Repair & Renovation

How to Fix a Toilet Leaking at the Base: Step by Step Guide

Is there a leak at the base of your toilet, but you don’t have the time or money for a plumber?

Don’t worry; most toilet leaks are an easy DIY fix when you have a little know-how. But, you must fix the issue right away before water damage occurs.

Save some money and learn a new skill by following this step-by-step guide on how to fix a toilet leaking at the base. You’ll have your toilet back in action in no time!

Before You Start

Before you start your DIY toilet leak repair, you need to understand the two main reasons water can puddle at the base of your toilet. 

The first is loose bolts that hold the toilet secure to the floor, which causes the base to shift or rock when you sit down. This motion moves the wax ring out of place, and some water then leaks out the seal during a flush. Once wastewater leaks from the toilet base, you must repair the seal. Tightening the bolts at this stage is not going to solve the problem.

The second issue can be an old wax ring that has shrunk with age. This opens up gaps where wastewater escapes during a flush.

Both problems need immediate attention. Water can seep past tiles or linoleum and cause damage to the underlying wooden floor structure or even drip down to the floor below. When that happens, a fast and inexpensive fix becomes much more costly.

Leaking sewer gas from poor wax seals is another huge concern that can lead to sickness.

Before you begin, here is a list of the supplies you will need. It is also handy to have a second pair of hands when lifting and resetting the toilet. Still, most people can handle the job solo if necessary.

Supplies

You will need:

  • Replacement wax ring
  • Replacement tee-bolts and washers (often comes with wax ring kit)
  • Replacement flange that holds tee-bolts (optional)
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Putty knife
  • Bucket
  • Sponge
  • Hacksaw or power cut-off tool
  • Rubber gloves
  • Old towel and small rags

Be aware that often the leaking water at the base of the toilet water may look clean, but it is dirty. Wear gloves and clean up with bleach to disinfect the area.

Step 1: Turn Off Water

Shut off the water supply running to the toilet. The shut-off valve is typically between the main water line coming from the floor or wall and the pipe leading into to base of the toilet tank.

Most standard shut-off valves are silver and have a football shape. Turn the valve clockwise until it stops. 

Newer styles of shut-off valves feature a small inline tab that requires only a quarter-turn outward to stop the water flow.

Some water shut-offs in a manufactured or mobile home can look more like a knob you can move up or down. Lift the little white knob to stop the water flow.

Step 2: Empty Tank

Put on your gloves. Flush the toilet to empty the majority of water from the tank. Using a sponge and bucket, soak up the remaining water from the bottom of the tank. 

If there is water in the toilet bowl, fill the bucket with water and slowly dump it directly into the bowl from a height of 18-inches. The force of the water will suck any remaining water out of the lower portion of the toilet.

Step 3: Unhook Water Line

Now you can unscrew the water line that attaches to the bottom of your toilet tank. Most of the time, you can untighten this connection by hand, but use a wrench if it’s stubborn. Be careful when using a wrench, as most of these connections are plastic and are easy to crack.

You need to free the waterline so that you can move the toilet away from the wall.

Step 4: Loosen the Tee-Bolts

Pull off the plastic caps over the nut and bolt found on each side of the toilet base. Using your wrench, unscrew the nut and remove any washers from the tee-bolt.

Step 5: Remove the Toilet

Prepare a space in your bathroom to set the toilet while you work on fixing the wax ring. Lay down an old towel for the toilet to sit on. Parts of the old wax ring may stick to the underside, so having it sit on a large rag or towel will make clean-up faster.

To remove the toilet, grab the bowl on both sides and lift upwards until free of the tee-bolts. This step may be tricky when working solo if you aren’t strong, so having a partner for this step is helpful. Set the toilet down on the towel.

Another way to lessen the weight of moving the entire toilet is to remove the tank portion after disconnecting the waterline. Look for bolts at the bottom of the tank that unscrew from the underside of the bowl. 

Sometimes the location of the toilet makes reaching these bolts difficult. Keeping the toilet intact makes the whole job quicker.

TIP: For tight bathroom spaces, consider placing the toilet into the tub or shower. Be careful not to bang and crack the porcelain of either the toilet or your tub or shower unit.

Step 6: Remove Old Wax Ring

Plug up the open sewer line with a rag to prevent sewer gases from filling your bathroom, which can make you sick. Make sure you don’t push the cloth down into the pipe so you can’t get it back out.

Slide the tee-bolts out of their grooves. Use the putty knife to scrape off the old wax ring. Be sure to clear any wax stuck in the slots of the flange. Inspect the flange, and replace if worn or cracked.

Tip the toilet base and scrape any wax left on the bottom around the horn.

Step 7: Install New Wax Ring

Open the box and remove the new wax ring, pulling off any plastic cover. These are quite sticky, so handle carefully. Center the ring on the flange and press down firmly, but do not distort the shape.

Step 8: Install Tee-Bolts

Take the new tee-bolts and washers from the packaging and slide them into place on the flange, as shown on the instructions.

IMPORTANT: Remove the rag from the sewer line!

Step 9: Replace the Toilet

Lift the toilet and hold it a few inches over the new wax ring, lining up the bolts so they will come through the holes in the base of the toilet. Again, this step is much easier with one person to hold the toilet while another helps guide it down onto the bolts. Seeing the holes while holding the toilet is challenging.

Make sure the toilet is straight from the wall and not tilted forward or back. Then press down with both hands on the sides of the bowl to seal the sewer line with the toilet.

Step 10: Tighten Tee-Bolts

Place the washers and nut onto the bolts and slowly begin to tighten them down—work from both sides of the toilet to keep the wax ring compression even. Do not overtighten the bolts, as you can crack the ceramic base.

Once the bolts feel secure, sit on the toilet for a few minutes, then recheck them to see if they need any further tightening. The toilet should not rock or move in any direction.

If the plastic caps don’t snap over the bolts, they are too long. Use a hacksaw or power cut-off tool to trim them down. Replace the caps.

Step 11: Attach Water

Reattach the waterline to the underside of the toilet tank, making sure the seal is tight. Open the water shut-off valve to allow the tank to fill. 

Flush the toilet a few times to ensure the wax seal is leak-free. To prevent the spreading of germs, toss the rags and towel and disinfect the toilet area.

Over the next several weeks, as the toilet settles into position, recheck the bolts for tightness.


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