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SSWIGART 04-22-2009 09:34 AM

Upstairs toilet leaks into the garage
One of my upstairs toilets leaks (a few drops) into my garage when it is flushed. No leaking around the base, so I think the seal is good. Where should I start in finding the problem.

MACPLUMB 04-22-2009 11:10 AM

Toilet leaks

#1 get the proper repair parts, new wax seal, closet bolts with double nuts and washers, new closet supply, a tube of caulking
#2 pull toilet clean old wax seal and bolts off closet flange,
make sure closet flange is still ok to use ! !
#3 install new bolts with one set of nuts and metal washers
be sure to put washers on below the nuts
#4 install new wax seal on closet flange and then resit the toilet with the new water supply flex, lightly tighten
the washers and nuts on top of bowl to set on flange
#5 test flush the toilet 3 or 4 times, no leaks
#6 caulk around base of toilet, using a small sponge dipped in
water to smooth out caulking


Nestor_Kelebay 04-22-2009 11:55 AM

With utmost respect, I have to disagree with MacPlumb on several points:

1. Also get a new sponge gasket (which fits between the toilet tank and toilet bowl). Don't take the toilet and tank off together as you greatly increase the liklihood of breaking one or both where they bolt together. Take the tank off first, then the bowl.

If the toilet-to-bowl bolts come loose when removing the tank, purchase two extra tank-to-bowl rubber washers, two solid brass 5/16 inch washers and two solid brass "JAM" nuts which will thread on your toilet's solid brass tank-to-bowl bolts. A jam nut is just like a regular nut, only half it's thickness (which you need in the tight space between tank and bowl). Any place that sells fasteners can order brass jam nuts. Use a rubber washer under the head of the tank-to-bowl bolts, and then use a brass washer and the jam nut to compress the rubber washer (another rubber washer against the underside of the tank is optional if there's room for it) Do both tank-to-bowl bolts this way, and then mount the tank on the bowl with two more solid brass washers and solid brass nuts (jam nuts not needed here). That way you can remove the tank from the bowl in future without having water spilling all over the place from the tank.

Always use a new sponge washer between tank and bowl when replacing the bowl, and ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS check any brass you use in wet areas with a magnet. Brass is non-magnetic. If you come across magnetic brass, it's steel that's been coated with brass, and will rust and sieze up on you, making your life miserable and ruining your karma. ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS use solid brass (as proven by a magnet) or stainless steel in wet areas and areas that may get wet if there's a leak.

2. I just don't see the need to replace the flange-to-bowl bolts if they are still in good condition. If you have a lead bend, this would require prying up the lead, and that's never a good idea.
Perhaps MacPlumb can explain his reasoning on this point.

3. This is the first I have heard of installing nuts and washers onto the flange-to-bowl bolts BEFORE resetting the toilet. I don't see any problem doing it that way as long as there's room between the flange and underside of the bowl for the washer and nut. If there isn't, you could try using a jam nut instead. However, generally these bolts will stay more or less vertical when installing the bowl, allowing you to thread the bowl over the bolts.

4. It shouldn't be necessary to use any caulk, but if you do caulk around the base of the toilet, leave an area at the back of the toilet uncaulked so that any water leakage can find it's way out onto the floor to alert you there is still a leak. Otherwise the caulk will merely hide the fact that there's a leak, and you want to get this fixed before there's further water damage. Ideally, the best place to caulk is between the floor flange and the floor, and then leave the bowl uncaulked to allow any water leakage to be blindingly obvious.

5. Now would be a good time to replace any hardware in your toilet tank as well. Fluidmaster makes excellent ballcocks (aka: fill valves), and so if you were looking for an opportunity to replace the flush or fill valves, this is the time. Ditto for the water shut off valve to the toilet if you have one.

Redwood 04-22-2009 01:35 PM

I would do it as prescribed by MacPlumb With the one exception being to make sure the floor is flat and no rocking occurs. If the floor is not flat which is common on tile floors, shims should be used to prevent any rocking.

Caulking is required in most areas of the US for santary reasons to prevent bad aim, mop water etc, from getting under the bowl an growing a foul brew. Often it helps prevent corrosion of painted steel rings on flanges. I would recommend a caulk such as Phenoseal or, Polyseamseal. I would not use a Silicone RTV caulk as it makes the next removal of the toilet much more difficult.

The closet bolts usually require replacement because when the decorative bolt caps are used the bolts are cut off to short to be of value when resetting the toilet. Always use 5/15" brass bolts and nuts. They easily slide out of the slots in the flange. The bolts I prefer come with a tinnerman nut that keeps the closet bolts firm in place pointed straight up which is an aid in installation.

Tinnerman nut

In most circumstances I would use a wax ring without the black plastic horn. the one exception would be on a flange conected to a lead bend.

Wax ring without the black plastic horn

I would not separate the tank and bowl unless the washers under the tank to bowl bolts are in bad condition or if they get disturbed during the toilet resetting and leaking occurs.

The flange should be mounted on top of the finished floor and be secured firmly to the floor. It should also be able to firmly hold the closet bolts in place and be strong enough to pull down on the toilet so it does not move. If there are any problems with the flange please post back and we'll tell you what you need to do.

glennjanie 04-22-2009 07:14 PM

Welcome SSwigart:
I agree with MacPlumb and Redwood. Mac is a professional Master Plumber and knows his stuff. The picture shows the wrong kid blowing the smoke, in my humble and accurate opinion.

MACPLUMB 04-22-2009 09:01 PM

Toilet leaks
With many thousands of these kind of jobs, many times the wax seal leaks though underneath with no outward signs,

I have pulled and resit many toilets without removing the tank,
unless as REDWOOD says only if it leaks then redo the tank to bowl bolts and washers,
IF YOU DO, DO THIS wrap a small amount of plumbers putty around the bolts under the rubber washers, when you tighten some will squease out
just wipe excess away,
this will fill in any rough spots in the china and help
keep any leaks

the reason for the the nuts and washers on the flange is because
many times when you the bolts wiggle around but the most important reason is later down the road when you try to remove
the top nuts the bolts turn and will keep from coming off

the reason for the caulking is to keep water from running underneath the bowl and causing a stink as REDWOOD said and to keep from rotting out the floor,

just be glad the leak shows in your garage and not your kitchen
or dining room

35 year master plumber
Lic. Since Jan 1989

Nestor_Kelebay 04-22-2009 10:30 PM

Well, we obviously have a difference in opinion here, and that's a good thing. A difference of opinion on a technical subject is the best way for the newbies in here to learn enough about all aspects of that subject to walk away with enough information in their head to form their own opinions. Consequently, when we find such differences in opinion, it's incumbent upon us to disagree, and publicly, so that we present our reasons, and the newbies all learn what shapes our opinions.

But, kudos to all those who walk away if this ends up turning into a name calling contest. I pledge not to go there.

1. The reason why I always remove the tank first when removing the toilet is three fold:
A) I am concerned that the stress on the porcelain at the connection might be enough to crack the porcelain of the tank or bowl.
B) When you're trying to put the toilet back onto the flange, it's like threading a needle trying to get the flange bolts through the bowl holes. Having the tank and bowl bolted together just makes that harder to do because of the extra weight you need to manuever with some degree of control.
C) A toilet is heavy and removing one will often result in a wet floor. It's awkward enough to carry a toilet bowl in a small bathroom, let alone the whole toilet. For the coupla minutes it takes to remove the tank, I'd remove the tank to get the above benefits.

2.) Certainly, if the old flange-to-bowl bolts are so short that you can't use them to set the toilet in place over the middle of the flange, then I'd replace them. However if they haven't been cut too short I don't see any need to replace them. And, that's especially true in the case of a lead bend where you'd often have to pry the lead up around the bolts to replace them.
I think the instructions here should be to replace them if necessary, but not unnecessarily.

3. I think the idea of the Tinnerman nut to hold the flange bolts vertical is a good one, but with respect, I have to disagree with MacPlumb when he says:


the reason for the the nuts and washers on the flange ... the most important reason is later down the road when you try to remove the top nuts the bolts turn and will keep from coming off.
I sincerely believe that MacPlumb's advice is a product of his own experience, but I wonder if that experience is that as he loosened the top nut and the bolt started to turn it didn't occur to him that as he loosened the top nut, the bolt would fall so that it's head would fall below the groove in the bottom of the floor flange and possibly turning in any space below the floor flange. If that happens, the fix is to pull up on the bolt while loosening the nut.

Every floor flange I've ever seen has a groove cut in the bottom of it to prevent the rectangular head of the flanget-to-bowl bolts from turning. The only way I could see them turning is if that groove was way too wide or the head of the bolt too small.

From what I can see, putting a nut and washer on before the bowl would serve primarily to prevent the bolt from falling as the top nut is loosened, but I'd be mostly concerned that there wouldn't be enough room for a nut and washer between the flange and the bowl. I kinda doubt there'd be sufficient room on my toilets, but toilets are all different that way.

4. In my view, the "caulk the joint between the bowl and the floor" idea was invented by flooring installers who wanted a way to install bathroom linoleum without removing the toilet. The problem here is that if the wax seal does leak, you won't find out about it until it's leaking downstairs and you have ceiling damage to repair.

The idea that urine and other things are going to get under the bowl and cause a big stink from all of the bacteria that'll be growing under the bowl doesn't hold water either.

Bacteria are like anything else, they need food to survive, and there isn't enough food value in soft chlorinated water to support many bacteria. Bar soap is made from vegetable oils and contains enough food to support mildew (as on bathroom walls), but we never encounter a bathroom sink overflow drain that's stinking the bathroom up, do we. In fact, those overflow drains can get so clogged up with rotting putricide that they can interfere with the sink draining properly, but they still won't stink up the bathroom.

My building has 21 toilets, and none of them are caulked to the floor. In 20years I have never had a smell coming from under a toilet bowl. Every toilet smell could be eliminated by cleaning the inside of the bowl.

Finally, what about the toilets in "women's washrooms" in commercial settings like bars and restaurants. Why caulk the toilets there? Women sit down to do that job, so they never "miss".

In my view, the risk of not knowing about a leaking wax seal is more important than the potential for bacterial growth under the toilet, and I would recommend that newbies:
a) caulk between the floor flange and the floor whenever possible, and
b) leave the bottom of the toilet uncaulked, or
c) if they choose to caulk the toilet bowl, leave it uncaulked at the back so that any water there can leak out to alert you of a problem.

5. I disagree with Redwood's advice to use a wax seal without a plastic skirt. I would use one with a skirt.
The purpose of the skirt is to prevent wax from squeezing INWARD and into the toilet drain pipe opening while you're tightening the toilet bowl down. The plastic skirt reaches down to contact the conical shape of the flange opening to form a barrier to the wax. You don't want any of that wax getting into your drain piping because it won't dissolve. It'll just help clog up your drain piping.

I know enough to know that the above are good reasons and would like to know of any better reasoning for doing thing differently. I'm still learning too.

Seattle Drain Service 04-23-2009 09:57 AM

I never split the tank and bowl waste of time. They are often rusted and you need to sawzall them. I have removed hundreds of toilets and never broken the tank by keeping them together. I always caulk the toilet to the floor and leave a small opening in the rear. And the first thing I would do on a mystery leak is put blue toilet dye to prove it is even the toilet at fault even though it probably is.

Seattle Drain Service 04-23-2009 10:01 AM

Another tip for others is I use a small battery operated shop vac to remove all the water in the tank and toilet before I start. I used to use a hand suction gun but small shop vacs are cheap now days and work great!

Nestor_Kelebay 04-23-2009 11:07 AM


Originally Posted by Seattle Drain Service (Post 29831)
I never split the tank and bowl waste of time. They are often rusted and you need to sawzall them. I have removed hundreds of toilets and never broken the tank by keeping them together.

Yes, but is that the advice you'd give a new homeowner who doesn't have 30 years of experience doing this kind of work?

Certainly the tank-to-bowl bolts can seize up if someone puts some steel in there, but that's the kind of thing a new home owner would want to get corrected anyhow. The plumber doesn't want to start bothering with that cuz it'll jack up the price of the job, and bring out the Dr. Jekyll in the customer, but a new homeowner will be willing to cut those bolts with a hacksaw if necessary to get his toilet in proper condition so that he can service it himself.

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