, the plastic pop-up assembly kit is an advantage over the metal.

Step 13: Assemble

Picture of Assemble

Drop the new drain plug into the hole in the finished flange from the top of the sink. Place the linkage rod into its hole and catch the loop at the bottom of the drain plug with the rod. Screw the linkage retainer nut onto its place on the body of the pop-up assembly. With the end of the linkage rod in its most downward position, choose the hole in the lift rod assembly that best fits it. Slide the hole over the end of the linkage rod with the springy "C" retainer clip. (There was nothing wrong with the old lift rod assembly, not even a scuff on the chrome. I chose to save some work and leave it in place. I can save the new lift rod assembly parts or use them as raw materials in some project.)

Pull up on the lift rod knob as if you were using the sink. Does the stopper in the sink pull down as far as it can go to seal? If not, slide the springy "C" clip toward the body of the pop-up assembly until it does pull down and seal.

Step 14: Install the P-trap

Picture of Install the P-trap

Remove the plastic compression washer and nut for the P-trap from the old pop-up assembly. Place the nut and compression washer on the new pop-up assembly. Fit the P-trap and screw both of its nuts in place. Tighten appropriately.

Step 15: Finish

Picture of Finish

Remove the blue protective film. Clean up any extra sealant around finished edges. Check for leaks under the sink. Enjoy your new, working drain plug. 


TheresaC64 (author)2016-10-15

Thank you so much for this instructable! I live in an apartment with a very, very lax maintenance program and could not take the nasty drain any more. I got everything apart just fine, but when it came to putting the stopper back in so it would actually function properly, I couldn't figure out where I was going wrong to save my life! It was kind of rigged to begin with, so I left everything in it's position. I suppose with the extra crud gone, it needed the adjustment I found on your instructions. All I had to do was move the c clip and Presto! Thank you again. You have saved my sanity this morning!

Phil B (author)TheresaC642016-10-15

Thank you for your comment. I am pleased for you that your stopper works now. I hope the experience gives you more confidence to attempt even more things. It is always nice when you can keep the repairman out of your house. Your comment made my day.

Watch me make (author)2016-09-12

I think if you where to read some history on the subject of plumbing or at least watch some ask this old house you would understand my earlier comment.

Watch me make (author)2016-01-09

The p trap got its name long ago it is called that because clean water stays in the bend that way it stops sewer gases from coming up through the pipe . That is why there is also one on a toilet .

flaquito (author)Watch me make2016-09-12

It's called a P-trap because the pipes are shaped like the letter P. As opposed to an S-trap, which are often illegal because they tend to siphon dry. (See also: J-bend and U-bend)

misslinguist (author)2016-06-12

Hi Phil,

Thanks to your excellent instructible, we ended up changing out the whole drain assembly a few months ago. It worked great, until a few weeks ago. Now the problem is baffling to me, and I wonder if you have any ideas.

The pop-up stopper is connected to the rod in side the drain. When I pull the rod to close the drain, it closes tightly and is still obviously connected to the rod. However, when I push the rod back down, the stopper will not pop-up. I can tell that everything is still connected, and since all parts were changed 3 months ago, I know that nothing has rusted.

Getting everything connected is super annoying, and I'm reluctant to pull out the stopper because I don't want to deal with trying to get it connected again. Basically, I just tell people not to close the drain, and it stays open all the time. But I do have small things and contacts that could fall down the drain, so it would be great if I could remedy this problem.


misslinguist (author)2016-03-09

I'm wondering if there is a way to change the pop-up mechanism without replacing the finished flange? My sink has some small cracks in it starting at the drain and going outward into the bowl, which have been sealed. I'm afraid that removing the finished flange will make it crack more. The problem is with my pop-up mechanism. I currently have no stopper in the sink because the stopper wouldn't stay open.

Phil B (author)misslinguist2016-03-09

You can buy kits that include the stopper and the arm with a nylon ball on it. The size of those things is standard. Usually it is the metal rod that is the arm which rusts off and needs replacing. The body and the flange may be just fine. Go to your local plumbing store to look and ask questions.

GillP2 (author)2016-01-20

Hi Phil, is there a way of replacing this mechanism without going under the sink? My sink is stupidly tiled in.

TMBRKruse (author)2015-12-10

Hello Phil,

I have just installed three new sink faucets in our bathrooms. The first two went perfectly but when I installed the stopper in the last sink, I cannot get it to stop leaking no matter what I try. Any suggestions? I even went exchanged the faucet for a new one and the stopper still leaks on the second one so, obviously there has to be something wrong with the shape of the stopper opening or something. I have tightened the retaining nut underneath the sink snugly, tried that, it still leaked. I loosened the retaining nut, it still leaked. I have pushed down on the stopper manually and it still leaks. I am almost at the point where I am ready to just let the stopper leak since it is in the guest bathroom and does not get very much use. But, I really don't want to let it beat me like that though. So,,, HELP!!!

Phil B (author)TMBRKruse2015-12-11

I have thought a lot about your question. Did you notice in the Instructable that I had problems with leakage until I inserted silicone sealant above and below the big neoprene washer under the sink? I also had trouble getting a good seal when I did not put enough sealant under the flange in the upper side of the sink.

karmita2000 (author)2015-11-21

I like to clean the vanity drain stopper, since gets dirty, and accumulating hair, I decided to pull it off to wash it, something happens because right now I've the problem that it's too hard to grabe it to take off, so I use a pin, so I decided to put around a piece of elastic thread, in order to pull it off, every time when I need to clean and disinfect it. I want to buy a pop up vanity drain stopper, that doesn't need to much work to remove it to put it back every time when I need to cleaning. If so, how to make sure I am buying the right one? I just ordered one on the internet, and was huge, of course I returned. I tried to upload the picture of the broken vanity drain stopper, I could not. Please I need help, thanks!!

Phil B (author)karmita20002015-11-26

Personally, I would find a store with adequate plumbing supplies in stock and match the old stopper. I realize that may not be possible for you. Some Internet businesses have a contact number or e-mail address where you can make inquiries before buying.

NaomiF (author)2015-05-09

Thanks! I was able to fix my drain thanks to your instructions!

Phil B (author)NaomiF2015-05-09

Thank you, Naomi. I am glad to have been of help. You have to be feeling a sense of accomplishment.

serene.leesng (author)2015-03-05

cleanin the sink earlier, I might have screwed up my sink. now the stopper doesn't work I.e. permanently closed position. I double.checked under the sink after reading phillmd' comment but no luck there. seems I have to buy a new set. now I fear I might not get able to put things back after taking it apart. help.

Phil B (author)serene.leesng2015-03-05

I expect parts are rusted and the rod that acts like a pivot has probably broken off, and will need replacement. Yu can try to replace only that rod. Screw the parts together loosely and check the action. If something is not right, you can take it apart and try again. Most of us have to do things a couple of times before we get it right.

Phillmd (author)2014-10-13

My sink stopper (which looks the same as in the first illustration) stopped working; it was permanently in the closed position. I pried the stopper out with my fingers and pointed a flashlight down into the drain, and I could see that the operating rod was not corroded or broken off at all; however, only about 1/4" was protruding into the drain. From under the sink I simply pushed it in. Works fine now. My suggestion: before you buy a new stopper assembly, check out that it's really broken.

chetstetsman (author)2014-09-29

I am having issues at this step: 'Screw the linkage retainer nut onto its place on the body of the pop-up assembly.' The issue is that the new nut will not catch on the existing threaded piece. It looks the same as the original one, but it just won't screw on. The original nut will screw on, but there is a crack on the end, so I can't use it.

Phil B (author)chetstetsman2014-09-29

is there anything that keeps the ball on the rod from going all of the way into its socket? Can you thread the nut onto the threads when the ball and rood ar not in place? I assume you are replacing only the rod with ball and the nut.

joe.spagnola.5 (author)2014-09-22

Just replaced mine on Saturday and went to test it out today. There was a leak where the retainer nut threads on. I tighten it up to stop the leak but then the stopper won't move up or down. The point of the stopper rod seems to rub on the opposite side of the drain tube as well. I noticed in your pictures that there seems to be a white plastic seal on the inside of the nut which mine did not have. My replacement kit may have been missing this part if they all are supposed to come with it.

Phil B (author)joe.spagnola.52014-09-24


I apologize for the delay in writing a response to your comment. By "retaining nut" I take it you are referring to the nut that covers the ball on the stopper rod. (Perhaps you made your comment in regard to one step of the Instructable in particular, but I cannot discern that from what I am able to see.) There is a formed plastic socket or seal on both sides of the ball. If the nut is too tight, the stopper rod will be difficult to raise and lower. If the inner end of the rod scrapes the inside drain wall, the inner socket or seal may be missing, too. It is odd that the white plastic socket or seal between the nut and the ball would be missing, but anything is possible. Perhaps the store where you bought it will make a replacement for you.

controlsgirl (author)2013-12-29

What kind of sealant do you use?

Phil B (author)controlsgirl2013-12-29

I believe it was a clear silicone sealant. If you are using any plastic parts, it should be safe for plastic. I wish I could give you a brand, but I cannot.

Tucker! (author)2012-09-18

Great instructions. Great photography. This is very helpful. Thank you for taking the time to do it.

Phil B (author)Tucker!2012-09-18

Thank you. Instructables like this are a way to document something I did for my future reference. While there are many who have done this more times than I ever will, there are also others who would be glad for any help. Hopefully, this Instructable and others will give someone the confidence to solve a problem himself without paying someone money that is needed elsewhere in the home budget.

adel antado (author)2012-07-08

Replacing the stopper is probably better, cheaper and easier than repairing one. Thanks for the clear step by step instruction,

Phil B (author)adel antado2012-07-09

Thank you for looking and for commenting. Instructables is a place where there are some people who do these things professionally. Meanwhile, they were a mystery to me and to others. It always seemed to me that someone ought do a detailed description for the benefit of those who do not understand them, yet. I also like to document things I have done, especially if I had to work to learn how to do them. Too many times in the past I have had to do something later a second or a third time, but did not make enough notes.

mrcantfixit (author)2011-10-16

How do you keep the clip from sliding off the rod? i can never get the proper tension. Is there something that goes over the end of the rod to cure this problem?

akcoder (author)mrcantfixit2011-12-17
I used a stop collar I picked up from the hardware store for a couple of bucks. It works much better than the cheap piece of bent springy steel that comes with the sink.

Phil B (author)mrcantfixit2011-10-16

Yours is an interesting question. I have done only a couple of these. On both the clip was relatively thin and quite springy with slightly sharp edges that dug into the rod when the clip was arched and stayed in place without slipping on the rod at all. It sounds like something is wrong with your clip. I suppose you could always get or make something that slipped onto the rod and could be locked into place with a screw.

pfred2 (author)2011-06-26

I know you added all of that sealant and there is no way it could leak but I usually just go with the supplied gaskets and after I get everything together I fill the sink with water and check for leaks. If it holds I'm done.

Phil B (author)pfred22011-06-26

I had problems with the gaskets leaking and decided to use plenty of sealant. The gasket on this pop-up assembly seemed to be formed for filling the threads. I had not seen that before.

pfred2 (author)Phil B2011-06-26

It is bad when one has sealing problems. I've been there! When I relined my pool I had a real time with the skimmer box but I was just being stupid mounting it. I finally had to make a headless stud alignment set and that did the trick. Silicone wouldn't cut it so I went with some 3M through hull marine sealant. If you ever really really need a seal it is the stuff. Expensive but sometimes failure is not an option. Like when you're trying to get 4 grand of pool hardware to work.

Phil B (author)pfred22011-06-27

I am glad you were able to solve your leakage problem. I once had to get a water line at 175 lbs./sq. in. to seal. Teflon tape and a big wrench were not getting the job done. Right or wrong, I put some epoxy on the threads before closing the joint and let it cure before turning it on. That worked. As my father often said, "I do not want to be around when some poor fellow has to take that apart."

pfred2 (author)Phil B2011-06-27

I had the same problem when I redid my compressed air manifold with some brass fittings so I used the same solution myself. I only run my air at 125 PSI though. I found epoxy works great sealing problem threads. Some of those fittings have to be so tight some epoxy is not really going to make much of a difference I don't think. Least not to my Rigid 2 foot pipe wrench. I made my manifold out of all old scrap fittings I have lying around and taking them all apart to begin with was quite a workout!

I've destroyed some fittings at times trying to get them apart. Not sure if they were glued to begin with or it was just corrosion or what that was holding them together. That is just part of plumbing I guess. I know a lot of that PVC stuff gets glued and it doesn't come apart too well either. Well it does with a Sawsall.

That was the only time I ever really got nervous plumbing. A flange broke on a toilet and I had to replace it, and the chunk I had to cut out well lets just say I could have exhibited it in MOMA. So I was a little worried if I was going to be able to recreate it. I had to get back to enough clear straight pipe so I could glue on another fitting you know?

I think that funky piece of pipe fittings is still under my house someplace its a work of art I'm telling you! Or a trophy to me.

ehudwill (author)2011-06-26

Thanks for the instructable. I always need to refresh my memory when this problem pops up.

Phil B (author)ehudwill2011-06-26

My little secret is that I do Instructables like this so I can remember what to do the next time I have to do something like this, but have forgotten just how I did certain steps the last time. Thanks for looking and for commenting.

CaseyCase (author)2011-06-26

Don't glue your drain in with silicone caulk (aka-"sealant") use plumber's putty instead. Caulk makes your drain assembly very difficult to remove later. Plumber's putty is made for this purpose!

Phil B (author)CaseyCase2011-06-26

Again, my plumber's putty warned on the container label not to use it with plastic or with marble. I do not know why, but decided to follow its directives. The container for the silicone said it was OK to use with plastic.

CaseyCase (author)Phil B2011-06-26

I would use a "non-staining" version such as...

mikeasaurus (author)2011-06-25

Great job, Phil. I've done this same repair a few times and you've explained it perfectly.

Also, nice work on saving some of the components that weren't worn and didn't need replacing. I have a scrap bin somewhere of all kinds of awesome new components from old repairs.

Phil B (author)mikeasaurus2011-06-26

Thank you, Mike. The first time one of these failed for us, I was not sure what to do. The instructions with the replacement parts leave out a few details I had to learn the hard way. I know a lot of folks at Instructables probably have more experience with some of these things than I do. But, it seems good to give some help to those for whom it is all a mystery so they will have enough confidence to try it and save themselves some cash..

About This Instructable




Bio: I miss the days when magazines like Popular Mechanics had all sorts of DIY projects for making and repairing just about everything. I am enjoying ... More »
More by Phil B:Picture or Shelf Hanging FixtureMake an Electric Motor Run AgainMotor Made New McGyver Style
Add instructable to: