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How to fix a broken sink stopper

Put your head under your bathroom sink and this is what you’ll see. That horizontal chrome rod lifts the sink stopper. (Tim Carter)

Q: Tim, is it true you said in a past column you’re a master plumber? If it is, I need your help. My bathroom sink stopper is not working right. When I pull up the knob in the center of the faucet, not much happens. It used to work great. The sink also drains slowly. Can you tell me how to fix all of these issues? Do you feel it’s a DIY project? Be honest, as my skills are limited. — Roxanne P., Tempe, Ariz.

A: Roxanne has a good memory. I’ve been a master plumber since age 28 or 29, as well as being a builder, remodeler and carpenter. My interest in plumbing, I believe, was rooted in the three-dimensional nature of creating a drainage and vent system in a home. If you ask me, it’s like solving a real puzzle.

If you have a cranky bathroom sink like Roxanne’s, I’ve got good news for you. You can get the sink stopper working correctly and have the drain cleaned out with just a small amount of work. It’s absolutely a DIY project even if you’re a rookie. Often, it takes more time to get things out of the way and put them back than it does to make the adjustment.

My favorite go-to tool for this simple job is an adjustable set of pliers. I have one that has jaws shaped to grab hex nuts as well as larger rounded nuts. If you don’t have this exact set of pliers, you’ll just need an adjustable wrench as well as the standard pliers.

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When you lie on your back and slide into the vanity cabinet, you’ll see a strange set of rods and a perforated metal bar that make up the sink stopper mechanism. A chrome rod connects to the actual drainpipe that exits the base of the sink. The end of the rod connects to the sink stopper.

When you pull the control knob on the faucet up, the end of the chrome rod below drops down, taking the stopper with it.  Push the control knob down and the stopper lifts up. If you have a helper do this action while you look at the moving parts, you may see the control knob rod is slipping just a bit. Tighten the nut on the flat metal bar to solve this problem. The flat metal bar may have disconnected from the chrome rod that connects to the sink drain. Reconnect it.

The horizontal chrome rod that lifts the stopper connects to the drainpipe with a round nut. Turn that counterclockwise to pull this rod out of the drainpipe. Once you do this, you can lift the stopper out of the sink. A large glob of hair and goo may come with it. Clean all of this out and your sink should drain like new. Do everything I said backward to put everything back together so you have no leaks.

I’ve got great photos and how-to videos for you at my website showing how you and I would fix your sink stopper if I came by to help.

Tim Carter can call you on the phone free to solve your problem. Go to his website and fill out the form on this page: