How to Fix a Toilet That Leaks Around the Base

Hand in a Rubber Glove Cleaning a Tiled Floor in a Bathroom
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Project Overview
  • Working Time: 30 mins - 1 hr, 15 mins
  • Total Time: 30 mins - 1 hr, 15 mins
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $5 to $15

Discovering a puddle of water around the base of your toilet can be unnerving since the cause of the leak is often hidden from sight. In most cases, fixing the problem is not very difficult, but it may involve 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 about an hour. It's important to be careful as you move the toilet since it is easy to crack the porcelain of the toilet tank.

Before You Begin

Replacing the wax ring that seals the toilet against the drain opening is by far the most common fix for a leaky toilet base, but there are two other possible causes you should consider first:

  • The bolts securing the toilet to the floor might be loose. The base of a toilet is held to the floor with two floor bolts threaded up from the drain flange 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 drain water may seep out around the base of the toilet each time the toilet flushes.
  • Water condensing on the toilet tank and bowls 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 that seeps from your toilet after each flush 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 the ceiling below the bathroom.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

Tightening the Floor Bolts

  • Adjustable wrench

Replacing the Wax Ring

  • Bucket
  • Sponge
  • Channel-lock pliers
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Mini hacksaw (if needed)
  • Putty knife
  • Work gloves

Materials

Dealing With Condensation

  • Toilet tank drip tray
  • Toilet tank insulation panels

Tightening Floor Bolts

  • Tub-and-tile caulk

Replacing the Wax Ring

  • New wax ring
  • New floor bolts
  • Tub-and-tile caulk

Instructions

How to Deal With Condensation

Water puddling on the floor around the toilet can be caused by dripping moisture that condenses out of humid air in the bathroom onto the surfaces of the porcelain because of the cool water inside the toilet. You may notice droplets of moisture on the bottom of the toilet tank, as well as "sweating" of the porcelain tank and bowl surfaces. There are several ways you may be able to reduce this problem.

  1. Reduce Bathroom Humidity

    The moisture is condensing onto the toilet because the air in the bathroom is humid, so one way to reduce the problem is to try and keep the air drier. Taking shorter, cooler showers can reduce air moisture. Make sure to run the exhaust fan whenever bathing or showering. Running the home's air conditioner in the summer will also lower the air moisture and reduce condensation.

  2. Reduce the Number of Flushes

    If you reduce the number of flushes, the water in the tank can assume room temperature and reduce condensation on the tank. If you live in a humid climate, you may want to instruct your family to flush only to dispose of solid waste, following the "if it's yellow, let it mellow" adage. Warmer toilet tank water means less condensation.

  3. Check for Flapper Leaks

    Make sure the flush valve flapper inside the tank is sealing correctly. If it is allowing water to leak down into the toilet bowl, this will keep a steady stream of fresh cold water entering the tank, which makes outer condensation more likely. Fixing a leaky flapper will often stop condensation on the toilet tank.

  4. Use a Drip Tray

    Most condensation occurs under the toilet tank, so a drip tray positioned below will collect condensation and prevent it from puddling on the floor. This is not the most attractive solution, but it does prevent possible damage to the flooring.

  5. Install a Tank Liner

    Tank liners are dense foam insulating panels that prevent the cold tank water from chilling the porcelain to a temperature that causes moisture in the room air to condense. Tank liner kits are cut to size and adhered to the inside of the tank after it is emptied of water.

How to Tighten the Floor Bolts

The floor bolts that secure the toilet to the floor can loosen over time, sometimes because the wax ring that seals the toilet becomes compressed, allowing the toilet to rock and break the drain seal. Be aware, though, that this is a sign that the wax ring is nearing the end of its useful life. Tightening the floor bolts may help for a while, but you probably will need to soon replace the wax ring.

  1. Remove the Floor Bolt Caps

    Remove the plastic caps covering the two floor bolts along the base flange of the toilet on either side. Inspect the condition of the bolts and nuts threaded onto them. Badly rusted nuts or bolts may require that you remove the entire toilet to replace the bolts, but you may find that the nuts are simply loose and can be retightened.

  2. Tighten the Floor Bolt Nuts

    Use an adjustable wrench to tighten the nuts on the floor bolts, drawing the toilet back flush with the floor. Tightening the bolts will put additional pressure on the wax ring, sealing the toilet to the drain outlet to stop the leaking.

  3. Test the Toilet

    Flush the toilet several times and watch for leaking around the base of the toilet. If you notice any seeping—even the smallest amount—then you will need to remove the toilet and replace the wax ring.

    If there is no leaking and the toilet seems to be solidly resting on the floor with no rocking, then apply a bead of tub-and-tile caulk around the base of the toilet, where it meets the floor.

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Watch Now: How to Fix a Leaking or Rocking Toilet

How to Replace the Wax Ring

While tightening the floor bolts can help in some cases, the more long-lasting solution is to remove the toilet and replace the wax ring that seals the base of the toilet to the floor drain. Generic wax rings fit most toilets, 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 the clerk at the hardware store or home center and ask for help.

  1. Shut Off the Water

    Begin by shutting off the water to your toilet. This usually is done by closing the fixture shutoff valve that connects the water supply pipe to the supply tube leading to the toilet's fill valve. This shutoff valve is usually be located under the left side of the toilet tank. Turn the handle fully clockwise to shut off the water.

    If your toilet does not have a shutoff valve, then you will need to turn off the water at the home's main shutoff valve. (You may want to take this opportunity to have a fixture shutoff valve installed for your toilet.)

  2. Empty the Toilet

    Flush the toilet to empty most of the water from the tank, then use a sponge and bucket to soak up any remaining water from the tank and from the toilet bowl.

  3. Disconnect the Fill Valve

    Unscrew the mounting nut that holds the water supply tube to the fill valve tailpiece below the left side of the toilet tank.

  4. Unfasten the Floor Bolts

    Remove the caps covering the toilet's floor bolts on the flange toilet base, then unscrew the nuts threaded onto the bolts. If the bolts and nuts are fused together due to rust, you may need to sever the bolts using a mini hacksaw. Be patient, as it can take some time and strength to cut through the bolts this way.

  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 when 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.

    Tip

    Since you have removed the toilet anyway, consider using this opportunity to replace all the serviceable parts on the toilet, including the fill valve and the flush-valve with flapper. These parts will eventually wear out anyway, and this is a good opportunity to do a complete toilet tune-up. When doing a complete tune-up, it may be easiest to detach the toilet tank from the toilet bowl unit when removing the toilet.s

  6. Clean the Floor Drain and Toilet Drain

    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 floor bolts in the drain flange (the metal ring that sits over the toilet drain opening in the floor).

    Tip

    Carefully inspect the floor and subfloor while you have the toilet removed. If long-term leaking has caused softening or decay of the subfloor, it may be necessary to cut out and replace the subfloor under the toilet to provide a firm base. This is a significant carpentry job that may call for professional help. It requires removal of the drain flange, cutting away the damaged subfloor, cutting and installing new subflooring, and installing a new drain flange. But unless the subfloor is solid, there's little benefit to simply installing a new wax ring.

  7. Replace the Floor Bolts

    It's usually best to replace the old floor bolts whenever installing a new wax ring. Remove the old bolts from the slotted holes in the drain flange, then fit new bolts into the openings.

  8. Position 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 floor bolts are properly positioned in the key openings on each side of the drain flange.

  9. Reset the Toilet

    Carefully lift the toilet and place it down over the drain so that the floor 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 floor bolts and tighten with a wrench. Make sure the bolts are snug but not too tight; over-tightening may crack the porcelain.

    If the bolts are too long, you can cut them to length or snap them off so that the decorative caps fit properly over the ends of the bolts.

  10. Connect the Fill Valve

    Reconnect the water supply tube to the fill valve tailpiece on the bottom left of the tank, then turn on the fixture shutoff valve and test the operation of the toilet.