What to Do When the Bathtub Overflows and Leaks Downstairs

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

The ceiling leak is coming from the tub upstairs, but you can’t pinpoint the problem. The drain isn’t clogged, pipe connections are tight, and the caulk looks good. Sometimes, it’s hard to figure out what to do when the bathtub overflows and leaks downstairs.

Have you checked the tub overflow drain? When the small component goes bad, it creates big problems.

Most homeowners are surprised by how much trouble this bathtub part can cause. Our teams restore water-damaged ceilings in Chicago homes every week. Faulty overflow drains are often the source of the problem.

Let’s take a closer look at this overlooked fixture.

Why Is My Bath Leaking Through the Ceiling?

bath leaking through ceiling

You start running a bath, but something distracts you for just a minute. It doesn’t take long for the upstairs tub to fill and spill over. This type of bathroom flooding creates a mess that soaks the ceiling below. The overflow drain is designed to prevent a bathtub overflow that leaks downstairs.

How Does the Bathtub Overflow Drain Work?

This simple safety feature is located behind the bathtub overflow cover plate on the front wall of the tub. The bathtub overflow gasket is an important part of this contained system.

The rubber or neoprene washer forms a seal between the backside of the tub wall and the overflow drain opening. When water in the bathtub reaches the small hole in the overflow cover plate, the overflow drain channels the excess back down into the tub’s main drain pipe.

6 Causes of Overflow Drain Problems

defective bath overflow drain

When bath water reaches a set level, a properly working overflow drain prevents the tub from leaking through the ceiling.

However, these six problems problems can compromise its operation and result in overflow drain leaks:

1. Clogged Overflow Drain – Over time, every day use clogs the drain with debris and soap scum.

2. Leaky Overflow Tube – Leaks in the overflow drain tube seep outside the tub drain and through the bathroom floor.

3. Damaged Overflow Gasket – A cracked or deteriorated overflow gasket allows water to escape the overflow drain.

4. Leaving the Tub Running – A continual flow of faucet water overflows the tub and overwhelms the drain.

5. Misdirected Shower Water – Overflow drain problems occur when shower water continually runs over the cover plate.

6. Deep Tub Soaks – Relaxing, deep baths submerge the overflow plate and eventually compromise the drain’s capacity.

Why Is Water Flowing from Underneath My Tub?

Maybe your bathtub hasn’t overflowed, but it may as well have because of the severe leaking you notice every time it’s used. One cause that may seem obvious but can easily go missed is a crack in your bathtub. Cracks can be tiny and as fine as a strand of hair. If you notice a lot of leaking, you will need to investigate.

To find any holes or cracks in your tub, fill your bathtub with water.

Turn off the faucet and pay close attention to determine the areas where water seems to be coming from. In addition to the repeated water leaks, you may notice rust form in the holes or cracks. However, the sooner you can pinpoint the source, the less water damage you will have to deal with. 

What Should I Do If I Overflow the Bath?

Follow your first impulse. If the water is still running, turn off the bathtub faucet. If the overflow happened while you were soaking, get out and grab a towel.

In either case, watch your step. You don’t want to slip and fall on the wet floor.

The overflow should level off just inside the bathtub edge. Pull the plug, and start soaking up water on the floor by throwing down extra towels. Quickly locate a mop and bucket.

It’s important to minimize the volume of water seeping into the ceiling below the bathroom. This helps head off structural water damage and potential mold growth.

When you finish mopping up, head downstairs. Check for signs of damage to the ceiling and any fixtures directly below the bathroom. If necessary, place buckets underneath water dripping through the ceiling, and contact a certified restoration company. You may want to call your insurance agent too.

Now, you’re ready to pinpoint the source of the tub overflow and stop if from happening again.

How to Fix a Bathtub Overflow Drain Leak: 7 Simple Steps

First, confirm that the overflow drain caused the flooding. Start by removing the bathtub access wall panel, located in the room opposite the tub faucet and shower head. If you don’t see water dripping from the plumbing, look inside for water pooling behind the wall. Small puddles are sure signs of leaks around the drain pipe or supply lines.

If it looks good, go back to the bathroom, and run the shower. Splash water on the tub faucet, and check behind the access panel again. If you still don’t see water dripping inside the access space, you’re dealing with a bad overflow drain.

These steps fix the problem.

1. Remove the Cover Plate

Unscrew and remove the cover plate. Pull out the overflow drain assembly, including the plug. Take a look at the components for signs of damage.

2. Inspect the Assembly and Gasket

If parts of the overflow drain are loose, clogged or corroded, replace the entire assembly. However, the source of the overflow leak is usually a worn gasket. In that case, continue with step 3.

3. Remove the Old Gasket

Use needle-nose pliers and your fingers to gently remove the damaged overflow gasket from the pipe flange. Clean the exposed flange and surrounding surfaces with rubbing alcohol.

4. Insert a New Overflow Gasket

Lubricate the new gasket with plumber’s faucet grease, and take a look at its bevel. Position the gasket over the pipe flange with its thickest side on the bottom. Ease it around the opening in the overflow drain pipe.

5. Secure and Seal the Gasket

Carefully work the gasket into place around the overflow assembly opening. Make sure it’s secure against the flange for an even seal. Let the gasket set for a few minutes.

6. Replace the Plate

Position the cover plate so that its overflow hole is located at the bottom of the installation. Reattach it by tighten each screw a little at a time. Alternating pressure as you work ensures even compression and a snug fit.

7. Address Ceiling Water Damage

If water damage from the tub overflow isn’t extensive, you may be able to take care of it yourself. However, it’s best to let restoration professionals handle the water-damaged ceiling. Their technicians know how to safely take care of ceiling repairs. They also restore soaked floors, replace damaged drywall and address mold problems.

Can Bath Overflow Damage My Property?

Bath overflow water damage on a ground floor can range from soaked floors to warped baseboards. Water leaking from an upstairs bathroom to the downstairs is especially concerning because it can result in these serious problems.

  • Damage to bathroom floors, including tile and subflooring
  • Warped tiles and stains in ceilings below the bathroom
  • Electrical problems in overhead wiring and ceiling light fixtures
  • Water stains on the ceiling and walls below the bathtub
  • Structural damage to drywall and wood framing on lower floors
  • Mold and bacterial growth in water-damaged materials

When Is a Leaking Ceiling an Emergency?

sagging ceiling bath overflow chicago
Sagging ceilings are emergencies; call a restoration professional immediately

Overflow leaks from upstairs bathrooms often result in water dripping through the ceiling below the bathtub. Unless the damage is minor, your DIY options are limited.

If tiles are sagging or parts of the ceiling have collapsed, don’t take chances. Structural issues can easily extend up inside the ceiling to critical support joists. Call a water damage restoration specialist right away.

If you rent and your apartment ceiling begins to leak, try to alert the upstairs neighbor, and then contact the landlord right away. The situation can easily turn into an emergency that affects multiple units.

Does Insurance Cover an Overflowing Bathtub?

In some cases, homeowners insurance will cover water damage. If the damage is not due to an accident or an unforeseen occurrence, it has a good chance of getting covered. However, water damage from lack of maintenance is not covered, whether water is flooding or not.  

For example, if you fell asleep in the tub and the water overflowed, neglect is considered. In this case, you will be the one who will need to pay the cost for repairs.

Suppose you have had water damage caused by an overflowing tub, even of no fault of your own. In some cases, insurance will still not cover the damage. Hidden damage, which you cannot see within the floors, walls, ceiling, etc., is typically not protected by insurance.

Dealing with Bathtub Overflow Water Damage in Chicago, IL or Suburbs? We Can Help!

The aftermath of a bathtub overflow can cause extensive property damage that needs attention right away. We’re ready to respond with a full line of industry-certified water damage restoration services. Our teams take care of pipe repairs, and we can help with your homeowners insurance claim too.

When you’re facing cleanup after any type of water damage at your home or business, you want Chicago’s best.

Call us first here at ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba: 773-647-1985