How to Fix a Toilet That Leaks Around the Base

Hand in a Rubber Glove Cleaning a Tiled Floor in a Bathroom
Alex Wilson / Getty Images

Discovering a puddle of water around the base of your toilet can feel ominous since the cause of the leak is often hidden from sight. In most cases, fixing the problem is not particularly difficult. It is, however, a somewhat more complicated project than some other common toilet issues, since it sometimes involves removing the entire toilet in order to replace the wax ring that seals the bottom of the toilet against the drain opening. Most DIYers are quite qualified to do this work, and in most cases it takes no more than two hours. It's important to be careful as you move the toilet, since it is easy to crack the porcelain of the toilet tank.

Why Toilets Leak at the Base

If you notice water pooling around the base of your toilet, there are several possible causes:

  • The bolts that secure the base of the toilet to the floor might be loose. The base of a toilet is held to the floor with two tee-bolts threaded up from the mounting ring through holes in the base of the toilet. If these bolts are loose, the toilet may rock, breaking the seal formed by the wax ring. If this is the case, each time the toilet flushes, drain water may seep out around the base of the toilet.
  • The wax ring that seals the toilet to the drain may be faulty. This is sometimes caused by a toilet that is loose, or it can be the result of a wax ring that has grown old and is no longer pliable enough to provide a good seal.
  • Water condensing on the toilet might be dripping down and puddling around the base of the toilet. The water in the toilet tank and bowl is often quite cold, and the cool porcelain can cause humid room air to condense and drip down onto the floor. If this is the case, you can usually see droplets of water collecting on the outside of the porcelain bowl and tank.

Warning

Avoid using your leaking toilet if possible. The water seeping from your toilet is dirty and can cause unpleasant odors and potential health hazards. The presence of standing water near your toilet can also damage your flooring and subflooring as well as your first-floor ceiling if your affected bathroom is on the second story.

Tools and Supplies You Will Need

The tools and material required to eliminate water puddling around a toilet will vary, depending on the cause. You may need one or more of the following:

Instructions

  1. Check for Condensation

    Water puddling around the toilet due to condensation will be relatively easy to spot, since there will be visible moisture on the toilet tank and bowl. Usually, the water will be condensing on the tank, since the water inside is colder than the water in the toilet bowl. There are several methods that can be used to prevent the puddling:

    • Install a tray. A small drip tray positioned is a simple and affordable way to keep water off of your floor. Drip trays aren’t a permanent solution, but they will give you time to find a suitable fix.
    • Change bathroom habits. Taking shorter, cooler showers, leaving on fans and keeping bathroom doors ajar when unoccupied will help eliminate the humidity in the bathroom that leads to condensation on the toilet.
    • Insulate the tank. Tank insulation will help keep the water in your tank from cooling down the porcelain, thereby reducing condensation. Tank insulation comes in rolls that you can cut into panels to fit the four inside surfaces of the tank. The insulation has a self-adhesive backing that makes it easy to adhere the panels to the inside of the tank.
    • Check the flapper. A faulty flapper can allow a small, constant stream of cool water to continually flow into the toilet tank. The lower temperatures of the in-tank water will cause a buildup of condensation of humid room air on the outside of the tank. Check your flapper to ensure it is creating a proper seal.

    If condensation is not the problem, move on to the next possible solution.

  2. Tighten the Tee Bolts

    Remove the plastic covers from the tee bolts on either side of the toilet base, and use an adjustable, open-end or box-end wrench to tighten the bolts. By tightening the toilet down against the floor, the wax ring that seals the toilet drain outlet will be compressed, restoring the seal. If the tee bolts can't be tightened, you may need to remove and reseat the toilet, installing new tee bolts and a new wax ring.

    If this doesn't work, it is likely that the wax ring is damaged or worn out; proceed to the next step to begin replacing the wax ring.

  3. Purchase a New Wax Ring

    Generic wax rings fit most toilet, but there are slight variations for some toilet models. If you’re unsure about which wax ring replacement will work for your toilet, describe your toilet model to clerk at the hardware store or home center and ask for help.

  4. Disconnect the Toilet

    Begin by shutting off the water to your toilet. This can usually be done by closing the fixture shutoff valve that attaches the water supply pipe to the toilet's water fill valve. This shutoff valve will usually be located under the left side of the toilet tank, where the water supply tube connects to the water valve tailpiece. Next, flush the toilet to drain water from the tank and the bowl. Use a sponge to remove any remaining water in the toilet tank and bowl.

    Next, unscrew the mounting nut that holds the supply tube to the fill valve tailpiece. Then, use an adjustable or open-end wrench to remove the nuts from the tee bolts holding the base of the toilet to the floor. If the bolts are corroded and won’t turn, or if they spin in place, use a hacksaw to sever each bolt.

  5. Remove the Toilet

    Lift the toilet away from the floor drain and carefully set it on its side. You may have to rock the toilet gently to break the seal. Be very careful as you tilt the toilet to lay it on its side, as it is easy to crack the tank unless you are gentle. Toilets have an unusual center of gravity, which can make lifting by yourself difficult; it’s a good idea to have someone help you to avoid injury or damage to your toilet. After you have removed the toilet, inspect the tee bolts. Purchase a new set if they’re rusty or corroded.

    • Note: Some plumbers will use this opportunity to perform a complete tuneup on the toilet, installing a new fill valve, flush valve, and flapper at the same time they are replacing the wax ring. When doing a complete tuneup, it may be easiest to detach the toilet tank from the toilet bowl unit when removing the toilet.
  6. Remove the Old Wax

    Use a putty knife to scrape the old wax ring away from the drain opening (horn) on the bottom surface of the toilet bowl, making sure to remove any stuck-on wax. Older wax rings build up a grimy residue over time, so be sure to have gloves and trash bags ready. Don’t forget to clear out the keyed slots for the tee bolts in the drain flange (the metal ring that sits over the toilet drain opening in the floor).

  7. Install the New Wax Ring

    Place the new wax ring over the drain opening, with the plastic cone facing downward into the drain. Make sure the tee bolts are properly positioned in the key openings on each side of the drain flange.

  8. Reinstall the Toilet

    Carefully lift the toilet and place it down over the drain so that the tee bolts thread up through the holes on the base of the toilet. Slowly use your body weight to press the toilet into the wax ring and rock it gently from side to side to compress the wax and create a watertight seal. Place the washers and nuts back on the tee bolts and tighten with a wrench. Make sure the tee bolts are snug but not too tight; over-tightening may crack the porcelain.

  9. Reconnect the Water Line

    Reattach the water supply tube to the tailpiece of the fill valve, then turn on the fixture shutoff valve. Inspect for leaks, and tighten the connections if necessary. After the toilet tank fills completely, flush and inspect around the base of the toilet to make sure the wax ring is properly sealed and that there is no leaking. When you are confident that the wax ring is properly installed, run a bead of tub and tile caulk around the base of the toilet, where the porcelain meets the floor.

  10. Over time, a new wax ring may compress slightly, causing the toilet to loosen and rock. Tightening the tee bolts periodically can help keep the wax seal intact.