how to fix a toilet

Quick Fix: How to Fix a Toilet

There are several things that immediately bring me anxiety. One of those is home repair. My father knew and taught me a lot of things, but home repair was a mystery. When I became an adult and moved out on my own, I always felt foolish for not knowing “basic” things that it seemed everyone else knew. One of those things was how to fix a toilet. Beyond jiggling the handle and using a plunger, I was pretty hopeless. I would look into the tank and think: What are all of these things? How do they work? Is that a rubber ball? Then, of course, I had no idea what to do. If you are anything like me, this quick fix series is for you.

It’s time to stop paying handymen and plumbers for things you can do yourself. I’ve found that it’s a lot easier than it looks and the more I do myself the more I enjoy it. This month, we are going to master the bathroom with how to fix a toilet.

Possible Tools and Supplies Needed:

  • Wrench
  • Putty knife
  • Paper towels and rags
  • Leveler
  • Leveling shims
  • Sponge
  • Rubber gloves
  • Caulk

Leaking Toilet

You need to determine the location of the leak. The leak could be at the base or in the bowl. A leak at the base could cause significant damage to your floor. The leak in the bowl can cause flushing, making your water bill rise unnecessarily. Here is an easy way to test for both:

1. Test the Bowl

  • Pour a teaspoon of food coloring into the tank again, but this time, do not flush.
  • Check the bowl water and see if it is red.

2. Test the Base

  • Wipe around the base with a towel to make sure everything is dry.
  • Pour a teaspoon of red food coloring into the tank.
  • Flush and wait an hour.
  • Wipe a dry paper towel around the base. If the red food coloring shows up, it is leaking through the base.
  • The leak is probably being caused by a break in the wax seal below the toilet. (The solution is below.)

Fixing the Bowl Leak

The bowl leak shows a problem with the flapper not sealing properly. It is the piece in the tank the flaps up during flushing to enable water to go into the bowl. It may have gotten deteriorated through aging or in-tank cleaners. Replacing the flapper is easy.

  1. Turn the water off at the supply valve coming out of the wall.
  2. Flush the toilet to empty the water from the tank.
  3. Detach the chain and pull off the old flapper.
  4. Attach the chain to the new flapper.
  5. Line up the new flapper with the drain seat (where it sits) and snap into place.
  6. Attach the chain to the handle lever.

If this doesn’t resolve the problem then it may be a corroded drain seat. You may need to replace the entire flush valve. If the water in the bowl is experiencing rippling, check the fill valve and make sure it is clean of sediment. If the problem persists then the water in the tank may be too high. The video below will show you what to do in those situations.

Fixing the Base Leak

  1. Turn the water off at the supply valve coming out of the wall.
  2. Flush the toilet to empty the tank.
  3. Use sponges and rags to remove any remaining water in both the tank and the bowl.
  4. Remove the bolts and the water supply line from the tank.
  5. Take the tank off and set it aside.
  6. Remove the decorative caps off of the bolts at the base of the toilet and use a wrench to take off the nuts.
  7. The bowl is attached to the floor by a wax seal underneath. Rock the bowl back and forth until that seal is broken. Then remove the bowl.
  8. Scrape the wax off with a putty knife and plug the open hole with a rag.
  9. Purchase a wax ring at a hardware or local home store.
  10. Turn the bowl upside down and fit the new wax ring on the bottom.
  11. Lift up the toilet and line it up with the floor bolts.
  12. Rock the bowl back and forth to set the wax ring in place.
  13. Place the nuts back on to the floor bolts and hand tighten. Do not fully secure them yet.
  14. Place your leveler across the bowl to ensure it is level. If not, use shims to level the bowl.
  15. Tighten the nuts gradually, switching back and forth from one side to the other. Do not over tighten.
  16. Place the decorative covers over the bolts.
  17. Put the tank back on by guiding the tank bolts into the bowl holes, then tighten the bolts. Again, don’t over tighten.
  18. Reconnect the water supply and reopen the water valve.
  19. Caulk around the base.


Huddle up with your kids and let them help you fix something around the house.