Please help us fix a stuck Kohler tub stopper and shower diverter

Discussion in 'Shower & Bathtub Forum & Blog' started by Emmie, Mar 30, 2012.

  1. Emmie

    Emmie New Member

    Massachusetts, USA
    Hello all! This is my first post here. I found these forums a few days ago while researching this project, and I am very impressed with all the knowledge here. I'm hoping you can help my husband and I do this DIY, or at least tell us when we might be in over our heads!

    My husband and I live in a small 2 story house built in 1923. We had our main (at that time only) bathroom on the 2nd floor remodeled in 2004. The tub, sink, toilet, and all faucets, etc. installed are all Kohler. The pipes for the sink and tub/shower had to be moved, and were all replaced with new PVC piping. In 2007 we remodeled our kitchen and added a 1/2 bath on the 1st floor. Again the moved/new pipes were all PVC; they also replaced our main sewer stack with PVC pipe instead of the old cast iron.

    Over time the main bath tub stopper (a trip lever type, I believe it is a Swiftflo?) has frozen in the down (draining) position. Also, the shower/bath diverter has frozen in the shower position. I'm ashamed to admit I don't recall when either issue started; since we only ever use the shower, it just became "one of those things" we had to look at "someday." We have had a problem with the tub drain on and off for over 6 months. Sometimes it drains like a dream, while other times it seems to stop up and fill over the top of our feet. Drano and short forays with one of those plastic pipe cleaner things have helped, but not much. (I'm sorry I forget what they are called; they look like a long, skinny fish backbone... they have brought up some hair and gunk, but the results never last.) The sink in that bathroom will also drain slow on occasion. We are on city water and sewer, and we know the water is hard. We also get lots of sediment when the town does any sort of line flushes or maintenance. (We have, on occasion, had to clean tiny pebbles from the toilet tank after the town has "cleaned the lines", just as an example!)

    This past week, our town told us they would be shutting off our water for a day due to local construction. Once it was back on, I noticed a lot of sputtering faucets and brownish water coming thru the pipes and into our toilets. I called the water department, and they suggested we turn on the tub faucet and run the water for 20 minutes to clear the lines. Since the trip lever for the tub was frozen, we found ourselves suddenly in "someday" land. :rolleyes:

    We managed to get the tub diverter moving by using a pair of pliers and some white vinegar to dissolve any mineral deposits that might have been making it stick. So the tub faucet works, yay! But we want to keep it that way! Also, we want to get the trip lever working so we can use the tub stopper again. I have found a lot of tutorials about how to do that online, but I have a few questions.

    1: Since we have the diverter working for now, what, if anything, should we do to help it stay that way? I saw somewhere we should take off the coverings and scrub the diverter mechanism down with CLR and a toothbrush, then rinse, dry and coat it with WD-40. Is that a good idea?
    2: Please tell me if we should clean the tub stopper parts or replace them, or if there is a way to decide on that? (For example: if you find gunk, clean it off but if you find rust then replace the parts.)
    3: Assuming we get the tub stopper assembly out enough to clean/replace it, would it be worthwhile to put some CLR/white vinegar/Bio-Clean down that section of pipe to clear out any residue? (We are considering using Bio-Clean to help clean out old organic goop that might be in the older pipes in the house. I will be asking about that in another thread somewhere. )

    I've been out of work for almost 3 years now, so money is a concern for us. If we can at least try this project on our own, and not do any damage, it would be great! Any advice on how to do this ourselves, or when to stop and call in a professional, would be appreciated. I know I have given a lot of detail above, but please let me know if you need something specific or if a picture would help and I will do my best to get you that info.

    Thanks very much in advance,
  2. jimbo

    jimbo Plumber

    San Diego
    You are tackling a lot of problems when you get into fixtures that are 75+ years old.\

    Forget CLR in the pipes. That is not where mineral deposits occur. In cast iron, you have rust, but CLR will not touch that. The enzyme products are worthwile as a long term maintenance procedure. If your pipes are already heavily "gunked" you might need to be augured or jet-cleaned first.\
    WD 40 should not be used in plumbing is NOT a lubricant, and it IS a solvent which can damage rubber seals. If you get something apart, moving parts with rubber pieces can be lubricated with silicone grease, and any moving parts which are metal on metal, you can use regular plumbers grease.
  3. Emmie

    Emmie New Member

    Massachusetts, USA
    Thanks, Jimbo!

    That is an excellent point about the CLR in the pipes. I think an enzyme product will work for us as a maintenence product. The pipes and fixtures in the bathroom are only 7 years old (the reno we did took everything down to the studs and replaced all the pipes with PVC as well as all the porcelain fixtures, faucets, handles, shower control, etc.) but there is still some cast iron in the basement (the end of the sewer chase where it leaves the house.) I think it would be a good idea to have someone inspect that and see if it needs to be augered or jet-cleaned.

    Thank you very much for correcting my thought to use WD-40! That would have been a bad mistake to make. :eek: I'm sure my husband can pick up some silicone grease and/or plumber's grease at our local hardware store.

    Take care,
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