My toilet has been taunting me for almost two months. Since shortly after Christmas, water has been leaking into the toilet bowl. Sometimes I lie in bed and can hear the dripping of the water. At other times, the toilet hisses. It hisses at me.
There are two things that have stopped me from calling a plumber:
- We forgot to put a line item in the budget for plumbing repairs. That means that the cost of paying a plumber comes out of our kitty money.
- I’m still stinging from the last time we called a plumber.
Here’s a rundown of our last plumber visit: Shortly before Christmas, the toilet started leaking water from the tank onto the floor. Mark, confident he could fix it, spent some time on the Internet trying to figure out the problem. To any readers out there who know something about plumbing, I apologize in advance for the following description. Mark thought that the water was leaking out of what looks like a big screw in the base of the toilet tank and found information online about how to replace it. He went out and bought a new replacement screw (or whatever it’s called). He took out the old screw and replaced it with the new one. The toilet still leaked. Defeated, we called the plumber. To the plumber’s credit, he came quickly and was very nice. However, he was in our house for a grand total of about 15 minutes (the exact amount of time it took me to take the dogs for a quick walk around the block). That 15 minutes included the time it took to introduce himself, be shown the leaky toilet, told what Mark had already done to attempt to fix it, repair the toilet, and have a long-ish and completely unrelated chat about Los Angeles. When I returned from the dog walk, the plumber was on his way out the door. After he left, I asked Mark what the plumber did to fix the toilet. Mark said, “He tightened the screw.” No joke. Then Mark told me that the plumber charged us $40. I know, $40 isn’t an enormous amount of money to pay a plumber — we’ve spent far more on plumbing problems. But, $40 is a lot of money to spend to tighten a screw.
So, you see why I was reluctant to call a plumber for the latest leak. Instead, I did some Internet searches for how to fix water leaking into the toilet bowl. The best posts were here and here. Here’s what I learned, from a non-plumber’s point of view. There are two reasons water might leak into the toilet bowl:
- The water level is too high in the tank so that water is spilling over the overflow tube and draining into the toilet bowl.
- The flapper that is lifted when the toilet is flushed is not sealing properly when the toilet is “at rest.” Thus, water leaks from the flapper seal into the toilet bowl.
This post recommended putting a few drops of food coloring in the toilet tank to determine if the tank was leaking into the bowl. Given that I could both hear and see the leak, I was pretty sure I could skip this step, but since generally speaking I’m a rule follower, I grabbed the food coloring and dripped it in. Seconds later, the toilet bowl was blue. OK, that was easy.
Next, a simple visual inspection revealed that the water level in the tank was not too high; it came nowhere close to the top of the overflow tube. So, I deduced that the problem was likely with the flapper.
One post recommended draining the water from the tank and wiping down the flapper and the little seat it rests in (yeah, again, sorry about the non-technical, non-plumber talk) because sometimes minerals build up and prevent the two from sealing properly. So, I shut off the water to the toilet, flushed it, and let all the water drain out. Then I took a paper towel and wiped the flapper and its seat. But, after turning the water back on and flushing the toilet to refill the tank, the leak was very obviously still there. Darn. Then I drained the tank again, took the flapper out of the toilet entirely and gave it a good washing. I put it back in, filled the tank, and crossed my fingers. Darn, darn, darn. Still leaked.
So, I turned off the water one more time, drained the tank, apologized to Mother Earth for all the water I was wasting, and removed the flapper. Then I drove over to our local plumbing supply shop, showed the lovely man behind the counter my old flapper and said I needed a replacement. $8.92 later, I came home with a new flapper.
I quickly installed it, turned on the water to the toilet, let the tank fill, and held my breath.
And, joy of joys, the leak was gone. Finished. Kaputt. O-V-E-R. And, to make absolutely certain that the leak was fixed, I squeezed several drops of blue food coloring into the tank. Fifteen minutes later, the water in the toilet bowl was still perfectly clear. Now, if only I knew how much a plumber would have charged me to fix it I could really feel proud of myself.