DEAR MIKE: In my bathtub is a lever that controls when the water goes down the drain. Unfortunately, the lever isn't doing its job anymore, and the water just runs down the drain. I figure there's a mechanism inside the tub to stop the water from draining. What can I do to make it work again? -- Matthew K.
DEAR MATTHEW: Sorry to hear that your rubber ducky has no place to call home.
What you've described is a plunger-type drain stopper and, over time, the trip lever assembly became corroded.
The drain stopper mechanism is attached to the drain lever by a linkage. When you push the lever down, it raises the plunger, which looks like a small hollow pipe, and allows the water to pass. When you lift up the lever, the path of the water is blocked and the tub fills up.
This problem can be fixed in one of two ways: either remove the plunger assembly to clean or replace it, or leave it in place and buy a universal tub-drain stopper.
If you want to replace or clean the assembly, remove the overflow cover plate that the lever sits on. Next, pull the linkage up and out of the hole. Because the lever didn't move much to start with, the linkage probably won't come out easily. You may have to bully it out with a couple of rapid up and down movements.
When you get it out, inspect it for damage and corrosion. If it looks beyond repair, you can buy a new one from a home center for less than $20.
If the assembly is in good shape but it's corroded, clean it with a small wire brush and some vinegar, or try a product called CLR. Scrub the assembly to get all the gunk off of it.
When the assembly is nice and clean, stick it back down the hole and test the depth by running the water and flipping the lever. If the water still drains through, pull the assembly back out and adjust the height until it stops the flow of water.
If all of this sounds like too much work, just buy a flip-it. It's a universal tub-drain stopper that is sold in the plumbing department of home centers and costs about $8. This gizmo slips into the drain hole and controls the flow of water with a small arm on top of it. When it is installed, it will look like a small hubcap sitting on the drain.
Included in the package will be an assortment of O-rings. The O-rings slip onto the outside of the flip-it and compress against the inside of the drain as you push in the flip-it. Once the flip-it is in place, it's simply a matter of moving the arm from one side to the other to control the flow of water.