What is a Floor Drain?

Lori Kilchermann

A floor drain is placed in the lowest spot in the floor and any liquids that may get onto the floor are automatically directed toward the drain by the floor's slope. The drain empties into a drain field or is pumped up to an outside drain field by a sump pump. The floor drain has a grate that covers the drain and prevents small items from entering the drain or damaging the pump.

The sump pump draws water caught in the drain to the outside.
The sump pump draws water caught in the drain to the outside.

Most floor drain assemblies found within a home are located in the basement. Typically, the basement has a cement floor and the builder incorporates a floor drain into it. When being built, the cement for the foundation is typically poured and troweled into a slope running from the outside walls toward the center of the floor. The drain is placed into the center of the floor and allows water or any other liquids to be drained from the home.

Garages can have floor drains to catch and store runoff.
Garages can have floor drains to catch and store runoff.

When building a home that will incorporate a floor drain into the basement, special plumbing is installed underneath the basement floor prior to the cement being poured. This plumbing runs from the basement out into a drain field in the yard or into a catch basin for a sump pump. A sump pump is a device that has a float that activates the pump when a certain level of water is present. The pump then pushes the water out of the catch basin and out of the home into the sewer system.

Some drain systems use sump pumps to carry water from buildings or homes.
Some drain systems use sump pumps to carry water from buildings or homes.

Often a garage may utilize a floor drain. This is, in many cases, simply a drain that enters into a catch barrel underneath the garage floor. The barrel will usually have holes drilled all around its exterior that allows water and liquids to simply be absorbed into the ground surrounding the barrel. This type of drain has no provisions for directing the liquid out and away from the structure. This type of system is not designed to handle a large amount of water.

It is important to keep a floor drain clean. Precautions, such as pouring a disinfectant or drain cleaner down the floor drain periodically, is good preventative maintenance. Often water is caught in the drain system and can become stagnate. This can lead to odors in the home. By flushing the drain periodically with fresh water and using a drain cleaner, these odors can be eliminated.

In cold climates, it is important to assure that the floor drain does not freeze. Freezing can lead to broken plumbing and is a major repair issue. Keep the basement warm during cold weather to avoid a costly repair bill. Some homeowners in extremely cold climates pour recreational vehicle antifreeze down their basement drains to help prevent freezing and breaking.

Floor drains should be regularly cleaned and disinfected.
Floor drains should be regularly cleaned and disinfected.

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Discussion Comments


@Soulfox -- there is no disputing that there are some substances other than antifreeze that can be used, for how cost effective are they? One of the main problems with worrying about the environment is that some alternatives to conventional products such as antifreeze are very expensive. If given a choice, people will often opt to save money. You can't blame them for that.

Take hybrid cars, for example. Those caught on because they don't cost much more than competing conventional vehicles that offer similar space and accessories and they can save a bundle on gasoline, too.

The point is that people will take steps to protect the environment so long as it doesn't cost a ridiculous amount of money to do so.


@Melonlity -- you know, I thought of those environmental issues when reading the bit about some people intentionally pouring antifreeze down basement drains to keep them from freezing. Antifreeze is terrible for the environment. Ever seen what it will do to a patch of grass when poured on the ground? It'll kill grass quicker than anything and is generally terrible when it comes in contact with anything that is living.

There are safer alternatives to use than antifreeze to keep your drains from freezing in the winter. Do some research and you may find some cost effective ones.


Those garage floor drains have been known to give environmentalists fits. Oil, antifreeze and all sorts of substances that should not be introduced into the water table tend to get dumped down those things.

In fact, allowing those substances to enter drains may be a violation in some areas. So, do your research and figure out what you can and cannot put in those garage floor drains.

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