Damn it, the toilet's leaking.

The boyfriend comes in and says, “Um, promise me you won’t shoot the messenger?” Evidently the toilet now leaks. Like I need one MORE THING TO WORRY ABOUT.

I went back there and there’s a little water on the floor. I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from, but he said he heard it dripping and was sure it wasn’t the sink or tub or anything. I can’t tell.

So, is this a simple easy “nobody in their right mind would call the plumber” job, or is it a “you can do it yourself but people like you might as well call the plumber” one?

Plumbing’s not my specialty but I can do most repairs myself and this one sounds manageable. Until someone more capable shows up you may want to check out this site.

BTW: he uses food colouring to find leaks, if you don’t have any on hand I’ve found soy sauce works quite well.

Assuming your toilet is like the ones in my house, the fix could be simple or nasty. The key is where the leak is.

  1. Best case: There should be a small, 1/2 inch or so diameter tube going from the wall to the bottom of the tank on the toilet. This is where the incoming water comes in. It is possible the leak is where this tube connects to the tank. If this is the case, you’re in fat city. You can easily fix this tube/hose yourself.

  2. Next best case: if the incoming hose isn’t the issue, then I would check to see if the leak is coming from where the tank sits on the seat. On my toilets, the tank is a separate piece that seats onto the seat.
    If the leak is coming from where the tank fits onto the seat, then it is still do-it-yourself-able, but will take a bit of work.

  3. Worst case: if the leak is coming from the seat section itself. This would indicate the seat section has a crack somewhere, and that is where you’re leaking water. You can actually replace the seat (although you’ll probably need to buy both a new seat and tank) yourself, but it is a bit of work. It’s not the seat or the seal with the outgoing pipe (Home Depot has kits to make that easy) - it’s getting the seat level that is a pain.

So you need to find where exactly the leak is coming from in order to figure out how to proceed.

If it’s leaking a lot, you should be able to:

  • follow the intake hose to the wall, and (hopefully) there will be a valve you can use to shut that off.
  • once you shut off the intake, flush the toilet.
  • this should result in 1) emptying the tank of water, and 2) not refilling the bowl. So this will minimize the amount of water that’s leaking out.

I would agree with cormac. Those are the most likely scenarios.

The only thing I might add is that it’s possible for condensation to form on the toilet tank - warm, humid air from a shower might condense on the tank, which is made cold by water brought in from outside. Under the right conditions, this kind of condensation can look a little bit like a leak and can be enough to drip onto the floor. Dry off the floor and the toilet. If there’s water on the floor again in the morning, you know it’s really a leak.

if it is condensation you will see multiple drops on the bottom of the tank.

if you can’t see the leak dry the floor. put a couple of sheets of newspaper down. inspect for wet spot frequently, if you catch it early after one or three drops it is a good indicator of where the drops are falling from, though the leak can still be elsewhere.

Your water tank could be filling too high. The hole that the flush handle comes through is not usually water proofed. The fix for this is to get a new valve/shut off device or maybe just bend the rod that goes to the ball (if you have that style) - but if the ball is sitting low in the water the best bet is to replace it.

The seal between the tank and the toilet could be off, but aside from requiring a really big wrench it’s not hard to fix.

Toilets are very simple really and most problems occur in the tank. Spend a few minutes and poke around back there to see how stuff works and it will be obvious.

The leak my toilet had was at the base of the inlet tube where it attaches to/through the tank. It was ridiculously easy to fix.

If you try to fix it yourself, do it when plumber’s fees aren’t their highest. I’d avoid Sundays and holidays.

Make sure you know where the whole-house shut-off is.

When ours was leaking (Kid in basement: “Dad, there’s water coming from the ceiling!”) I tried to use the water shut-off by the toilet, and it proceeded to leak. The washer had deteriorated in the ten years since the house was built. At that point, it was turn off the whole house, call a plumber. (I’ve since taught myself how to repair the water shut-offs.)

i think some shut off valves are washerless because the flow of water will erode the washer and so when it’s needed it won’t work. they shut off good enough for their purpose without the washer. you notice erosion of washers in faucet valves as it happens and they drip.

Tank shut off valves are typically the cheapest the builder could procure. Then they remain in place, unmanipulated, for years, even decades. Like any other mechanical entity, they have a number of possible failure modes. They might not want to close at all. Once closed, it may be impossible to re-open one. Often leakage will occur around the “packing nut” that seals the rotating stem. I am always hesitant to manipulate an old shut off, even when I have a new one and a soldering torch at hand.

Often the best approach is to simply shut off the house main, perform the repair, and turn the house back on again, avoiding the whole potential problem. House mains are usually more robust, and less likely to fail, than their little cousins.

IANA plumber, but I stayed in a Holiday Inn. Oh, and I’ve fixed my share of these myself.

i see it recommended that people exercise all their shutoff valves every year or two to help prevent getting frozen. a bother but probably worth it to keep them in working order.

One additional hint to help diagnose - dry everything off, shut off the water intake valve, and don’t flush. Wait to see if the leak continues. If it does, then it must be coming from the tank. If it doesn’t, it is probably coming from the intake. I’ve always found it hard to trace leaks around there because of wicking. I’ve fixed leaks in both places.

our toilet had bolts that went through the bottom of the water tank to the seat section. The washers on those had disintegrated once they dried out, so that might be an issue if you have those.

The problem with that approach is if/when you find you’ve broken something vital and cannot turn the water on again until you’ve made another run to the hardware store, or worse, gotten a real plumber in. Meanwhile the wife and kids are complaining that the 5 gallon bucket you’ve provided for their needs is getting full. Everything’s a tradeoff.

Yeah, it’s the packing nut washer that fails. Whenever I need to work on something serviced by one I haven’t fixed yet, I shut off the whole house and fix the shut-off in addition to what I need to do.

I bought some nice, all-metal quarter-turn ball shut-offs, but I can’t get the old shut-offs removed, so I just replace the washer in the old one.

I checked those - they aren’t wet.

Haven’t had time to really look at it - going to make the boyfriend turn off the valve this evening and get in there.

I’m betting that your boyfriend is peeing on the floor. All boyfriends do that.

It could also be backing up. I had this happen in an apartment complex where the neighbor was flushing potato peelings down the toliet next door and cloged the lines. When I flushed more than one the water would back up and raise the entire toliet off of the ring that seals the outlet pipe to the toliet bowl (at the floor). A plumber had to come in and run a snake thru the line and replace the seal ring. Not complicated, but messy. I could have done it but was glad I didn’t have to do so.

When my toilet started to leak near the base, it turned out that the wax ring that provides the seal between the floor and toilet had worn away due to age. Cheap to buy, semi easy to replace.

But not fun.