The Joys of Owning a Home: Whirlpool Tub Edition

For years I’ve heard that anything can be found on the internet but several times I’ve run across a situation like this one where I absolutely cannot find the information I’m looking for, no matter how I alter my search phrase. I’m old enough to remember when the internet was a new work in progress and every DIY how-to has had to have its internet debut at some point in time. It turns out that certain instructional information in the care and maintenance of our Sterling by Kohler whirlpool tub has yet to come that point. This information had escaped the attention of the writers who wrote the owner’s guide as well.

This informational omittence led me on a wild goose chase and turned what should have been a day’s household task into one that stretched out over several weeks as I waited more than once for shipped tools that only turned out to be useless. Once I eventually figured out on my own how to disassemble and clean the jet trim of our whirlpool tub, I decided that for what it’s worth I should publish the steps I took to accomplish this here in the off chance that someone else in the world is looking for that information too.

Note: I apologize now for the low quality pictures that accompany some of the instructional steps. I tried to run them through Photoshop but I learned that I’m not adept enough to remove such prominent shadows as these. My lesson learned is that it’s better to use quality lighting at the time the photo is acutally taken.

When we finished our home’s lower level in 2013, I opted for a deep-soak whirlpool tub. In retrospect, given the amount of cleaning and maintenance involved and how few opportunities I’ve actually taken to use it, I wish I had gone instead with a plain deep-soak tub, without the whirlpool feature. My kids, who use it for epic bubble baths, would argue against that outlook though.

The owner’s guide is clear on the use instructions as well as how to clean the tub and flush the whirlpool system, which I have done regularly over the last eight years. However, I had begun to notice mildew against the tub, behind the jet trim that was resistant to spray cleaners and really needed to be cleaned with some elbow grease. In short, I needed to remove the trim and clean behind it but the owner’s guide does not include any information on how to do that. I continued to do what I could, cleaning behind the trim to whatever degree the bristles of an old toothbrush could reach, until I came to a point where it bothered me too much to let it go. The owner’s guide of our Sterling by Kohler whirlpool tub 76121820 does have a small diagram of the jet trim – seen in the image below – that includes the image of a “jet trim tool,” part number 1015161, that was not in the box when we opened and installed our tub eight years ago.

I initially thought that I would be able to search for this tool by part number and purchase it from Kohler to easily solve my problem. However, when I tried to do just that, I not only realized that the tool had been discontinued but that our tub had been as well.

There was a replacement tool, part number 1265445, listed but when I followed those breadcrumbs, I was left more confused because that replacement tool did not resemble the original tool in any way. There was no information linked or listed on how to use this different tool but I threw one in the cart and ordered it up anyway.

But when it was delivered in just a bag with no instructional information, I was no less confused. I could tell that the original tool was meant to be slipped into and through the directional eyeball to hook the back side of it, so that when pulled outward, both the directional eyeball and the eyeball socket would come out as one piece. However, I could figure no way of using this new tool except maybe to pry all three jet trim pieces out at once by slipping the flat end under the flow control knob and prying.

When using a small amount of force in this way did not work, I was not willing to pry harder because I have no room for trial and error as I don’t have spare sets of jet trim for this tub. If any of the pieces break, I’m out of luck. Contacting Kohler’s customer support yielded nothing useful either. The agent was professional and polite but ultimately said that the original tool had been discontinued but that they had no direction on how to use this new replacement tool.

I did find another Kohler jet trim tool, part number K-30739, online that looked promising. However, many of the reviews for this tool involved complaints that it was not long enough to remove the jets of the tubs these customers were dealing with. These reviews led me to believe that the Flexjet whirlpool jets that this tool was made for are an altogether different whirlpool trim design than the jet trim of my tub. The one thing I did find for this tool though, that I could not find for the tool listed as the one I actually need, were instructions, clearly and concisely written. I did not find these instructions easily though, I found the manual which includes these instructions on page 3 via a link in a product listing on parts dealer Guillén’s website for a replacement Flexjet whirlpool trim kit.

Long before this point, I had figured out a simple enough but imperfect solution to my problem, which I will get into shortly, but at only $3.08 with free shipping, I decided it might not hurt to check this new tool out. It was an absolute shame to actually see for myself that it was a comfortable, well-made tool that was only a few centimeters away from being perfect.

I also found a single set of replacement trim for my type of tub on Amazon which depicts the part that I need in the product photo. However, further investigation led me to another parts dealer site which displays photos of this product with both the old tool design and the new flat pry tool that I had already ordered and found to be useless. Given that the cost of this product is around $50 and that the aesthetic look of the new jet trim air-flow knob is completely different from the current trim of my tub, it would not be worth ordering this product just to see what part is actually shipped with it.


Once I was certain that I was beyond any “correct” way of accomplishing this task, I resorted to my own method and grabbed a pair of pliers, gripped the lip of the directional eyeball and gave it a tug. Just as intended, the eyeball and socket came out as one piece. I was then able to push from the front of the directional eyeball and pop it out through the back of the socket.

This is not a perfect solution though because the pliers do leave gouges in the rim around the directional eyeball, which can be seen in the last picture below. I tried to cover the plastic of the eyeball rim with a cloth so as not to cause damage but this meant that I had to squeeze the plier even tighter to pull the two-part set out, which actually seemed to create deeper gouges.

To snap the air flow control valve out, I rotated it clockwise until it stopped, gripped it along the bottom and pulled slightly upward and out.

Once I had all eight of the jet trim sets out, I removed the suction cover which keeps debris out. I did this by first removing the screw cap with a tiny flat screw driver (I used an old, bent small electronics flathead screwdriver). Once that was out of the way I used a Philips head screwdriver to remove the long screw holding the suction cover on.

Once I had all of the pieces removed, I put them all in a bowl together and filled the bowl with hot water and ¼ cup of bleach. I let this soak for a couple of hours.

One thing to note is that I did see that all of the parts have numbers but that these numbers did not indicate any particular order of installation so there’s no need to remember which part went to which of the eight 3-piece jet trim sets.

Once all of the parts had been soaking in water and bleach for about 2 hours, I went in and cleaned each of them with an old tooth brush.

I then used the old tooth brush with Soft Scrub with Bleach to clean in and around the jet nozzle connectors and suction intake inside the tub.

Once I was ready to reassemble the jet trim, I first reattached to air flow control valve just by pushing it in until it clipped into place.

I then reassembled the directional eyeball and socket by pushing the eyeball forward through the back of the socket until it snapped in place.

I was able to then push the entire eyeball assembly back into the flow control nozzle until it snapped snuggly into position.

The final step was to reattach the suction cover with the long screw I had taken out of it earlier. Once that was done, the small circular screw cover simply snapped back in over the screw.

Final Thoughts

Now that I know how to disassemble the jet trim on our Sterling by Kohler whirlpool tub without breaking anything, I plan to clean behind it twice a year so that mildew never has a chance to build up again. However, I do wish that Kohler would adapt the length on the end of their hard plastic jet removal tool with part number 30739 in an effort to continue the customer support of their now discontinued whirlpool model 76121820. If only the end of that tool was a bit longer, it would work perfectly to remove our jet trim without causing any damage. Alas though, unless Kohler suddenly becomes conscientiously conscious of the full scope of what customer support means, I may well always be using a set of pliers to complete this task.

In addition to the omission of this handy information, Kohler failed to mention that if the access panel door on the front of the tub – which opens to access the tubes, motor, and GFCI outlet – is not removed from the tub in a very particular order with the bottom pulled away first, one or more of the tabs could break off. This very thing happened to me. In my next blog, I will detail the hoops I tried and failed to jump through to get a new access door from Kohler and what I ultimately did to fix the problem. So, stay tuned for that.

In the meantime, thank you for reading!

Remember to always make a conscientious effort.

Categories: Home Improvement & MaintenanceTags: , , , ,

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