How Does A Bathtub Trip Lever Work?

Bathtubs are designed to hold water. So, your bathtub is rendered useless for bathing (unless you get creative with stopper substitutes) when the drain stopper goes on strike. Generally, repairing or replacing the old, worn-out plug is a relatively simple task. 

However, before you can switch out the old stopper, you need to know how the stopper works so you can remove it. There are six common bathtub stopper types, but we’ll focus on the workings of the trip lever drains, so continue reading to learn more!

6 Types Of Bathtub Drain Stoppers

Bathtub drain stoppers come in a few variations, each slightly different from the last. Some of these stoppers are straightforward for installation and use, while others have more complex assemblies.

Here are the six bathtub drain stopper variations you might come across:

  • Round stoppers with rings
  • Flip-it stoppers
  • Lift and turn stoppers
  • Toe touch stoppers
  • Pop-up stoppers
  • Trip lever stoppers

What Is A Trip Lever Bathtub Drain?

Trip lever bathtub drains are one of the six common bathtub stopper types. These particular stoppers are lever-operated, as the name implies. Trip lever stoppers are more complex than their comrades, as the assembly is a bit more complicated. 

These stoppers work via a connection between the drain stopper and a lever. To connect the two, there is a rod mechanism hidden in the wall behind the bathtub. When you lift the lever up, the stopper is held in place, allowing you to fill your bathtub with water. 

Push the lever down when you’re ready to drain the tub (or take a shower). This causes the stopper to lift, draining the tub. The specifics surrounding each trip lever’s exact assembly hinges on the manufacturer, as some are slightly different than others. 

However, many trip lever stoppers are connected with plunger-style stoppers. These stoppers sit further down the drain and aren’t visible from inside the tub. Instead, a strainer usually covers the drain opening, completely hiding the stopper from view. 

How Do You Open A Trip Lever Drain?

While the assembly of a trip lever drain is more complex than other popular drain stoppers, the operation is simple. To open the trip lever drain stopper and allow water to drain constantly, simply push the stopper into the lower position. The small lever on the overflow plate will tilt downward toward the tub, which moves the stopper inside the drain and allows water to drain. 

When you’re ready to take a bath, lift the lever to prevent water drainage. When you tilt the lever into the upward position, the stopper moves into place against the drain, preventing water from leaving the tub. 

How Do You Remove A Trip Lever Drain?

Every now and again, your bathtub’s drain might become clogged and in need of cleaning. While cleaning some drains is as simple as twisting the stopper out of the way, trip lever drain stoppers are more complicated. 

Here’s what you’ll need to remove a trip lever drain stopper to clean the drain:

  • Vinegar or cleaning agent of your choice
  • Screwdriver
  • Toothbrush
  • Hand auger
  • Petroleum jelly
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Towel

Remove The Assembly

Once you gather the necessary tools and materials, start by removing the screws on the overflow cover plate with a screwdriver. Set the screws aside in a safe place, so you don’t lose them down the drain. Next, remove the cover plate from the overflow hole and set it aside. 

With the cover plate out of the way, gently and firmly pull the assembly out of the overflow pipe. Set the assembly aside for cleaning. 

Clean The Assembly

While you have the assembly out of the drain, it doesn’t hurt to clean it, even if you weren’t planning on it. You can use dish soap or vinegar and an old toothbrush to scrub the gunk off the assembly. Once you finish cleaning, make sure you rinse the residue away with clean, warm water. 

Set the assembly on a towel to dry while you tackle the clog in the drain. After the assembly dries, smear a decent amount of petroleum jelly on the parts, and this will help ensure the parts move smoothly and efficiently. 

Unclog The Drain

While you wait for the assembly to dry, work on removing the clog in the drain (if applicable). If you’re unsure whether this step is necessary, run the water to check for slow drainage. As long as the tub drains quickly, you don’t need to do this step. 

However, if the water begins to pool in the tub and doesn’t drain as quickly as it should, now is an excellent time to work on removing the clog. Start by feeding the cable of the hand auger into the overflow hole and the drain. 

Once you feel resistance and the auger cannot go any further, slowly rotate the auger clockwise. This will cause the cable to grab onto any gunk clogging the drain. As you turn the auger, gradually withdraw it from the drain. 

Once you remove the auger, remove any hair or debris clinging to the cable. You might want rubber gloves for this part, as the gunk will be slimy and smelly. Throw the gunk away, then repeat the process until the auger feeds into the drain and doesn’t meet resistance. 

After you remove the debris from the drain, check for proper drainage. Run the water for about 30 seconds, watching for any pooling in the tub. If the water drains efficiently, you’re good to go. However, if it begins pooling, there’s probably more gunk in the drain, so you must repeat the process until you remove all the debris. 

Reassemble The Trip Lever Drain

Once your drain is free of clogs and the assembly is dried and slathered with petroleum jelly, it’s time to reassemble the drain. The process is simple – insert the assembly the same way it came out of the overflow hole. Once you maneuver the assembly into the overflow hole, replace the overflow cover plate and secure it with its screws.

Check for proper drainage once the drain is assembled. You may have to make minor adjustments to ensure the tub drains and stops appropriately. Remove the assembly again if the tub drains slowly or won’t hold water. 

Use an adjustable wrench to adjust the position of the threaded rod and nut near the top of the linkage. For a slowly draining tub, turn the threaded rod up into the nut. Turn the rod out further for a tub that slowly leaks or won’t hold water. 

Reinsert the assembly and secure the plate with the screws. Check for proper drainage. It might take a few tries to get the orientation of the threaded rod perfect, but once you get it right, you’re good to go!

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