Has your bathtub trip lever become stuck in the open or closed position? A stuck trip lever can be a frustrating annoyance that prevents you from using your tub properly. With a few troubleshooting steps and DIY repairs, you can often get your bathtub working again without calling a plumber.
This article will cover the common causes of a stuck bathtub trip lever, step-by-step instructions for fixing it yourself, tips for preventative maintenance, and answers to frequently asked questions. Follow along to get your bathtub drain working properly again!
What Causes A Bathtub Trip Lever To Get Stuck?
Before you can fix a stuck lever, it helps to understand what’s causing the issue in the first place. Here are some of the most common culprits:
Mineral Deposit Buildup
Over time, mineral deposits from your water supply can cause corrosion and seizing of small trip lever parts. Calcium, lime, and other minerals can create crusty buildup that prevents the lever from moving smoothly. This type of gradual sticking is one of the most prevalent reasons trip levers malfunction.
Exposure to moisture can cause metal pieces in the trip lever assembly to corrode. Rust, oxidation, and other corrosion can cause sticking and seizing issues. Older trip lever designs with more exposed metal components are especially prone to this problem.
Loose or Damaged Parts
The pivot points, springs, washers, and other internal components of a trip lever can also wear out or break over time. A loose screw or damaged o-ring could allow things to shift out of alignment and get stuck. Plastic pieces may crack or deform as well.
How Can You Prevent This From Happening Again?
Once you’ve got your trip lever working smoothly again, there are a few maintenance steps you can take to help prevent it from getting stuck again in the future:
- Regularly clean and lubricate parts – Take the trip lever apart and clean it every couple of months to remove mineral deposits before they build up. A toothbrush and vinegar work well for scrubbing. After cleaning, use a small amount of plumber’s grease or silicone lubricant on pivot points.
- Use vinegar or CLR to remove mineral deposits – For stubborn mineral scale, covering the stuck components with vinegar or a CLR (calcium-lime-rust remover) solution can help dissolve the deposits so they scrub away easier.
- Replace worn or damaged parts – If any pieces of the trip lever are cracked or deteriorating, go ahead and replace them. This prevents more extensive damage down the road.
Regular preventative maintenance makes sticking issues far less likely and saves you the hassle of a stuck trip lever down the road.
Step-By-Step Instructions To Unstick Your Bathtub Trip Lever
If your bathtub trip lever is already stuck, follow these steps to get it working properly again:
Supplies You’ll Need
- WD-40 or other lubricant spray
- Old toothbrush or other small scrub brush
- Vinegar or CLR (calcium, lime, and rust remover)
Before you start, make sure to turn off the water supply valves for your bathtub to prevent any leaks while you work. It’s also a good idea to place a towel in the empty tub to protect the surface.
Easy Fixes To Try First
Start with these simple options to loosen up the trip lever:
- Spray lubricant – Generously spray lubricant like WD-40 on the stuck trip lever. Let it sit for a few minutes, then try working the lever back and forth. The lubricant can help release a mildly stuck lever.
- Scrub with toothbrush – Use an old toothbrush or other small scrub brush to manually scrub vinegar, CLR, or another mineral-dissolving solution onto the stuck components. Target crevices and hidden areas. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes before rinsing.
Taking Apart the Trip Lever Assembly
If simple lubricating and scrubbing don’t get your lever unstuck, you’ll need to take things apart for a deeper cleaning. Follow these steps:
- Remove the trip lever handle screw and detach the handle. Set it aside.
- Locate the small screw(s) holding the main trip lever assembly onto the bathtub. Remove the screw(s).
- Gently detach the entire trip lever mechanism from the tub. Be careful not to bend or damage the connecting rod.
- Thoroughly scrub all components with a small brush and mineral-removing solution. Target stuck pivot points and hidden crevices.
- Rinse components and allow them to dry completely.
- Lightly lubricate pivot points with plumber’s grease or silicone spray.
- Reattach the trip lever assembly to the tub with the screw(s).
- Reattach the handle and test the lever’s function.
Taking apart, cleaning, and re-lubricating the components should allow your trip lever to move freely again.
When To Call A Plumber
While DIY trip lever repair is possible in many cases, there are some instances where you may need to call in a professional:
- If you can’t detach the trip lever assembly from the tub due to severely stuck screws or corrosion.
- If the connecting rod is damaged or needs replacement.
- If small parts are damaged or missing and need replacement. A plumber will have replacement trip lever parts on hand.
- For complex repairs or a full trip lever replacement. A pro can source the needed parts and has the expertise to smoothly replace the entire assembly.
So before you get in too much trouble, don’t be afraid to call a plumber for trip lever issues requiring specialized tools, parts, or skills.
Prevent It From Happening Again
To help keep your freshly-repaired trip lever working properly in the long run, implement these preventative maintenance steps:
- Clean and lubricate regularly – Every 1-2 months, remove the trip lever and clean it with a scrub brush and vinegar. Rinse, dry, and apply silicone lubricant.
- Replace worn parts proactively – If any pieces, like washers or springs, appear corroded or cracked, replace them before they can cause bigger issues.
- Consider a new trip lever – For older/damaged trip levers, full replacement with a new, drip-free assembly can prevent future sticking and leakage issues.
With proper maintenance and component replacement when needed, you can avoid that stuck trip lever panic in the future.
FAQs About A Stuck Bathtub Trip Lever
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about dealing with a bathtub trip lever that is stuck or malfunctioning:
What if the trip lever is stuck in the open/closed position?
- Try spraying lubricant on the stuck components and firmly yet carefully working the lever back and forth to the proper position.
- For a stick that won’t budge, you’ll likely need to take apart the components for cleaning and lubrication.
- If the trip lever is stuck open, you may need to stop or plug the drain temporarily to prevent the tub from draining.
Why does my new trip lever keep getting stuck?
- Even new trip levers can stick to mineral deposits if you live in an area with hard water. Try cleaning and lubricating it regularly.
- There could also be a defective part or improper installation that prevents smooth operation. A plumber may need to diagnose the issue.
Is it safe to use CLR or vinegar to clean my trip lever?
- CLR and vinegar are both safe, effective options for dissolving mineral deposits on trip lever components. Rinse thoroughly after letting them sit.
- Don’t use harsh chemical cleaners, as they could damage materials like rubber gaskets and plastic pieces over time with repeated use.
My trip lever is leaking. What should I do?
- First try tightening any loose screws or connections. Worn washers or gaskets may need replacement.
- For a full replacement trip lever, ask a plumber for an updated leak-proof design with durable, water-tight gaskets.
Why does my trip lever feel loose?
- Loose pivot screws or worn-out washers can cause a wiggly feeling trip lever. Tighten screws first, then replace any washers or gaskets that appear cracked or damaged.
Keeping your trip lever in smooth working order takes vigilance, but a little prevention goes a long way. Arm yourself with the information in this article to troubleshoot bathtub trip lever issues quickly and effectively.
How do I get the trip lever off if the screw is stripped?
You can use pliers to help unscrew a stripped trip lever screw. If that doesn’t work, you may need to drill the screw out carefully or cut the trip lever assembly off with a hacksaw blade.
What if my trip lever is missing a part?
Identify the specific missing piece, such as a washer or retaining clip, then visit a hardware store to find a replacement part that matches your assembly.
Why does my trip lever return slowly after opening/closing the drain?
Corrosion and mineral deposits can cause sticking and slow operation. Take apart the assembly to clean and lubricate the components so they move smoothly.
How do I adjust a loose trip lever?
You can tighten a loose trip lever screw or replace stripped screws. Adjusting the pivot rod length can also cause excessive play or looseness.
My trip lever moves but doesn’t open/close the drain. Help?
The connecting rod may be detached from the drain mechanism below. Check that the rod is properly connected to the popup assembly under the tub before operating the trip lever.
William J. Bullock is a licensed plumber with over 15 years of experience installing and repairing bathtubs. He runs his own plumbing company in Greenville and serves residential and commercial clients. William is dedicated to providing honest, transparent advice to help homeowners make informed decisions about their bathroom renovations.
He has established expertise in selecting bathtubs, planning custom installations, diagnosing issues, and completing repairs. William aims to share practical tips and reliable recommendations based on extensive hands-on work. When he isn’t on a job site, William enjoys spending time with his family and volunteering at local community events. He takes pride in delivering quality service and enjoys helping people upgrade their homes.