08 March 2012

DIY: bathroom sink drain replacement

Yesterday I told you how I organized the bathroom cabinets, and while you’ll certainly agree that they needed it, I had an extra reason for wanting to conquer that challenge. See, our main sink in the master bath – the one we use for brushing teeth and washing hands – has been leaking into the cabinet. And I needed to get all the junk out of the cabinet so we could fix it.

We’ve actually known about the leak for an embarrassingly long while, but didn’t do anything about it aside from figuring out the part responsible for the leak – and I’m giving you the technical term for it:

Okay, maybe I don’t actually know the technical term for it. Basically, it connects the sink stopper to the pull behind the sink faucet – you know, the other thingy you pull up to stopper the sink, push down to let the sink drain. I’d never really paid much attention to how that stuff all connects... until ours refused to stay connected.

It’s a little hard to describe the problem exactly unless you know how you’re able to stopper your sink, though. So, do you see how there’s a little white plastic cap that screws on to the drain? Just inside that cap, there’s a pivoting ball, with a horizontal rod through it. The rod connects the drain pull, which runs under the sink (that long vertical piece), to the little hook on the drain stopper, down inside the drain. That mechanism is what allows you to stopper and un-stopper your sink using the faucet pull.

However, somehow, the little threads on our little cap were not agreeing with the threads on the drain. So if you happened to touch either the stopper OR the drain pull (while, say, cleaning the sink), or accidentally nudge them, or breathe on them, or maybe even look at them funny, the cap would pop off the drain and water would flow into the cabinet. And for a long time our solution was DON’T TOUCH THEM.

Not the best plan, actually, as I found when cleaning out the cabinet and realizing it was musty and even a bit damp in the cabinet. I know, I know, PASS ME THE GENIUS HOMEOWNER AWARD.

So, Mr. P and I headed to a big-box home improvement store, wandered around the aisles looking for something remotely similar to what was already under our sink, and ultimately bought a little kit like this (although, ours was a cheaper off-brand that cost nearly half as much):

Basically it’s identical to what was under the sink already. Which, I should say, is our method for plumbing repairs, or really any general repair around our home:

1) Figure out what’s broken
2) Go to the store and find something exactly like it
3) Take it all apart
4) Put it back together

And now you know the secret to DIY. Boom.

So! Here’s how we repaired our leaky drain:

Have you ever removed your drain trap? No? Well then, you may be unaware that you should place a bucket or bin underneath to catch anything inside the drain trap, which by the way, is THE MOST FOUL SMELLING CRUD IN EXISTENCE:

The smell is like rotten eggs mixed with original sin. Just looking at the photo makes me gag.

After getting that tub outside (and holding my breath to take a photo), we moved on:

This part was tricky because of the force required to unscrew the metal drain part. Basically, the upper part of the drain, the part you actually see in the sink basin, has to be separated from the pipe underneath, and neither one is particularly easy to grip. It took all of Mr. P’s strength under the sink, plus me gripping the upper part with pliers, plus a spare part of the old drain making a sort of wedge, to be able to separate the pieces and completely remove the old drain. But we got it! Onward!

Okay, yes, those instructions are a cop-out. But I couldn’t exactly take photos of the process because, well, Mr. P was working under there. My job was to linger nearby, follow any instructions he gave me, and take photos while insisting “No really you’re not in the photo well kinda but just your arm mostly!”

Anyway, it goes back to our general plan of attack: buy something that looks just like it, take it apart, and then do everything in reverse with the new pieces. You know... just make it look like it did before. That’s not always easier said than done. The only crucial difference is remembering to tape the threads to avoid leaks.

Then comes the part that makes it handy to have two people: one person under the sink and one person holding the stopper. The ball-rod thingy I mentioned earlier (that goes through the previously-leaky cap, remember?) has to “catch” a little hook at the bottom of the stopper, inside the drain. Then the rod has to be attached to the drain pull at the correct level – the person under the sink does the connecting, the person holding the stopper determines what the correct height is.

Finally, once it all appears to be in working order: caulk! A website I read suggested using plumber’s putty, but our old drain didn’t seem to have any underneath it once we took it out. So, I just relied on caulk. Our old drain didn’t seem to have that either, but I didn’t want any new leaks while fixing an old one.

So there you have it!

Time spent:
A few hours with both sets of hands, including the trip to the store to buy the new part, taking apart and installing the new drain, and cleaning up the Drain Trap Crud from Hades that somehow managed to get everywhere oh my gah.

Drain kit: $18 (chrome finish, fortunately, was cheapest)
PTFE tape, various wrenches, caulk: already owned
Total cost: $18

Plumbing is not particularly fun, what with the awkward positions and flashlights and foul-smelling drain crud and obsessing over potential leaks. But Mr. P and I got the job done, for way, way less than it would have cost having a plumber do it! So if you have a plumbing problem caused by something you can (relatively) easily take apart, chances are you can put it back together. Give it a go!