One often overlooked and easily fixed source of water leaks inside your home is your toilet. I thought I’d address this sneaky source of indoor mold and bacteria, because a toilet leak plagued our home too. This post will detail 7 ways to determine if your toilet is leaking, some tips on possible fixes, and advice on mitigating mold and bacteria if you have a leak.
I am writing this post, because a toilet leak, if left unfixed, can cause a huge mold and bacteria problem in your home. I cannot stress this enough. A leak at the base of the toilet is especially dangerous, because this is dirty toilet water actually leaking into your home. This is not clean water from the pipes, but sewage/waste water. Waste water, if allowed to sit anywhere, will contaminate your home and open your household up to disease, sickness and viruses.
I wish I had known to look out for this, especially when purchasing an older home. Many times, people don’t even know that they have this sort of toilet leak until they begin to smell sewer gas or start to see water leaking from an upstairs toilet on the ceiling below it.
If and when it reaches this point, you can be certain that you will need to do some kind of mold/bacteria remediation to preserve the health of your home and everyone in it. The idea is to find the problem BEFORE you have to call in professionals for health and safety reasons. Quick, regular inspections of all of your toilets and bathrooms, just a few times a year can prevent mold issues down the line.
So, let’s get started. Here is what to look for to determine if your toilet is sneakily leaking or has lost its seal at the base.
(Note: If you find any of these problems with your toilet, STOP using it immediately, until the issue can be fixed. The more it is used, the more water damage and potential mold damage that can be done to your home. Turn the water source to the toilet off and call a plumber. Dealing with leaks and pipes can be sticky business, and this kind of job is best done by a professional.)
- Do you see water on the floor around the base of the toilet? This doesn’t always mean that it is coming from the base. Many times, if water is leaking from the base, it is a slow leak, so there is not a lot of water. To determine if it is coming from the base, dry up all of the water on the floor. Then, flush the toilet, paying close attention to the base to see if you see water seeping out. A base leak is toilet bowl, dirty water. It is not sanitary or fresh water from the pipe. It is bacteria-laden and can make you sick if it gets on your hands, so exercise caution and wash everything well with soap and hot water.
- Does the toilet wiggle or shift? A toilet should be FIRMLY attached to the floor. It should not move at all when you sit on it. If this happens with any of your toilets, there is a chance that the flange wax seal is cracked, or the toilet bolts could just be loose. Either way, it needs to be fixed. Any wobbling can affect the watertight seal that is supposed to be there to prevent base leaks. Go ahead and tighten the bolts at the base of the toilet. Do this firmly, but taking care not to crack the base. If tightening the bolts does not work, then the seal is probably broken. A broken seal means sewage gases and dirty water is not sealed off from your home. Stop using the toilet and have this fixed immediately.
- Is the toilet caulked at the base? This is something that should be done to every toilet to prevent water from getting underneath the toilet and into the subfloor, where it can cause mold and bacteria to grow. Usually the kind of water that gets underneath, due to a lack of caulking is mopping water, or any splashes or spills that occur near the toilet. If the toilet has never been caulked, but there is no base leak, it is a good idea to use a moisture meter at the base of the toilet to check for moisture in the flooring. If it is dry, caulk the area all around the bottom of the toilet, where it attaches to the floor to prevent moisture intrusion. This will also help to protect your seal in the long run, which prevents water intrusion, seepage and mold.
- Does the bathroom have a sewage smell? This smell is noticeable and is similar to the smell that occurs when a pee trap is dry and sewer gases leak up the pipes. A cracked wax ring will allow sewer gases to escape as well. So, if your bathroom is clean, your pee traps are not dry and you STILL smell sewer gas, your flange wax ring probably needs replacing. (Note: I have met many mold sufferers who properly remediated their living spaces, but were still smelling mold in their bathrooms and feeling sick. Three of them had this very issue with a toilet in their home. The seeping sewer gases and mold in the subfloor around the base of toilet was the culprit. This is not always apparent in mold screenings. The mold spores are not released into the air to be picked up in an air test, even though mold is plentiful in the subfloor at the base of the toilet.)
- Is the toilet more than 10 years old? Some toilet rings can last a LONG time. It is a good idea to replace them about every 10-15 years to prevent a loss of seal, cracking and subsequent water intrusion. Prevention is so important, because simply replacing the flange wax ring at the 10 year mark can thwart a leak that could’ve otherwise caused a lot of damage. A flange wax ring only costs from $5-$10 dollars, so this is a cheap way to prevent potentially expensive issue.
- Is there water on the floor next to your toilet? Check the fill valve inlet on the tank. If your fill valve is leaking, there is usually a small puddle of water on the floor by your toilet. It is not noticeable at first, but overtime, can become a bigger problem. Fixing this usually requires you to just tighten the tank seal nut.
- Is the wall behind the toilet wet, or are the knobs that turn the water on and off at the toilet base wet? The water valve or supply tube can also leak. In these cases, the water is usually on the floor at the back of the toilet, or on the wall or in the drywall. This type of leak needs to be addressed pronto, because it can lead to moisture intrusion inside the wall. As soon as drywall gets wet, mold is in your future, unless the leak is fixed, the building materials are dried out completely or removed and replaced. Tightening the valve, or washers, may fix this, or they may need to be replaced. Remember, all parts of your toilets age and might need to be tightened or replaced over time to ensure that your toilet does not leak or break.
Should you find any of these issues with one of your toilets, in addition to fixing the leak, you must address potential mold and bacteria problems. If the leak is minor (no drywall or subfloor water intrusion) and only results in small amounts of water on the floor, mop the floor with hot water and a mild soap. Steam mop the area for additional disinfection. (Note: NEVER use a wet vacuum to soak up water! If it is HEPA, that is fine; but, a normal wet vacuum will distribute the bacteria and fecal exposed water into the air).
Our leak was at the base of the toilet. We had to contain the space, remove our toilet, plug the hole, cut out and replace subfloor and tile, remediate for mold and then replace the toilet.
Then, treat the area with EC3 Mold Spray. Once the spray has dried out completely, you can burn an EC3 Air Purification Candle in the bathroom for an hour or two as a precautionary measure. If the leak is at the toilet base or in the wall, and there has been significant water intrusion, you need to properly quarantine and contain the bathroom from the rest of your home before you do any demo or remediation. HERE is my post that details this procedure. Once the bathroom is contained, base leaks require the toilet being drained, removed and replaced, or removed and just the flange wax seal replaced. Once the toilet is removed, any moisture intrusion in the subfloor can be assessed. If flooring is damaged, it must be removed and replaced. I never advise leaving or just drying building materials that have been wet over any period of time. It is ALWAYS best to remove and replace them. Then, the whole bathroom should be sanitized and properly remediated for mold by a professional. If the subfloor is not damaged and there is no water intrusion, after the seal is replaced and the toilet is reset, you can scrub the bathroom floor clean with hot soapy water, treat the flooring, walls, and baseboards with the EC3 Spray or fog the bathroom with EC3 Mold Solution Concentrate, and burn EC3 Air Purification Candles to take care of any airborne mold spores before reopening the bathroom for use. If the leak is in the pipes in the wall, this is major surgery and requires skilled remediation to eliminate and prevent future mold. I wouldn’t advise trying to do this without professional help. You can, however, ask that they use the EC3 products in their remediation procedures to ensure that you and your family are not exposed to further toxic substances. The containment plastic and separation materials should not be removed until the leak is completely resolved, there is no visible mold or mold smell, and you get the “all clear” from a certified mold inspector.
Any questions? Where is a place that you have had a sneaky leak in your home? How did you find it?