Trouble with Toilets

You should be able to find all of the above at any hardware store. You'll also need a basic tool kit that contains such things as pliers, wrenches, and screwdrivers.

A Fine Mess

If you see rotten subfloor when you pull the toilet off the flange, you've got bigger problems on your hands than just a leaky toilet. Stop what you're doing and call a plumber for expert advice, and be aware that this might not be the last call for help you'll need to make. Depending on the level of damage, you might also have to call in a contractor to repair or replace the subfloor.

Before you start, put some old towels down on the floor around the toilet. If there's carpeting in the area, pull it back so it won't get wet.

Here's what you'll do:

  1. Locate the shutoff valve. You'll probably find it behind the toilet, but it can also be in the basement or crawl space directly beneath it. Turn off the water to the toilet.

  2. Flush the toilet. Hold the handle down through the entire cycle. This will drain out as much water as possible. Take the tank lid off and remove any remaining water, either by bailing or sponging it up. If there's any water left in the bowl, use a plunger to push it through.

  3. Remove the nut connecting the water supply-the tube that runs from the shut-off valve to the toilet-from the shut-off valve.

  4. Remove the caps from the closet bolts, and remove the nuts from the bolts. They might be rusted in place; if so, spray on a penetrating lubricant (WD-40 or something similar). If this doesn't work, you might have to cut the bolts off with a hack saw. If there's a caulk seal around the bottom of the toilet base where it connects to the floor, you'll have to cut through it all the way around in order to move the toilet.

  5. Now you're ready to remove the toilet. Do so by putting your hands on either side of the bowl. Gently rock it back and forth. This will break the wax seal.

  6. Lift the toilet up off its bolts. Put it down on something—not directly on the floor. An old towel, blanket, a sheet of plastic, even a piece of cardboard will work. Stuff the drain opening with some rags or an old towel to keep the sewer gases where they should be, not in your bathroom where you can inhale them.

  7. Inspect the flange—also called a closet flange, this is the piece that the toilet bolts to—for signs of damage, including cracks or bends. If it's damaged, you'll probably want to call a plumber to replace it. If it isn't, go to the next step.

  8. Clean the old wax off the base of the toilet. Clean off the flange as well. A small putty knife works well for this. When you're done, clean the surfaces with rubbing alcohol or mineral spirits; all surfaces should be squeaky clean for the best seal.

  9. Put the new wax gasket in place on top of the flange. Be sure it's sitting exactly centered on the flange. If it's off-center, it could impede flow from the toilet. Some people find it easier to put the gasket on the toilet's discharge outlet. If you go this route, be sure to press it into place as it can fall off when you pick the toilet up.

  10. Place the new mounting bolts into the slots on the flange. Tighten a quarter turn.

  11. Now it's time to put the toilet back into place. Use the closet bolts as a guide. When the toilet is in place, slip the washers and nuts on the bolts. Press down hard on the toilet with one hand on each side of the bowl. Really put your weight behind it. Or, just sit on the toilet seat. This will compress the gasket and firmly seat the toilet into position.

  12. Check to make sure the tank is parallel to the floor. When it is, tighten each nut by hand until they feel snug. Press down hard again, and tighten the nuts a little more. This time, it's okay to use a wrench, but be sure to not over-tighten the nuts. Keep pressing and tightening until the base of the bowl is snug to the floor.

  13. Reconnect the water supply line, and tighten the compression nut. Now, open the valve. Water should fill the tank of the toilet. Flush the toilet several times. If water is still leaking out, push down on the bowl and tighten the nuts a little more. Test again.

When you have the toilet seated as well as you can get it, go ahead and use it for a couple of days. Check the bolts again to make sure they're tight. If they aren't, tighten them down again.

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Common Household Disasters © 2005 by Paul Hayman and Sonia Weiss. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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