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Bathroom Sink Stopper and Pop-Up Problems

Plumber under sinkThe lowly pop-up is ingenious but also devious.  Since it's workings are "out-of-sight", it's usually out of mind, too... except when the danged thing doesn't work correctly!

Here are some typical problems and their solutions.  Aside from breakage, most pop-up problems can be fixed with a little love, a little wrench and a little lubrication!

If you desire, you can click HERE to open a graphic of a typical pop-up assembly in a separate browser window, with all the parts labeled for identification.  The same graphic is located at the bottom of this page.

The stopper on my bathroom faucet doesn't stay closed.  When I pull the handle up, it just falls back down.  How can I fix it?

Popup assembly pivot nut detailThe culprit is the pivot nut that holds the horizontal (pivot) arm onto the popup assembly.  For the stopper to stay down, or hold any position for that matter, there must be pressure against the ball on the horizontal rod.  Tightening the pivot nut increases the pressure, allowing the stopper to maintain either the open or closed position.  Be sure not to overtighten it or it won't work at all... or you might even break it!

Whenever I perform maintenance on a popup assembly, I remove the nut and slather a little plumber's grease (Vaseline will do in a pinch) on the ball, the nut, the seat and the nut's threads.  This provides for silky-smooth movement of the popup mechanism and easier disassembly later if necessary.

Be careful not to lose any parts (washers or seats) when loosening the nut, or you might have trouble finding replacements... short of replacing the entire popup assembly!

NOTE:  An overly loose pivot nut may also be the source of mysterious leaks.  Though it might not leak under normal water flow, it could leak like a sieve when a sink-full of water is released!

I have purchased a new faucet for my bathroom sink. The installation seems pretty straightforward, but I noticed that it came with a replacement for the drain and stopper. The old drain and stopper still look okay. Do I absolutely have to replace it?

No, you probably don't need to replace the existing popup assembly if it looks good and you can adapt it to function with the new lift rod (the rod that you pull upwards to open or close the stopper).

Many people are surprised when they open the box and find the replacement popup assembly. (Sometimes they break into a cold sweat, too!) The only time you really have to replace it is when the new popup lift rod won't mesh with the old one.

On the brighter side, most popup assemblies use a similar linkage, though, even one's twenty years old. I have run into minor compatibility issues between the diameter of the horizontal rod (the rod that pivots to lift the stopper) and the holes in the popup strap (the connector between the lift rod and the horizontal rod). However, it's easy enough to drill out the correct hole a tad to make it work.

I want to clean out my sink drain, but the stopper is locked in place.  How can I remove it?

Most stoppers can be used in either the locked position (as yours is) or in the loose or floating position.  A typical stopper has a hole near the bottom, into which the horizontal arm is engaged.  The advantage is that the stopper is pulled tightly into the drain when closed.  The disadvantage is that cleaning the stopper and the drain is a little more difficult.

To remove the stopper, you must first go under the sink and completely loosen the pivot nut (see previous question).  Pull out the horizontal pivot arm and the stopper will be free.

CAREFUL! Do not run water through the drain without replacing the horizontal arm and nut or covering the hole with a sponge.  If you do, water will pour out of the open hole!

If you like to have a squeaky-clean stopper, make your job easier and don't engage it into the horizontal arm.  Instead, just drop it into the drain atop the arm.  Most stoppers will work just fine this way, though a few require engagement... you won't know till you try!!

Blow up of typical sink popup assembly

Graphic courtesy DELTA FAUCETS

Jerry Alonzy, the founder of Naturalhandyman.com

Written by Jerry Alonzy

Jerry Alonzy, a.k.a. the Natural Handyman, has been an active handyman for over 30 years with experience in most areas of home repair and renovation.

As a do-it-yourself author and web developer since 1995, he has been featured in USA Today, the Today Show and on radio shows, magazines, newspapers and websites. His material appears widely on the web, but primarily on his website... The Natural Handyman. You can also find him on Google+.