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How a Pop-Up Drain Stopper Works

The pivot rod beneath the sink connects the pop-up to the sink-top lever.LightWaveMedia /

The pivot rod beneath the sink connects the pop-up to the sink-top lever.

When a pop-up drain stopper in a sink or bathtub stops working, how do you fix it? This expert guide shows how drain stoppers work and how to repair them.

©Don Vandervort, HomeTips

Sink and Bathtub Pop-Up Drain Stoppers Diagram ©HomeTips

Pop-ups are simple mechanical devices that use a system of links and levers to move a drain stoppers up and down to seal a sink bowl or bathtub.

How a Sink Pop-Up Works

Bathroom sink pop-ups are raised and lowered with a lift knob or lever, usually located on or near the faucet body. The knob or lever is connected to a lift rod that is fastened to a flat, slotted bar called a “clevis.”

The clevis is connected by a small spring clip to a pivot rod–and–ball assembly—a rod that runs through a rubber pivot ball and slopes slightly upward to the tailpiece of the stopper. This pushes the stopper up or lets it drop down into the drain body.

Pushing the knob and the lift rod down causes the pivot rod to push the stopper up; pulling the knob causes the pivot rod to pull the stopper down. If you want to remove the assembly, you may be able to pull it right out. On a bathroom sink, it’s often necessary to remove the retaining nut and extract the pivot rod first. You may have to twist the stopper to unhook it from the pivot rod.

How a Bathtub Pop-Up Works

A bathtub pop-up is raised or lowered with a lever at the tub’s overflow plate.

A bathtub pop-up is typically sold in an assembly that includes the overflow tube.©Don Vandervort, HomeTips

A bathtub pop-up is typically sold in an assembly that includes the overflow tube.

The lever operates a lift linkage that pulls on a spring. The spring pulls a rocker arm that raises and lowers the stopper (see the illustration).

It is usually very simple to pull out the stopper and rocker arm linkage.

Click here to buy pop-up drain stoppers online.

How to Fix a Pop-up Drain Stopper


When a sink pop-up drain stopper doesn't work, the solution usually involves a simple adjustment beneath the sink.©PeterVrabel /

When a sink pop-up drain stopper doesn’t work, the solution usually involves a simple adjustment beneath the sink.

Stoppers that don’t close can keep the drain or tub from filling properly and waste water. Stoppers that don’t open readily or don’t open all the way make water drain sluggishly. These kinds of stopper problems are mechanical and can be solved with simple adjustments.


How to Remove & Fix a Bathtub Stopper

It’s easy to remove a tub stopper to check it for mechanical problems or blockage.
1. Simply grip the stopper body and pull it out of the drain along with the hinged rocker arm.
2. Clear the stopper and rocker arm of hair and debris.
3. Check the rubber seal for damage and, if necessary, replace it. Remove the old seal and slip on a new one if needed.
4. Reinstall the stopper and rocker arm. Make sure the flange is tightly seated and in good shape. (Older tubs may have corroded flanges.)

For more, see Bathtub Pop-Up Stopper Repairs


How to Fix a Sink Pop-Up Stopper

Water may leak or refuse to drain around a sink pop-up for a number of reasons. If your sink pop-up won’t pop up or seat properly, fixing it is quite easy—usually just a matter of adjusting a few parts. The culprit is often a buildup of hair around the base of the stopper or the pivot rod mechanism. Or, the clevis may be out of adjustment (see illustration to identify the various parts).

The pivot rod beneath the sink connects the pop-up to the sink-top lever.LightWaveMedia /

The pivot rod beneath the sink connects the pop-up to the sink-top lever. Shop for pop-up stoppers now.

Here’s how to fix the problem:


Remove the pivot rod under the sink

1With a slight twist, try to lift out the stopper. If it seems to be linked to the mechanism below, reach under the sink and unscrew the pivot rod retaining nut and pull out the pivot rod to disengage it.

2Lift the stopper from the drain. Clean off all hair and debris. If the stopper is broken or its seal looks worn, replace it.

3Face the hole at the bottom of the stopper toward the pivot rod’s location, and drop the stopper back into the drain hole. Insert the pivot rod so that it engages the hole in the bottom of the stopper, and tighten on the retaining nut with the stopper in its up position. When the drain is closed, the pivot rod should slope slightly uphill from the clevis to the tailpiece.

4Loosen the set screw on the clevis and adjust the strap up or down so that it operates the pivot rod to open and close the stopper. Retighten the set screw.


Loosen the clevis screw to adjust the lift rod.

5If adjusting the clevis screw doesn’t help, reset the pivot rod by squeezing the spring clip and freeing the pivot rod. Move the clip up to the next clevis hole and insert the rod. You may need to keep tweaking this a little to find the right hole on the clevis.

6If water drips from around the pivot ball, tighten the retaining nut that holds the ball in place. You may also need to replace the gasket or washer (or both) inside the pivot ball-and-rod assembly.

Keeping drains clear of hair, soap and shampoo residue, and other debris is one of the best ways to help keep pop-up stoppers in good working order.

If the stopper or mechanism is damaged, you can buy a replacement stopper and parts at Amazon. For more, see How to Repair a Bathtub Pop-Up Stopper.

Join the Conversation

  • Eva Hinson Williams

    There is no “spring” in the spring clip…can I replace this spring?

    • Don Vandervort, HomeTips

      Take the old one to the hardware store, home improvement center, or plumbing supply store and see if they have a replacement. This is just a retainer, so you can probably solve the problem by just winding the connection with some black electrical tape until you can find a proper replacement clip.

      • Eva Hinson Williams

        Thank you.

  • uberfreak

    My apartment that I moved into had a very slow draining bathroom sink. Liquid plummer failed to make a difference. I pulled the assembly apart and tried to problem solve. I noticed that the stopper could be inserted two ways: with the hole for the pivot rod to be inserted facing away from the retaining nut and with it turned 180deg and facing towards the retaining nut. I’m not sure which way it is facing now but I turned it 180deg and reconnected everything and now the water drains away quickly. Is it essential for the stopper to be inserted as shown in the above diagram (with the hole for the pivot rod, to be inserted, closer to the opposite side of the pipe from the retaining nut)? Whatever way I have it now makes a world of difference for water to be able to drain properly.

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