Bathtub Drain Leaking? Here’s What to Do Right Now

By: Diana Rodriguez-Zaba
Updated on: November 17, 2023

A leaking bathtub drain can warp floors, soak surrounding drywall and set the stage for unhealthy mold growth.

We know how fast damage spreads from a leaky tub drain. ServiceMaster by Zaba has been restoring water-damaged bathrooms for more than 15 years.

Read on for easy-to-follow guidelines covering everything you need to know about fixing a drain leak in your bathtub.

Before You Get Started

Before starting on any type of DIY plumbing repair, turn off your home’s water supply at the main shutoff valve. Unplug bathroom appliances, and put on comfortable non-slip shoes.

Keep the following supplies handy for fixing the leaky tub drain.

  • Channel lock pliers
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Flathead screwdriver
  • Plumber’s putty
  • Flashlight
  • Plunger
  • Drain snake

How to Fix a Leaking Bathtub Drain

1. Replace the Drain Gasket

Why It Happens – The rubber gasket that creates a seal between the bathtub and the drain cracks and fails.

Signs of Leaking – The tub empties more slowly than usual. You may also notice unpleasant odors near the drain.

How to Fix It

  • Remove the drain stopper knob by unscrewing it or turning it counterclockwise.
  • Unscrew and pull out the drain basket with locking pliers.
  • Pull out the damaged gasket with needle-nose pliers, and clean all exposed surfaces. 
  • Push the new gasket into place with a flathead screwdriver.
  • Coat the underside of the drain assembly with a thin layer of plumber’s putty.
  • Press the drain firmly onto the gasket, insert the stopper knob, and tighten the assembly into place.

Power Tip – Don’t use the bathtub until the putty has time to dry, typically between 24 and 48 hours.

2. Unclog the Drain

Why It Happens – Clog buildup in the drain pipe blocks water flow, causing backup around the tub’s drain. 

Signs of Leaking – The bathtub takes longer than usual to empty or stops draining completely. The entire bathroom constantly smells unpleasant, even after routine cleaning.

How to Fix It 

  • Remove the drain, as described above in Step 1, but leave the gasket in place.
  • Shine the flashlight down into the drain pipe, and look for a visible clog.
  • If you can see the clog, try to pull it up with needle-nose pliers.
  • With the hot water faucet running, use a plunger to dislodge the clog.
  • Break up the clog by running a drain snake down and through the drain pipe.

Power Tip – A licensed plumber can make quick work of clearing a stubborn drain clog. He or she can also locate and repair damage inside the drain pipe system.

3. Replace the Bathtub Overflow Drain

Why It Happens – Fittings in the overflow drain eventually become loose, allowing water to drip underneath the tub.

Signs of Leaking – A leaking overflow drain empties onto flooring directly under the tub base. In an upstairs bathroom, the water often soaks the floor and seeps through the ceiling below.

How to Fix It

  • Unscrew and remove the drain’s cover plate.
  • Pull out the entire assembly to access the drain gasket.
  • Pull out the drain’s gasket with needle-nose pliers.
  • Clean the opening, and secure a new gasket into place.
  • Reset the drain assembly, and reattach the cover plate.

Power Tip – Make sure the cover plate is positioned so that its outlet hole is at the bottom.

How Restoration Professionals Can Help

A leaking bathtub drain isn’t as dramatic as a burst pipe in the bathroom. Drain leakage starts under the tub, so you don’t notice it right away. That gives the problem plenty of time to grow.

Once the water damage is visible, it’s usually too much for DIY cleanup and repairs

Restoration professionals, like ServiceMaster by Zaba, take care of the damage you can see, as well as structural damage under bathroom floors, inside ceilings and behind walls.

These clues are sure signs that you need the help of industry-certified restoration pros.

  • Warped vinyl flooring or loose ceramic tiles
  • Mold growth around the exterior tub base
  • Persistent, unpleasant musty odors in the bathroom
  • Peeling paint or discoloration on walls
  • Stains on ceilings below the upstairs bathtub

How to Prevent Bathtub Drain Leaks

  • Avoid cleaning the tub with harsh chemical products that can damage the drain gasket.
  • Keep the drain running clear by treating it to a baking soda and vinegar rinse once a month.
  • Routinely remove the overflow drain plate, and inspect the assembly’s interior for signs of damage.
  • Reduce the corrosion that contributes to tub drain problems by installing a water softening system.
  • Upgrade the tub with a new drain assembly that includes a strainer component.

Dealing With Water Damage in Chicago or Suburbs? We Can Help!

Solving a leaky drain problem is always a relief, but then you have to deal with a water-damaged bathroom.

Whether it’s buckled flooring under the tub or mold growing inside the walls, we can help.

ServiceMaster by Zaba takes care of all types of water damage. With facilities in downtown Chicago, Skokie and Buffalo Grove, we’re just around the corner.

Our water damage technicians are ready for your call: 773-647-1985.

Helpful Resources for Homeowners

Mold FAQs – EPA

How to Find Leaks – EPA

Household Leak Facts – EPA

What are the signs of a leaking bathtub drain?

Signs of a leaking bathtub drain include warped flooring next to the tub, discoloration or peeling paint on lower areas of adjacent walls, stains on ceilings below an upstairs bathroom and a pervasive musty smell.

How do you tighten a bathtub drain?

Insert the ends of channel lock or needle-nose pliers down into the drain, and then firmly twist clockwise. Don’t use too much pressure because you don’t want to damage the drain gasket or the tub opening around the drain.

Can a clogged tub drain cause a leak?

Yes. Clogs are one of the most common causes of tub drain leaks. Blockage in the drain assembly prevents water from flowing freely into the drain pipe. The water backs up and accumulates in the pipe, eventually overflowing the drain assembly and leaking underneath the bathtub.