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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

Here are the supplies you need


How to Inspect for Leaks

The first action I took was to remove the access panel to the bathtub waste and overflow pipes.

Then I checked for leaks. Possible leak locations are

  1. The showerhead 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

By the way, if you want to install shutoff valves it’s really easy to do with SharkBites.

I ran the water and determined the leak wasn’t coming from any of the shower faucet connections or from water splashing behind the escutcheon plate.

Also, there were no leaks from the cold and hot water lines.

The next step was to fill up the bathtub 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 filled.

BUT when the water drained that’s when a slow trickle formed from underneath the shoe tube connection.

This leak was coming from the drain flange/gasket/shoe tube connection.

How to Get to the Drain Leak

I removed the strainer screen and looked at the drain flange.

Bathtub overflow and strainer basket

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

Bathtub strainer screen

Removed bathtub strainer screen


Then remove the drain using a special wrench that attaches to the drain arms.

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 down in 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

What if your strainer arms are broken?

If that’s the case using either a tub drain extractor tool for 1.5″ drains or a drain key tool. We got a lot of questions about this problem down in the comments. So these tools are the solution.

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

Drain flange missing plumber's putty


How to Fix a Bathtub Drain Leak

Fortunately, I always have plumber’s putty in my toolbox (it’s amazing how often you need this stuff!).

You can get this product at any hardware store or on Amazon.

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.

And the bathtub shoe tube is the threaded section 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 the 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.


What’s Next

If you’re doing a bathroom remodel and need help, join one of our online courses – they’ll make your bathroom renovation much easier!

Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll do my best to help.

Thanks as always for reading, watching, and being part of our awesome community.



Bathtub Drain Repair