Bathtub trim "before" photo

Upgrade your Bath Tub Trim – Fast, Easy, and Cheap 2


Something had been bothering me at the Utah house for a few years, so I finally got around to doing something about it this week. Take a peek at the photo below and see if you can find it:

Bathtub trim "before" photo

Bathtub trim “before” photo

If nothing in the above photo bothers you, then move along… this blog post is not for you.

But if you noticed that the tub drain and clean-out cover are both polished chrome, while the tub’s faucet and spout hardware are finished in brushed nickel, and it makes the voices in your head scream out in agony, then your problem can be solved for about $25 and less than 10 minutes of your time. 🙂

First, you’ll need to pick up a new tub drain kit in the finish you want. These can be found at almost any big-box home improvement stores, or you can easily find them online. It’s easiest to go with one that has the same screw layout as your existing clean-out cover (mine has a single screw in the middle,  but yours might have two screws), although most of the kits come with a piece of metal that will let you convert between the two. You could go with something like a Danco brand kit from Amazon with the same type of knob-based drain plug as my existing drain plug, or you could get fancy and replace yours with the “Tip Toe” drain plug type that allows you to open and close the drain with your foot. You’ll probably pay double for the name brand units that have “Kohler” or “Delta” or “Moen” stamped on them, but I went for the plain look to save some money.

First, start by removing the old trim from your tub. A flat-head or Philips screwdriver is probably all you’ll need to remove the clean-out cover.

Clean-out cover removed

Clean-out cover removed

Removing the pop-up drain piece might prove a bit trickier. But if you have a WATCO brand pop-up drain, you can watch my YouTube video to easily remove it with a flat-head screwdriver and a 9/16″ wrench:

To remove the “tub shoe” (the part of the drain that’s connected to the bottom of the tub), you’ll need to unscrew it from the base of your tub. These can be screwed in pretty tight, but you may get lucky and be able to remove yours by simply placing the handles of some pliers or channel locks down inside the drain, then turning them counter-clockwise (lefty-loosey) with the tool’s handles press against the metal cross pieces, like this:

Removing your tub shoe with pliers might work

Removing your tub shoe with pliers might work

But to do this job right, I recommend spending $10 on a tub drain removal tool, like this one. It makes short work of any tub shoe, and will come in really handy when it’s time to tighten down your new one.

A tub drain removal tool

A tub drain removal tool

Just insert the tool into the drain (the two ends support different drain sizes), and use a wrench or a screwdriver to loosen the existing drain, like this:

Removing the tub shoe with the drain tool and screwdriver

Removing the tub shoe with the drain tool and screwdriver

If the cross-pieces of your drain are rusted out, this tool won’t work for you. Instead, you’ll need to use a tub drain extractor like this.

One way or another, when you get your drain removed, you might see some material that looks like mud underneath it:

Drain (tub shoe) removed

Drain (tub shoe) removed

Don’t be grossed out — it’s only plumber’s putty, which is used to help seal the underside of the tub shoe to the tub and prevent water leaking under the drain.

Pick up as much putty as you can with your fingers (try not to let too much of it go down the drain), then use something like a scrubber sponge or baby wipes to make sure the area around the drain is completely clean so that your new drain will seal properly.

Tub ready for the new pieces to be installed

Tub ready for the new pieces to be installed

Now you’re ready to grab your new trim pieces. Here’s the brushed nickel kit I got for $29 at Home Depot (I splurged and payed a few extra dollars for the “tip toe” version):

New trim pieces

New trim pieces

When you take it out of the package, you might notice that there’s a threaded adapter on the threads of the tub shoe. Remove it if needed to make the drain fit properly:

Your new drain might have an adapter

Your new drain might have an adapter

Or hand tighten it all the way if you need to keep it:

Adapter hand-tightened into place

Adapter hand-tightened into place

If your replacement drain has a rubber gasket (as shown), you won’t need to use plumber’s putty when you install it. But if your doesn’t come with a gasket, you must use plumber’s putty around the drain hole before you install the replacement drain (use plenty — you can easily clean up the excess after you’ve torqued down the replacement drain). Seriously, don’t skip this part — you’ll never get a good seal without a gasket or putty.

Use your handy drain tool to tighten down the replacement drain (make sure it’s nice and tight to ensure a good seal). At this point, you can also install the matching clean-out cover above the drain.

Tighten your new drain with your drain tool

Tighten your new drain with your drain tool

If you’re truly OCD, you’ll need the cross members of the drain to line up properly, too… even though you’ll probably never have to look at them again!

Clean-out cover and tub shoe installed

Clean-out cover and tub shoe installed

Now you can install your new drain plug, following the directions in your kit. With a Tip Toe plug type, you’ll need to screw in the base portion first:

Screwing in the Tip Toe drain plug

Screwing in the Tip Toe drain plug

Then screw on and hand-tighten the knob that makes contact with your foot:

Complete drain assembly installed

Complete drain assembly installed

Now your tub drain and clean-out cover will match your faucet hardware, like this:

Hooray! All the hardware matches!

Hooray! All the hardware matches!

But before you celebrate, close the drain and put enough water in the tub to completely cover the top of the drain plug. Let it set for 15-20 minutes and make sure the water level doesn’t drop. If your tub sits above another room in your house, visit that room a few times during that 15-20 minutes to make sure you don’t see any drips coming from the ceiling. The time to fix any leaks is now, when there’s only a small amount of water in the tub… as opposed to later when it’s full of water.

If there is a leak, it’s probably because you didn’t use enough plumber’s putty, or because you didn’t tighten down the drain shoe tight enough. That $10 drain tool is probably sounding like a bargain at this point…

Once you’ve confirmed there are no leaks, you can sit back and relax.

Unless, of course, you have other bathrooms in your house where the $&*%-ing builder didn’t care enough to match the finish on all the bathroom hardware. If that’s the case, once you’ve done this job once, the next time will be even faster. I also swapped out the guest bathroom trim pieces in under 6 minutes.

Before:

Guest bathroom tub before

Guest bathroom tub before

And after:

Guest bathroom tub after

Guest bathroom tub after

And then…

finally

the voices in my my head…

were quiet. 🙂

If the voices in your head would like to leave any questions, comments, or feedback below, I welcome them!

  • Shari Carnahan

    Okay, I thought the OCD part was going to be about the faucet handles not being symmetrical.

    • LOL – No, Shari. The faucets are OK. The both point out when off, and toward the tub when on. Any lack of symmetry is camera angle. 🙂