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How to Fix a Tub That Won’t Hold Water

In this video, This Old House master plumber Richard Trethewey shows how bathtub drains work, and how to fix them when they don’t.

Bathtub drain assemblies are mysterious things. Somehow, a lever placed well above the bottom of the tub controls whether the water stays in the tub when it’s wanted, and then allows it to drain when bath time is over.

When a tub won’t hold water, the two potential causes are easily repaired.

Steps for fixing a tub that won’t hold water:

  1. Bathtub drains consist of a visible trip lever, a plunger that seats in the drain to stop water, and two pieces of threaded rod which connect the lever and plunger. The assemblies are adjustable to fit a wide range of tubs.
  2. The first step is to unscrew the plate that holds the trip lever. Have a drop cloth in the tub to prevent scratching it or losing the screws down the drain.
  3. Pull out the stopper assembly. Check that the two eyes where the threaded rod articulates are properly aligned. If they aren’t, that alone might be the problem.
  4. To lower the stopper, thread the bottom lock nut down. Next, spin the adaptor that the plunger hangs from down until it reaches the bottom lock nut, and then tighten the upper locknut to the adaptor.
  5. Place the plunger, threaded rod, and trip lever back into the hole in the tub and screw the plate back into place.
  6. Close the stopper, run some water into the tub, and see if it stays. If the water drains out, repeat the process above and lower the plunger a little bit more until you get the bathwater to stay in.


As Richard demonstrated, tub drain mechanisms are simple and easily adjusted. The only tool a homeowner needs to make this repair is a screwdriver.