How to Fix a Toilet That’s Leaking Around the Base

Hand in a Rubber Glove Cleaning a Tiled Floor in a Bathroom
Alex Wilson / Getty Images
Project Overview
  • Working Time: 30 - 45 mins
  • Total Time: 30 - 45 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $5 to $20

A toilet that's leaking water around the base can be an alarming experience. Stepping in water with bare feet is never pleasant, especially first thing in the morning. In most cases, the fix is simple and rarely requires the services of a plumber. Most repairs are inexpensive and can be completed in just a half-hour.

Why Toilets Leak Around the Base

Condensation on Toilet Collects on Floor

Since the toilet contains water, it's natural to assume that the toilet is leaking water from the inside. In many cases, though, it's just the opposite.

Moisture-laden air might be condensing on the outer surface of the toilet bowl or toilet tank. Moisture forms drops that run down the bowl or tank and collect on the floor. This can be due to a constantly running toilet or a temperature difference between the room and the water in the tank.

The fix for this problem is to reduce or divert bathroom condensation by adding or improving the bathroom exhaust fan, warming the bathroom, or adding a drip tray below the tank. If a constantly running toilet is part of the problem, that should be repaired, as well.

Warning

A toilet may also have water around its base if it has a loose or cracked flange. This issue usually requires professional repair.

Toilet Is Loosely Attached

Toilets are attached to the floor with bolts. These bolts attach to the metal or plastic closet flange, and the flange attaches to the floor around the top of the sewer pipe.

Over time, toilet bolts can loosen. Tightening these bolts sometimes can stop water from leaking around the base of the toilet. The toilet may also be loose because the seal is loose or leaking, in which case you'll want to replace the seal (see below).

Faulty Toilet Seal Leaks Water

Hidden underneath the toilet is a wax ring that seals the base of the toilet against the top of the sewer pipe and closet flange.

Wax toilet seals can harden or loosen over time and allow water to leak from the base of the toilet. Or the original wax seal may have been inadequate in the first place.

The solution is to remove the toilet, clean the flange, and replace the wax seal with an improved seal or with a silicone ring.

Warning

If, when replacing the seal, you realize that the flange is cracked or broken, you will likely need to call a professional to repair it.

Toilet Tank and Bowl Are Loose

Most toilets consist of two major parts: the lower bowl and the upper tank, with the tank connected to the bowl with brass or plastic bolts and a connector called a mack washer.

Tip

Some toilets are one-piece, with an integrated tank and bowl. So, the bowl cannot be removed. In this case, there can be no leakage between the tank and bowl.

These bolts may become loose, or the O-ring gasket between the tank and the bowl might be cracked or loose. Tightening the bolts can sometimes improve the attachment between the two pieces. If the gasket is faulty, it can be replaced with a new gasket.

If the bolts have rusted, they may not tighten easily and may need to be replaced. If that is the case, consider hiring a professional, as the bolts must be cut by hand, a job that requires a certain level of expertise.

Safety Considerations

Be careful of water seeping from the base of the toilet, as it will be unsanitary. Use latex gloves when working with toilets. When finished, thoroughly clean up the work area with a disinfecting solution.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

All Projects

  • Adjustable wrench
  • Bucket
  • Clean towels
  • Latex gloves
  • Putty knife

Materials

Fixing Condensation

  • Toilet tank drip tray
  • Toilet tank insulation panels
  • Bathroom exhaust fan

Fixing Toilet Seal

  • Thick wax seal or silicone seal

Fixing Tank-to-Bowl Gasket

  • Tank-to-bowl gasket
  • Plastic toilet tank bolts and nuts

Instructions

How to Limit or Control Bathroom Condensation

  1. Install a Bathroom Exhaust Fan

    If the bathroom does not have an exhaust fan, install a fan appropriately sized for your bathroom. If it does have a fan but it is not moving a sufficient amount of air, install a higher capacity fan. Be sure to always turn on the fan when using the bathroom.

  2. Equalize Temperatures

    Using a hot shower or bathtub in a cold bathroom causes condensation to quickly build up. This is especially the case with colder materials such as toilet porcelain.

    Running a heater in the bathroom warms elements in the bathroom and brings them closer to the temperature of the shower or bathtub, thus reducing condensation. Taking warm instead of hot showers is another way to bring the two temperatures closer to each other.

  3. Add a Toilet Tank Drip Tray

    A toilet tank drip tray is a waterproof plastic tray that fits between the toilet bowl and toilet tank. The drip tray collects condensation from the tank and prevents it from dripping on the floor.

    Tip

    A drip tray is only for toilet tanks, not for toilet bowls.

  4. Add Tank Condensation Liner

    Tank liners are rolls of thin foam that install on the inside of the toilet tank. They help regulate the temperature of the water in the tank. Plus, they can cut down on noises within the tank.

    For this, you'll need to turn off the toilet water supply, then lift the lid and let the tank completely dry out. Cut the liner to size with scissors. Stick the liner to the inside of the toilet. Replace the lid.

How to Tighten Floor Toilet Bolts

  1. Remove Plastic Toilet Bolt Caps

    Remove the plastic dome-shaped caps on the toilet base. Squeeze the cap to detach it, or use a nail file or screwdriver to loosen it.

  2. Tighten Floor Bolt Nuts

    If the toilet wiggles side-to-side, the nuts on the bolts need to be tightened. Use pliers to grip the nut. Turn the bolt clockwise to tighten it. Repeat on the other side.

    Warning

    Tighten the nuts gently. Overtightening the nuts can crack the porcelain base, rendering the toilet unusable. The only solution to a cracked toilet is to replace it.

  3. Wiggle Toilet

    Gripping the rim of the toilet, try to wiggle the toilet from side to side. If the nuts are sufficiently tight, the toilet should not move. Replace the plastic toilet bolt caps.

How to Replace a Faulty Toilet Seal

  1. Turn Water Off

    Turn off the water supply line from below. Flush the toilet. Unscrew the water supply line from the toilet.

  2. Drain Toilet

    Soak up water from the bottom of the toilet bowl with a towel.

  3. Remove Nuts From Floor Bolts

    Remove the plastic caps from the floor bolts. Use the pliers to unscrew the floor bolts.

  4. Remove Toilet

    Wiggle the toilet slightly to loosen it from the floor. Then, lift the toilet straight up to remove it. Move the toilet aside.

  5. Scrape off Wax Ring

    Pull off the old wax ring from the bottom of the toilet. With the putty knife, scrape away all wax remnants from the floor closet flange.

  6. Apply New Ring

    If using a wax ring, stick it onto the bottom of the toilet, centering it around the drain hole. If using a silicone ring, mount the ring on top of the floor closet flange.

  7. Reset Toilet

    Insert new floor bolts in the closet flange with the threads facing upward. Use the plastic retaining rings to keep the bolts in place. Set the toilet directly down on top of the bolts. Add the nuts for the floor bolts and tighten with the pliers.

    Reattach the water supply line. Turn on the water supply and let the tank fill up before flushing.

How to Tighten a Loose Toilet Tank

  1. Tighten Tank Bolts

    First, try tightening the tank bolts to see if this stops the leak. Underneath the toilet tank, locate the two plastic nuts that hold the tank to the bowl. Tighten both of the nuts.

    Dry off the toilet and observe to see if this stopped the leak. If not, you'll need to replace the tank-to-bowl gasket.

  2. Empty Toilet Tank

    Turn off the water supply to the toilet. Flush the toilet to remove all water. Disconnect the water supply line from the toilet tank.

  3. Remove Tank Bolts and Tank

    From below, turn out the plastic tank nuts and remove the bolts.

    Tip

    You may need to place one hand inside the toilet tank to hold the tank bolt in place while you turn with the other hand.

  4. Replace Tank-to-Bowl Gasket

    Remove the old gasket. Clean the bottom of the toilet tank and the top of the bowl with a clean rag. Insert the new gasket in the center drain hole.

  5. Replace Toilet Tank

    Lift the toilet tank and set it down on top of the bowl, aligning it with the two holes for the plastic tank bolts.

  6. Tighten Tank Bolts

    Insert the plastic tank bolts from above and down through the tank. Screw the plastic nuts in place from below.

    Replace the toilet tank lid. Reattach the water supply line and turn on the water. Wait for the tank to replenish, then flush once.

When to Call a Professional

Call a plumber if you have difficulty with removing and moving a toilet. You may also need to call a plumber if the top of the sewer pipe is broken or cracked or if the closet flange needs to be installed on a concrete floor.

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Article Sources
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  1. "Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Home." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.