One of the worst feelings you can get as a homeowner is when you see a watermark on the ceiling below a bathroom. The next thought that crosses my mind is how much this little water issue will cost. This exact problem has happened to me numerous times at my own house as well as at my rentals.
The latest issue I encountered dealt with a bathtub leak into my rental’s dining room. Fortunately the dining room has a dropped ceiling (classy, right!) and the panels aren’t hard to replace. But I wanted to solve this leak problem ASAP and this tutorial deals with that process.
The first action I took was to remove the access panel to the bathtub waste and overflow pipes. Then I wanted to check for leaks. Possible locations for a leak to occur (starting from top to bottom) are
- The shower head and shower arm connection
- Shower arm and shower pipe connection
- Leaks getting behind the shower escutcheon plate that covers the shower faucet handle
- The faucet body behind the faucet handle
- Shutoff valves (if you have any to the shower or bathtub)
- Bathtub overflow gaskets or washers (usually accessible in the access panel)
- Overflow pipe & cover plate, drain T, drain tailpiece, waster drain tube connections
- Drain flange, gasket, and shoe tube in the bathtub
- P-Trap and branch drain connections
- Hot & Cold supply line water connections
I ran the water and determined the leak wasn’t coming from any of the faucet connections or from water splashing behind the escutcheon plate. No leaking from the hot and cold water supply lines was noticed either. The next step I took was to fill up the bathtub to just below the overflow cover plate. Since my tenant takes baths and said the leak is slow I decided to see what would happen once the tub was full of water. Remarkably no leak occurred when the tub was totally filled, BUT when the water drained that’s when a slow trickle formed from underneath the shoe tube connection.
So I deduced this leak was coming from the drain flange/gasket/shoe tube connection. At this point I needed to remove the strainer screen and look at the drain flange.
I used a screwdriver to remove the bathtub strainer screen and drain cover plate.
Now that the drain flange was in sight I needed to remove it using a special wrench, which you can get at any home depot for $9.67.
You can also use a pair of channel locks to remove the drain flange by inserting the handles down into the strainer basket. But I prefer the strainer wrench because it’s sturdier. Once the strainer wrench is placed down into the drain you can use either a screwdriver (inserted through the wrench holes) or channel locks to loosen the drain flange. Simply turn the drain wrench counterclockwise.
Once the drain flange/strainer basket was removed I turned it over to discover plumber’s putty was missing in one section.
Fortunately I always have plumber’s putty packed in my toolbox (it’s amazing how often you need this stuff!). You can get this product at any hardware store or box store for roughly $6. Sorry for the bright picture below.
The actual leak was occurring in between the gasket that sits on top of the bathtub shoe tube and the bathtub drain hole. The gasket can be seen in the picture below as a black ring. The bathtub shoe tube is the threaded piece directly below the black gasket.
The leak occurred because the bathtub can flex when someone is standing on it or when excessive water weight exerts downward pressure repeatedly over time. So the gasket seal can fail do to normal expansion and contraction forces. I placed a generous bead of plumbers putty on the drain flange such that the putty sealed the entire black gasket.
The next step I took was to clean off the old plumber’s putty on the bathtub itself as well as any left within the bathtub shoe tube.
Now that everything was clean I inserted the drain flange back into the threaded bathtub shoe tube and tightened it with the drain wrench. When you do this the plumber’s putty with be squeezed around the bathtub shoe tube gasket and create a flexible water tight seal. I made sure to clean off the plumber’s putty that oozed out from the drain flange.
At this point I put the bathtub strainer screen back onto the drain flange and filled the bathtub until the water level reached the bottom of overflow cover plate. No leak!! I then let all the water drain to see if the downward pressure would cause the leak and again I didn’t see any water coming from underneath the bathtub shoe tube. The sweet smell of success or in this case plumber’s putty 🙂
So this was my latest plumbing adventure in the bathroom. I hope it will help anyone experiencing the same problem. With a little elbow grease and detective work you can solve a similar leak in your bathroom for less than $20.
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Make it a great day.