How to Deal With an Overflowing Bathtub and Downstairs Leaks

When a ceiling leaks from an upstairs bathtub, it can be a stressful experience, and it’s easy to misdiagnose the problem. But, if the drain is not clogged, the caulk is in good shape, and the pipe connections are tight, there may be another cause. A common problem is a tub overflow drain, this is a small component, but when it goes bad, it can cause a lot of problems. In this article, we will take a closer look at the tub overflow drain, how to fix it, and other related issues.

Why is the Tub Overflowing?

When people run a bath it’s easy to get distracted for a few minutes, and this may be enough time for the tub to overfill and the water to spill on the floor. This can create a lot of mess in a short period of time, and the water soaks into the floor to create leaks downstairs. The part that is designed to prevent this problem is the tub overflow drain, and when it fails there is no protection for the ceilings on the lower floors.

How Does a Tub Overflow Drain Work?

This safety feature is deceptively simple, it’s located behind the overflow cover plate which is positioned on the front wall of the bathtub. This is a contained system with a neoprene or rubber washer that forms a seal between the overflow drain opening and the bathtub wall. When the water level in the tub reaches the small hole in the cover plate the overflow drain directs the excess water down into the drain pipe. Because this is a safety feature that is not used regularly it can surprise people when it fails.

6 Overflow Drain Problems

If the overflow drain fails, the tub can leak water onto the floors and ceilings below. But, there are six related problems that cause that failure or exacerbate the situation:

1.   A Clogged Overflow Drain

The overflow drain may be working properly, but if it’s clogged, it will still fail, and water damage can occur. Drains clog gradually when soap scum, hair, and other debris is flushed into the drain. The soap scum can form a sticky clog that other materials adhere to and this makes the clog grow larger until it fills the drain.

2.   A Leaky Overflow Tube

If there are cracks or breaks in the overflow tube, this can cause the water to seep out of the tub drain and under the bathroom floor. Water can cause a lot of damage in a short period of time, and it’s expensive to fix.

3.   The Tub is Left to Run

When there is a continual flow of water from the tub, and the drain cannot remove it, there will be an overflow. A momentary distraction is all it takes, and a longer phone call or other activity can lead to a large volume of water released into the home. After turning off the faucet, it’s a good idea to clean up as much water as possible and to contact your insurance company.

4.   A Misdirected Shower Flow

If the shower water is continually running across the cover plate, this can cause overflow drain problems. Change the angle of the shower to a different area of the tub, and this problem can be avoided.

5.   A Damage Overflow Gasket

If the overflow gasket is cracked and the seal has deteriorated, water can escape from the overflow drain, and local flooding can occur.

6.   Deep Bathtub Soaks

Taking a long deep bath is a great way to relax, but if the overflow plate is submerged, it can be compromised, and the drain capacity is affected.

Why is Water Flowing Under the Bathtub?

If water is flowing underneath the tub, the cause may be something entirely different. The most obvious cause and one that’s not easy to identify is a crack in the tub. Some cracks can be very fine, and they are hard to detect with your eyes. To identify cracks, fill the tub with water and look at the areas where the water is dripping. If you have frequent water leaks, you may notice corrosion around the hidden cracks. Pinpointing the cause of the leaks should be a priority to reduce the effects of the water damage.

How to Deal with an Overflowing Bath

Turn off the tub faucet; if you’re in the bath soaking, get out, grab a towel and take care to avoid slipping and tripping because you may feel pressured to act quickly. The overflow will be level with the bathtub edge, reach in and pull the plug to get the tub draining. Grab some extra towels and throw them down on the floor to soak up the excess water quickly. As the towels are soaking up the water, find a mop and bucket and remove as much water as possible. To minimize the effects on lower floors, go downstairs and check the ceiling and connect fixtures under the bathroom. If water is dripping, place buckets under the drips and contact your insurance company and a local certified restoration company. Minimizing the volume of water on the floor quickly will help to prevent potential mold growth and structural water damage.

6 Steps to Fix the Bathtub Overflow Drain

If you have confirmed that the overflow has caused the release of water, there are six steps to fix the problem:

  1. Locate and remove the cover plate and check for signs of damage.
  2. Inspect the overflow assembly and the gasket integrity.
  3. Remove the worn gasket with needle-nose pliers and replace it.
  4. If the overflow drain is damaged, replace it with a new part.
  5. Replace the cover plate.
  6. Fix the bathroom floor and ceiling damage on the floor below.

If you have bathtub overflowing problems or you suspect that the tub is cracked, contact your local certified plumber. They can identify the source of the problem and fix it for you to prevent water damage to your home.