Understanding Intermittent Toilet Leaks And Smells
When you think of problems with your toilet, you probably imagine some pretty dramatic and unpleasant events. While sewage backups are major catastrophes that nearly always require professional help, they aren't the only way that your toilet can fail. You may also experience much more subtle and sometimes intermittent problems.
Since toilets are relatively simple fixtures, there are only a few areas where parts can fail. If you notice an unpleasant odor around your toilet or the floor around the base occasionally seems damp, you may have a problem with the wax seal, the toilet flange, or the soil stack. Understanding how these parts of your toilet work can help you identify problems before they cause too much damage.
What's Happening at the Base of Your Toilet?
Have you ever thought about how your toilet connects to the floor? Probably not. Luckily, it's not too complicated. Below your toilet is a waste stack, usually a cast iron pipe on older homes or PVC on newer construction, that connects to your main drain and sewer. However, your toilet can't make a secure connection to this pipe by simply sitting on top of it.
Instead, your toilet bolts to a fitting known as a toilet flange. The flange connects to the waste stack, forming a link that keeps your toilet secure and ensures that wastewater goes where it should. Still, the connection between the flange and the toilet isn't watertight. To prevent leaks, a wax ring sits on top of the flange and acts as a gasket.
When you notice water leaking around the base of your toilet, it's usually a result of deterioration in either the flange or the wax ring. These problems tend to be intermittent because there's only water in that section of piping when you flush your toilet. Small amounts of water may escape with each flush, but it's rare for these leaks to be large or catastrophic.
Why Shouldn't You Ignore "Minor" Toilet Leaks?
Aside from being unsanitary, there are several good reasons why you shouldn't ignore a seemingly minor leak in this area. First, a seal leak can allow sewer gases to escape into your bathroom. These gases can be dangerous, but, at a minimum, they're fairly unpleasant. Intermittent odors around your toilet are a good indication that there may be a leak present.
More importantly, these slow leaks can cause substantial damage. A faulty wax seal will deteriorate over time, and excessive moisture can damage the tile or subflooring around your toilet. This damage can be far more costly than repairing a failing seal or a rusted flange. If you think your toilet may be leaking, contact a local plumber.