Many homeowners find their stomach twisting into knots when they enter the bathroom and see water on the floor. They think, “My toilet is leaking, and it might ruin the entire house!” They shouldn’t wait until the problem becomes worse, but should address it immediately.
Often the problem is easily fixed, but the homeowner or the plumber should approach things in a systematic way. First, he should test the potential problem areas for leaks. Are the bolts at the bottom of the water tank dry? Is the water supply line dry at the bottom and at the top where it feeds into the tank? Is the floor dry around the bottom of the toilet where it rests on the tile?
If no moisture is obvious in these areas, there’s a good chance that what is causing the toilet to leak is condensation. For example, when you have a glass of iced water in the summer, condensation will form on the outside of the glass. The condensation is from the warm summer air colliding with the cold glass to form water droplets on the outside of the glass.
In a bathroom, warm moist air created by people taking showers collides with the cold water in the toilet’s water tank to form condensation. This condensation drips on the floor and could be more than just a nuisance but could become the breeding ground for mold.
To prevent condensation, the plumber will drain water out of the tank by turning off the water supply and thoroughly drying the inside of the tank with a sponge or towel. To completely dry the area, he might clamp a shop light or lamp to the inside of the tank. In half a day, the heat from the light should have dried the inside of the tank.
Next, the plumber will cut pieces of rubber or foam to line the tank. After applying adhesive, he will stick the rubber to the inside of the tank to insulate the water in the tank from the warm moist air outside. After the rubber is firmly stuck to the tank, the homeowner can turn the water back on, refill the tank and the system is ready for use again.
A second reason for a leaky toilet is that the leak is coming from the water supply line. The homeowner can determine that quickly by feeling the line. If it is dry with no moisture at the top or bottom of the line, then the leak is coming from somewhere else. If the line is wet, then check the fittings at the bottom or top and tighten if necessary. The top of the line goes into the water tank and is often covered with a plastic fitting, so don’t tighten it too snug, Mr. Hercules. You can save that muscle power for the rusty bolts you might find later.
An old water supply with questionable fittings should be replaced. The new line is inexpensive, and the bolts are easily snugged tight at the top and bottom using a crescent wrench.
Leaky water tank
If condensation is not an issue and the water supply line is ok, another possible culprit is a leaky water tank. If the home is older, then it is possible that for decades a constant flow of water has sloshed across the two bolts securing the water tank to the toilet. A visual inspection might reveal the metal bolts to be corroded and allowing water to leak out.
For this procedure, as in earlier ones, the water must be turned off and the tank drained and dried. Often the old bolts will be difficult to remove after years of corrosion. Now, you can unlimber your muscle power, Mr. Hercules.
The new bolts should be water resistant, of course, and should also have a washer and rubber washer inside the tank, plus a washer and rubber washer outside the tank. Make sure the new bolt has a slotted head, so the homeowner can easily secure the tank to the toilet by holding the bolt firmly from above with a screwdriver and tightening the bolt below by hand. Often the homeowner will choose to use wing nuts to hand tighten the bolt below without having to resort to using a wrench in the tight spaces. The key thing is that the bolt should be secured so that there will no leaks, but not tightened so forcefully that the porcelain tank cracks.
Another reason that your toilet is leaking could be the wax ring at the bottom of the toilet. Replacing the wax ring can get messy and requires some heavy lifting. To install a new wax ring, the water tank and toilet must be drained and carefully set to one side. The wax ring is placed at the top of the drain pipe where it joins the toilet. If the toilet has been in place for many years, the ring has probably deformed and might be allowing leaks.
A new wax ring or rubber one will fit over the mouth of the drain pipe and have enough flexibility to allow the toilet to fit tightly on top of the pipe. Once the ring is in place the old toilet can be bolted back on. Be sure that the tank is firmly connected to the toilet before the entire toilet assembly is reconnected.
A homeowner who is concerned that his toilet may be leaking should take prompt action. The experienced handyman-homeowner or professional plumber can resolve this issue by inspecting for condensation issues, securing or replacing the bolts at the bottom of the water tank, or replacing an aging wax ring at the base of the toilet. The result should be a toilet that is leak free for years to come.