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How to Replace Leaky Drain: A Ladies' Craft Project

Updated on March 13, 2016
Sink strainer parts
Sink strainer parts | Source
Tailpiece
Tailpiece | Source
Finished installation
Finished installation | Source
Attaching drain line to tailpiece
Attaching drain line to tailpiece | Source

A Ladies' Craft Project

As a single mom, I was determined to give my kids the security and stability of our very own home. Unfortunately, all I could afford was a fixer-upper afflicted with leaky pipes and many other problems. But at least they were CPVC pipes. CPVC is what makes plumbing a ladies’ craft project!

It also helped that I soon became fast friends with a neighbor woman who was a plumber’s daughter, and who taught me how to do plumbing.

CPVC pipes are basically tinker toys. They are plastic “sticks” (you call a length of CPVC pipe a “stick” of CPVC) that are glued together using fittings: straight fittings (straights), Ts, and elbows (90s—meaning they form a 90-degree angle). My friend the plumber’s daughter taught me to buy these “fittin’s” by the handful for any serious project. Sticks of CPVC are easily cut to any desired length with a circular saw or just about any other kind of power saw or hand saw. A miter saw is especially nice for this, if you have one. Pipes and fittings are glued together with CPVC “cement,” after first applying CPVC cleaner and primer.

But you don’t need to know anything about the CPVC water lines to replace a drain. I just mention this so that you can get a handle on how easy plumbing really is!

But first, how do you know that it’s the drain that’s leaking?

Sometimes we notice moisture under the kitchen sink but don’t know where it’s coming from. Sometimes a leak from a water line may spray water everywhere, so you’re not sure where it’s coming from.

Here’s a trick for finding the exact site of a plumbing leak: Dry off all suspect water and drain lines under you sink with paper towels. Once all lines are dry, take a piece of toilet paper and place it over any areas where you suspect a leak. Lines that are leaking will visibly wet the toilet paper.

If you are uncertain whether it is you drain line (most likely white plastic PVC) that is leaking, or the drain itself, you can often figure this out by running water into the sink and observing where droplets of water are coming from. If the problem is the drain, you will most likely see droplets of water forming and dropping from the drain’s rubber gasket. This gasket fits snugly against the underside of the sink, and it is held in place by a large locknut with small ridges around the circumference. You can see this locknut with ridges in the pictures. The locknut is separated from the underside of the sink basin by only the rubber gasket. (There is probably a second thin fiber gasket below the rubber gasket, but you will probably not be able to see it.)

You will be able to use the toilet paper test to tell whether the leak originates lower down, on the drain pipe connection, or higher up, from the rubber gasket.

The problem is almost always with the rubber gasket.

PURCHASE MATERIALS (AND TOOLS, IF YOU DON’T HAVE THEM)

If water is leaking from anywhere above the white PVC drain line, you need to replace the metal drain. At hardware stores and home improvement centers, this item is actually called a “strainer.” (See top picture.)

At this point, I would like to caution the thriftier ladies not to get the idea you can fix this just by replacing the gasket. If your drain is leaking, it’s probably in bad shape all the way around. If you try to get by with just replacing the gasket, most likely the drain will still leak.

Here are the materials you’ll need to buy:

  1. A sink strainer
  2. A white plastic tailpiece that fits the strainer. It should be the same length as the old one. Measure or remove the old one and take it to the store with you—although, if you can easily remove the old one, you can re-use it. (Ask for help finding the tailpiece in the plumbing aisle.)
  3. A small container of plumber’s putty
  4. A small container of pipe joint compound (Ask for the “liquid”—which is more of a paste—rather than the “string” type)

Here are the tools you will need:

  1. A pipe wrench (Get one that is 12” long.)
  2. A flathead screwdriver
  3. A hammer
  4. WD-40 (optional)

Purchase a strainer assembly, which will include the strainer (the part that goes into the sink from the top side), a basket to go in the strainer to keep water in the sink when you wash dishes, a rubber gasket, a thin fiber gasket, a large locknut (the one with ridges), and a smaller washer. (See top picture.)

You may also want to purchase a plastic tailpiece to extend below the strainer assembly, to which you will attach the white drain line. (See second picture.)

Why pick up a tailpiece? Because when you remove your old drain, you could have quite a bit of trouble removing the bottom washer, so that you can detach the old tailpiece and re-use it. Detaching the old tailpiece will almost certainly require WD-40, more tools, and a lot of determination. The tailpiece is cheap and might save your sanity.

Why use joint compound? When doing plumbing, you almost always use joint compound on all threaded fittings. If you don’t, they will leak. The only exceptions to this rule are compression fittings, which we will come to when it’s time to attach the drain line to the tailpiece.

Some kinds of joint compound are intended for use on metal fittings only, and not on CPVC fittings. The best kind of joint compound is the kind that says on the label that you can use it for metal and plastic pipe connections, including ABS, PVC, CPVC, polypropylene, and nylon. That way you can use your joint compound for all future plumbing projects. Ask for help in the plumbing aisle if you are confused about joint compound.

REMOVE THE OLD STRAINER

You might as well detach the white plastic PVC drain line to start with. Loosen the white plastic nut that attaches the white PVC drain line to the white PVC tailpipe. It will sort of fall out of the way. Don’t worry about it.

As I already mentioned, the locknut, which is separated from the underside of the sink only by the gaskets, has little ridges in it, each a couple of inches apart. The purpose of these ridges is two allow you to unscrew this locknut from the bottom of the strainer.

Recalling the plumber’s mantra, “Righty-tighty, lefty-loosey, water flows downhill, and payday’s Friday,” unscrew this nut from the bottom of the strainer by turning it counter-clockwise, just as if you were opening a jar lid—except that this jar is upside-down.

You will notice that the locknut will resist your efforts to unscrew it. To unscrew this nut, you will need to position a flathead screwdriver against one of the ridges and tap it with a hammer.

Most likely, what will happen when you do this is that the entire strainer turns, and the locknut does not.

To keep the entire strainer assembly from turning, position your pipe wrench tightly around the bottom metal washer. You can see that three hands would be helpful at this point, since it will take two hands to tap the hammer against the screwdriver that you have positioned against one of the ridges of the locknut. Now is a good time to have one of the kids hold the pipe wrench in place.

If you have no one around to help you, just position the pipe wrench tightly on the bottom washer and brace it with your head.

Now place the screwdriver against a ridge of the locknut and tap the end of it with the hammer to turn it. Make sure you are turning it the right direction. It’s easy to get confused when you are bracing a pipe wrench with your head.

After a few taps, you will almost certainly notice the locknut turning, and once you get it loosened, you can unscrew it the rest of the way by hand.

If you find that the locknut won’t turn, spray all around it with WD-40, wait ten or fifteen minutes and try again. Avoid spraying WD-40 in your face.

Once the bottom part of the strainer assembly has been removed, put it in the trash. Now remove the top part of the strainer that’s sitting in the sink and pitch that too. Clean the sink carefully, to get rid of all the old plumber’s putty and other grime. Dry it carefully after cleaning. (It’s important for all connections to be clean and dry, if you don’t want them to leak later.)

Now you are ready to install the shiny, brand new strainer.

HOW TO INSTALL THE NEW STRAINER ASSEMBLY

You will see that your strainer comes with directions, but, as with a lot of other directions, some background knowledge is taken for granted.

Before placing the strainer in the sink from above, you need to apply plumber’s putty. Here’s how: Scoop up some plumber’s putty with your fingers and roll it between your hands to make a rope. This rope should be about ¼” thick, and long enough to circle around the hole where the strainer will positioned about ½” from the opening. If you have made your rope of plumber’s putty a little too long, pinch it off.

Now put the strainer into the hole and press it down a little. The plumber’s putty will squeeze out around the edges, but don’t worry about that right now.

Now you are ready to attach the parts that go under the sink.

You can see that you are about to thread the large locknut onto the threads of the strainer. Apply pipe joint compound to the threads on the strainer (the male threads). You can use the brush applicator, but you’ll wind up smoothing it on with your fingers. Use enough that the threads are nice and white, but you can still see the ridges of the threads. Be sure it’s applied evenly all the way around. (It actually doesn’t matter all that much how much you use. Using too much will just be a little messy.)

Slip the large rubber and fiber gaskets up to the bottom of the sink and thread the large locknut up against these gaskets. Tighten. You will notice that you may have to continue tightening, as the plumber’s putty compresses. One you’ve hand tightened it as much as you can, use the screwdriver and hammer to give it a few taps, just for good measure and to get it a wee bit tighter. As long as you hand-tightened as much as you could, a few extra taps should be sufficient.

Now you are ready to attach the tailpiece. Apply pipe joint compound to the male threads that you are about to screw the bottom nut onto.

Drop the tailpiece through the bottom washer (the way it was on there to start with, on the old drain). Screw the bottom washer, with the tailpiece hanging out of the bottom of it, onto the threads at the bottom of the strainer assembly. Get this nice and tight. Use your pipe wrench to tighten. When you are done with this step, your drain should look like the third picture.

HOW TO ATTACH THE DRAIN LINE TO THE TAILPIECE

Now you are done, except for re-attaching the white plastic (PVC) drain line. While the drain line top is a (male) threaded piece, it is NOT necessary to use joint compound on this connection. This is one of the exceptions to the old joint-compound rule. PVC drain lines with female threaded nuts and plastic washers are considered “compression fittings”—the only kind of threaded fittings that don’t need joint compound.

The white plastic nut on your drain line has a little clear plastic washer that tucks up under it as your screw the nut onto the threaded end of the drain line. To attach the drain line to the tailpiece, first slide the white plastic washer upwards onto the tailpiece. Next slide the clear plastic washer up onto the tailpiece so it is about where you want the connection to be. Now slide the top (threaded) end of the drain line up against the white nut and clear washer. (See picture showing how to attach drain line to tailpiece.)

Holding the drain line firmly upward, turn the white nut clockwise to tighten, clockwise, like you were tightening a jar lid—except that this jar is right-side-up.

Hand tight is good enough, as long as you do this firmly.

CLEAN UP AND CHECK FOR LEAKS

You may want to wipe away the excess plumber’s putty that squeezed out from under the rim of the strainer.

Run water into the sink and check under the sink to make sure everything is nice and dry. I’m sure you’ll find that everything is all “righty-tighty!”

This was probably one of the easiest ladies’ craft projects you ever did! Once you realize how easy plumbing is, you may want to do it a lot. Perhaps you are longing for one of those fancy newfangled showerheads, for example.

Plumbing is a lot easier than counted cross stitch, and calling a plumber to do this stuff is like calling a plumber to come over and jiggle the handle.

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