Unless you plan on a complete bathroom tear-out, removing the tub is a delicate process that preserves as much of the building materials as possible. With careful planning, it is possible to remove the tub while minimizing damage and mess.
Before You Begin
Removing a bathtub is a two-part process: first, detach the tub from plumbing and surrounding building materials; second, lift the bathtub out of place and move the tub from the bathroom.
Detach Tub and Remove Obstacles
Bathtubs are solidly attached to a number of places. Methodically removing these attachment points and obstacles will free up the tub so it can be lifted out. Attachments and obstacles might include:
- Bathtub drain
- Overflow drain
- Tile, acrylic, or fiberglass surround
- Drywall or cement board
Lifting a standard alcove bathtub out of its enclosure presents unique spatial and weight challenges.
Once the plumbing has been detached and the tub surround has been removed, one end of lightweight acrylic or fiberglass tubs can be lifted until the tub is vertical or nearly vertical. In this position, the tub can easily be rotated out of the enclosure.
Steel or cast-iron bathtubs' weight, combined with the awkward lifting position, make these tubs more difficult to remove with this method. The tub can be lifted out by cutting away a couple of key wall studs and swinging one end of the tub outward.
Another method is to open one section of the wall and slide the tub straight out. Or you can break up the tub with a sledgehammer or cut it in half with an angle grinder.
Removing the tub from the bathroom without damaging walls, the toilet, or the countertop is best accomplished with a helper. But if you are alone, you also have the option of sliding the tub out on blankets or wheeling it out an appliance dolly.
Wear eye, breathing, and hearing protection when removing the bathtub, especially when breaking up or cutting up the tub. Shut off power to the area before breaking into the walls. When removing wall studs, make sure that this is not a load-bearing wall.
Equipment / Tools
- Pry bar
- Flat-head and Phillips screwdrivers
- Cordless drill
- Drill bits and drivers
- Drain plug wrench
- Caulk-stripping tool
- Electric oscillating multi-tool
- Personal protection: eyes, hearing, breathing
- Garbage bags or other receptacle for removed items
Detach Tub and Remove Obstacles
Turn off Water
Remove Bathtub Drain
First, remove the drain stopper. Next, turn a plug wrench or clamping needle-nose pliers counter-clockwise to remove the drain assembly. Completely remove the piece and clear out any remaining plumber's putty with your fingers.
Remove Overflow Drain Grate
With the flat-head or Phillips screwdriver, turn out the screw that holds the overflow drain grate to the front side of the bathtub.
Unscrew the bathtub faucet by hand by turning it counter-clockwise out of the wall. Remove faucet handles by unscrewing the center screws. Some handles may have plates covering the screws which can be pried off with a flat-head screwdriver.
Peel out Caulk
With a caulk-stripping tool or a screwdriver, scrape away all caulk between the bathtub and the wall surround.
All bathtubs will have a waterproof surround made of tile or synthetic material. Surrounds extend over or against the bathtub's top integrated flange, effectively trapping the tub in place.
Synthetic tub surrounds must entirely be removed. Use the prybar to peel them off. Start at the top or side of the tub surround.
With tile surrounds that you wish to preserve, often just the top one or two rows of tile need to be removed. Remove sections of tile by grinding out the grout with an electric oscillating multi-tool fitted with a masonry blade, then prying off the tile with a pry bar or cold chisel.
Remove Drywall or Cement Board
If any drywall or cement board found beneath the tub surround acts as an obstacle to tub removal, it must be removed.
The drywall or cement board may extend over the top integrated flange or it may butt directly against the top of the flange. In either case, the materials need to be fully or partially removed.
Use the pry bar and cordless drill to remove these materials.
Unscrew or Pull out Fasteners
Nails or screws driven through the top integrated flange attach the bathtub to the wall studs. Pull out nails with the pry bar or the claw end of a hammer. Turn out screws with the drill.
Assess the tub for any other obstacle or attachment point. Sliding glass shower doors must be removed. Whirlpool tubs must be unplugged and all hoses detached or cut.
Bathroom flooring that butts up against the bathtub's front apron should be removed now if you intend to remove it anyway. Otherwise, leave it in place.
Break up Bathtub (Optional)
If the bathtub will be sent to a landfill or its materials recycled, it's sometimes fastest to break or cut up the tub in place.
Break up a cast-iron bathtub by hitting it with a sledgehammer. Start at the front edge or at the apron.
An angle grinder fitted with a metal-cutting blade can cut through a metal bathtub, too. Make one cut, either widthwise or lengthwise. Push the two pieces together by a few inches, then remove them individually.
Tilt Bathtub up to Vertical
Light-weight bathtubs can be tilted upward from the end opposite the drain overflow. First, fit the hook end of the pry bar over the top of the flange. Then, lean over the tub, propping your free hand against the long wall behind the tub. Pull up on the pry bar.
Once you have lifted the tub a few inches, quickly remove the pry bar and switch to using your hand. Keep pulling up until the tub is vertical. It helps to have an assistant control the far side of the tub so that it does not get caught on the overflow-and-waste pipe.
Once you have lifted up the tub a few inches, insert a two-by-four in the area between the wall and the tub. This provides a safety buffer for your hand in case the tub drops back down.
Often, the tub will not have enough room to tilt upward due to studs or wall materials on the lifting side. You may need to remove horizontal two-by-fours at the level of the integrated flange. Or you may need to remove a vertical stud at the corner of the tub to help the tub swing out. If it is deemed necessary to remove any framing, it may be necessary to hire a professional to avoid any possible problems that might occur and any subsequent repairs needed thereafter.
Loosen Tub Apron
If the tub will not be saved, another trick with metal tubs is to bend the apron corner forward. Often, this will provide enough room to clear the wall and swing the tub out.
Or, if you have enough space to reach behind the tub apron, metal supports can be unscrewed and removed. This loosens the tub apron and gives the tub more flexibility.
Move Tub Out of Bathroom
- Carry Tub: If you have an assistant, you can carry the bathtub out of the bathroom. One person at each end of the tub picks up the tub with gloves. Then, rotate the tub 90 degrees. This reduces the tub's width to between 15 and 18 inches so it will fit through the bathroom door.
- Slide Tub: If the bathroom flooring will be replaced, you can slide the tub directly across it and out the door. Or, use thick blankets as padding to protect the floor and to help with sliding.
- Wheel Tub: Heavy bathtubs can be moved with appliance dollies.
Bathtub Weights Type of Bathtub Weight Metal 60-inch alcove tub 65 to 75 pounds Acrylic 60-inch alcove tub 60 to 70 pounds Acrylic 60-inch whirlpool tub 90 to 120 pounds Modern rolltop cast iron tub 350 to 400 pounds Older cast iron bathtub 400 pounds+