Get the house you love with free DIY tips

How to Perform a Bathtub Drain Repair for Under $20

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.

Drop Ceiling Bathtub Leak

 

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

  1. The shower head and shower arm connection
  2. Shower arm and shower pipe connection
  3. Leaks getting behind the shower escutcheon plate that covers the shower faucet handle
  4. The faucet body behind the faucet handle
  5. Shutoff valves (if you have any to the shower or bathtub)
  6. Bathtub overflow gaskets or washers (usually accessible in the access panel)
  7. Overflow pipe & cover plate, drain T, drain tailpiece, waster drain tube connections
  8. Drain flange, gasket, and shoe tube in the bathtub
  9. P-Trap and branch drain connections
  10. 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.

Bathtub overflow and strainer basket

I used a screwdriver to remove the bathtub strainer screen and drain cover plate.

Bathtub strainer screen

 

 Removed bathtub strainer screen

 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.

Drain wrench

 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.

Drain wrench inserted into drain basket

Channel locks to turn drain wrench

Once the drain flange/strainer basket was removed I turned it over to discover plumber’s putty was missing in one section.

Drain flange missing plumber's putty

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.

Plumber's Putty for Bathtub

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.

Bathtub Shoe tube & Bathtub Shoe Tube 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.

Plumbers Putty on Bathtub Drain Flange

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.

Cleaning off plumbers putty in bathtub

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.

Plumbers putty oozing from bathtub 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.

If you liked this post feel free to tell a friend about this blog or subscribe for updates by adding your email address to my homepage. I currently add 2 new posts every week that involve projects common to any homeowner.

Make it a great day.

Home Repair Tutor

Diggin’ this tutorial? Sign up for updates… It’s FREE!


33 comments… add one

  • Jeremy July 1, 2012, 9:34 PM

    Plummers Putty, who knew. I will need to pick some up on my next trip to HD. Never know when I’ll need it.

    • Jeff July 1, 2012, 9:36 PM

      LOL, you could be like MacGyver and always have some just in case! Hope you had a good weekend.

  • michael wargo December 15, 2012, 1:26 PM

    Drains With Trip Levers?

    I need to replace my pop up drain because of the appearance,

    Question: Can I do it from the tub ?

    I would need to cut a hole in the wall to get at the pipes.

    Your photo shows it from the the tub.

    • Jeff Patterson December 15, 2012, 1:39 PM

      Thanks Michael for the question.

      You don’t need to access the pipes unless the water isn’t draining correctly.

      It sounds like you just want to replace the pop-up and there is a lever on the overflow cover plate.

      Purchase a similar kit at the store, undo the two screws holding the overflow cover plate, pull out the mechanicals, and put in the new one.

      If your tub is older it may be difficult to replace the pop-up without breaking the tub. Give it a shot using the tool in my tutorial but call in a plumber if you feel the tub might succumb to your superhuman strength.

  • John King December 24, 2012, 5:08 PM

    Great info. Here it is Christmas Eve and all I can think of is “I wonder if I’d be able to replace the tub/shower surround in our second floor condo without having to cut into the first floor owner’s ceiling to access the drain?” And a Merry Christmas was had by all! Happy Holidays and thanks for the info.

    • Jeff Patterson December 26, 2012, 11:37 AM

      I hope your project goes well and you don’t have to ask the neighbor for permission to cut his ceiling out-LOL.

      I’d love to see pics of the new shower John. If you’re posting them on Facebook or Google Plus let me know.

      Hope you had a great Holiday.

  • Raj Otilingam June 3, 2013, 10:42 AM

    Hello Jeff: I wish to thank you for your help with leak under the ceiling in family room. I suspected there is a leak (due to slight discoloration in the painted popcorn ceiling) and I was about to cut the sheet rock about 1ft X 1ft to find the source of the leak. After reading your helpful hints, I suspected the leak is directly below my upstairs bathroom tub and decided to proceed with drain repair ( i.e. plumbers putty to the flange) I wish to ask you a question, what do they call the “tool” to unscrew the flange and what kind of solvent you use to clean your hands and to clean the old putty still stuck in the threaded area of the flange. Thanks for your help. Regards.
    Raj

    • Jeff Patterson June 3, 2013, 9:50 PM

      Hi Raj, the tool is a bathtub drain remover tool and you can use a hair dryer to heat up then remove the old putty. I like to use a hand cleaner with pumice in it to clean my hands. Something like Gojo will work great. Hope this helps.

  • Peggy P Mills August 6, 2013, 2:38 PM

    Thank you, the instructions are supremely simple for even me, a non-wanna be plumber
    Shalom!

  • Ashley C.Williams August 8, 2013, 9:03 PM

    Good afternoon Sir. First off, after living in a house that did not have plumbing access panels until I recently cut them- my personal thoughts are that they should be code, only my opinion. I am not a plumber by any means. I have a leak and cut an access, noticed after running the shower for a few minutes that it is dripping from the “drain shoe” area. I have not opened the drain yet, my question is this. After I remove all the pieces of the drain assembly, doesn’t it make sense to go ahead and replace the gasket between the bottom of the tub and the tub shoe?? Is there anything unexpected I should anticipate. IE… A different inner/outer diameter ring size, or what to use to adhere the outer gasket to the lower portion of the tub. I am sure by my elementary questions you can realize I have never so much as replaced a faucet, but with the info you provided- should be pretty easy. Hope to hear back soon.

    Knoxville Tn.

    • Jeff Patterson August 8, 2013, 9:08 PM

      Hi Ashley,

      Thanks so much for your question, and by no means am I the Wizard of Oz of plumbing-LOL. Thus, sometimes I have answers and sometime not. Is your tub fairly new? If so, you may not need to replace the tub shoe gasket but if your tub is way old (like 20 plus years) then a new shoe night be necessary.

      Can you tell if the gasket is corroded or crumbling?

  • Jack Riggs October 23, 2013, 8:46 PM

    Im trying to replace my bathtub strainer to replace it due to corroded stopper. The ” fingers” underneath stopper are plastic and broke off making it impossible to use a strainer wrench to remove the old insert to replace it. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

  • Dani December 8, 2013, 10:42 AM

    Thank you for this. This is the first tutorial I’ve seen where someone didn’t assume I already knew where the gasket goes, how it should look un-assembled etc. Very helpful!!!

    • Jeff Patterson December 8, 2013, 10:55 AM

      You’re welcome Dani. I’m happy it was helpful. Let me know of you’ve got any questions :)

  • Mohd. Ali December 22, 2013, 8:28 PM

    Jeff,

    Thanks in advance first.

    I am facing a problem in my Plastic Bath tub, I live in second floor, my plastic bath tub is uneven near to drain flange which causing the leak when full water pressure, I call the plumber, they told me need to replaced the tub, but I don’t think need to replaced tub, may be some solution available, if you can provide me with your expertise idea, how to fix my bath tub.
    Thanks,
    Ali

    • Jeff Patterson December 23, 2013, 12:30 PM

      Hi Ali, it sounds like you have a similar problem. Correct me if I’m wrong – when you fill up the tub with water it leaks down to the first floor. If this is the case you can give the repair in this post a shot.

      The issue with acrylic or plastic tubs is that they flex way too much. The expansion and contraction eventually makes the seal between the tub shoe and bottom of the tub get undone. Follow the directions in my tutorial and apply a generous amount of plumber’s putty. A bead of putty about 1/2 inch thick will do you good and anything that smushes out can be removed so that it doesn’t clog your tub drain.

      Let me know what you think. Does this help?

  • Greg T December 29, 2013, 3:11 PM

    Having the same issue as Jack Riggs (from October, for him). Seems like every time I go to replace one of these, the “fingers” are so corroded they are already broken or break in the process of removal. I don’t see your answer to his question. How can the strainer be removed, if there are no “fingers” to exert turning force on? Thanks!

  • Greg T December 29, 2013, 4:04 PM

    FWIW, I found a solution, at least for this particular situation (strainer “fingers” corroded and broken off, so strainer wrench useless): Even though the strainer lip is tiny and lays very flush against the tub floor, I managed to get a vise grip holding on to it fairly securely, w/ the handles sticking up away from the floor. Couldn’t turn it, so I heated the existing plumber’s putty w/ a hair dryer, and grabbed the vise grip w/ a water pump pliers. Bazinga! It actually began to turn, and eventually I got the old assembly out. The rest went as usual installation “should” go.

    • Jeff Patterson December 30, 2013, 11:23 AM

      Whoa Greg, that’s awesome. Good use of the hair dryer to heat up the plumber’s putty.

      Sorry I didn’t get back to sooner. If the fingers in the strainer are broken you can use a special tool.

      It’s called a Tub Drain Extractor. I bought one at Lowe’s and wanna say it’s $20-$30.

      The extractor looks like a plug. You tap it down into the drain and the teeth on it make it grab the old strainer.

      Then you can use a 1/2 inch ratchet drive to turn the extractor counterclockwise.

      The funny thing about this little tool is that every single package at Lowe’s was opened and resealed. LOL.
      This indicates that people buy them then immediately return them after they’re done with their project.

      Let me know if you have any more questions but it sounds like you’ve got it under control :)

  • Vin Cenzo January 16, 2014, 10:07 PM

    My tub started to leak slowly,
    Luckily I don’t have a ceiling in the basement laundry room
    so I could spot the leak easily.
    Thanks for explaining the cause and the solution :-)

    • Jeff Patterson January 18, 2014, 9:01 AM

      Glad to help. If you run into any issues always feel free to ask your question. I may not have all the answers but will try my best :)

  • D. C. Summerville February 16, 2014, 1:43 AM

    Hi Jeff, Thank you for your informative and helpful website. My situation is that I have a leak in a plastic tub / shower combination.
    There is no leak when someone is taking a shower, it leaks only when a body is taking a bath. As such I have concluded the culprit is the overflow.
    The house was built 20 years ago and the overflow is not round but a square shape and has “Sterling” imprinted on the front. I removed the screw from the top center of the front of the overflow and that allowed me to remove the metal cover. Now I can see the round hole where the water flows out, however, there is still the metal frame of the overflow surrounding the round opening. This metal frame has positions for two screws, one on the left side and one across from it on the right. The right side has no screw and the rusty nasty screw on the left side broke when I tried to remove it with a screwdriver. When I say it broke I mean that the metal on one side of the slot on the screw head just disintegrated and now my screwdriver is useless.
    So, as I look at the overflow opening there is this metal frame surrounding it, the wall of the tub and then it appears black plastic. I see no gasket. I see a fair amount of a light brown colored material that is here and there around the opening which flakes off if you touch it. I don’t know if it is the remnants of a gasket or if it is old plumber’s putty or what.
    Well, I don’t know what to do next and I won’t hold it against you if you don’t either. Maybe I’ll just hang an “Out of Order” sign on it. =-)
    Any suggestions would be appreciated.
    Thanks, DCS. .

    • Jeff Patterson February 16, 2014, 9:16 AM

      Thanks DCS for your question. It sounds like the gasket was there 20 years ago but broke down over time.

      I’ll tell you what, send me a few pictures of your situation and I’ll try to help you the best I can.

      That “Out of Order” sign would be pretty funny, especially if house guests visited. I’d love to see their expressions.

      Send your pis to jeff@homerepairtutor.com :D

  • JC Patel March 17, 2014, 7:54 PM

    Thank you very much for detailed description with photos. Excellent job. I was able to repair my leak.

    • Jeff Patterson March 17, 2014, 9:06 PM

      Awesome JC, I’m super happy that you were able to do it yourself and save some money. Great job :)

  • Donna April 4, 2014, 8:07 AM

    i was wondering what causes the water to drain under the tub instead of down the pipe…i have hard wood floors and it caused buckling of the wood due to water getting between cement slab and flooring…have gotten so many opinions that it has me so confused all ending with them wanting me to pull up all the flooring…all the other appliances drain just fine…so please if this could be the problem in your opinion please please let me know…i don’t think it is as issue with clogged pipes or anything else but the tub…i am by no means a plumber but it seems to me to be something with the pipes to the tub

    • Jeff Patterson April 4, 2014, 6:25 PM

      Donna, I feel your frustration. So sorry to hear about your floors buckling.

      Has your tub ever backed up before or needed to be unclogged?

      • Donna April 7, 2014, 2:41 AM

        not since they remodeled the house…i just can’t figure out why it just comes from the tub and nothing else…one opinion was to tear up all the floors to look for a drain in the slab, another was to tear up the bathroom floor and bust the concrete slab because the pipe collapsed, to another saying that it was stopped up….but they all go into the same pipe leaving the house!! i don’t know what to do lol if i listen to all i won’t have any floors for a while!!

        • Jeff Patterson April 7, 2014, 9:30 PM

          If you haven’t already done so you might want to snake the tub drain and see if there’s a clog deep down in the pipe. Also, if you have an access panel you should inspect the pipes for any leaks.

          Do you have a panel?

  • Donna April 8, 2014, 7:39 AM

    well we didn’t but now we have cut one out in the closet…i think that they did snake out the drain and didn’t find a clog…but we will do that again…i was thinking of taking the tub out because it is hard to see where exactly the water is coming from…no one sees from the panel just where it is coming from…i am thinking that maybe a pipe came undone and it is causing the water to just run under the tub i am also going to try what i read on here about maybe the putty is gone off of the drain thing…whatever it is it is a great mystery to all who looks at it lol i know it sounds stupid but because i am a single mom everyone who comes out wants to start tearing the floor up and break the concrete at a charge of over $1200.00 and i just don’t get that since i have never had any problems like this before…and thank you for trying to help me with this problem!!

    • Jeff Patterson April 16, 2014, 4:59 AM

      Wish I could have been more helpful Donna. It sounds like you’ve had a bunch of people out to look at it, too.

      Please keep me posted on the final outcome and what you did to fix it.

Leave a Comment