Fix a Sink Stopper




Introduction: Fix a Sink Stopper

I miss the days when magazines like Popular Mechanics had all sorts of DIY projects for making an...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. 



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    43 Discussions

    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!

    1 reply

    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.

    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.

    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 .

    1 reply

    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)

    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.


    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.

    1 reply

    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.

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

    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!!!

    1 reply

    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.

    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!!

    1 reply

    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.

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

    1 reply

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

    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.

    1 reply

    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.

    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.

    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.

    1 reply

    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.