A running toilet may not seem like a big deal at first, but just wait until the water bill arrives. If you allow this problem to continue untreated, it can cost you big in the end.
Fortunately, there are some early warning signs that can tip you off to a toilet tank leak, as well as a foolproof test to confirm whether a leak is occurring. Best of all, the solution is often a simple DIY fix.
Sight and Sound
An unexpected spike in your water bill is one indication that you may have a leaky toilet tank, but it’s best to catch this problem before it reaches that point. To do that, just make a point of looking and listening every so often, such as when you clean your bathroom.
If your toilet is running, you may be able to hear the flow of water. This could be a very faint sound, especially if the leak is small. If it’s an especially small leak, it could be perfectly silent, though still serious enough to wastewater and cost you money.
You may also be able to spot a leak by observing minor water rippling right around the edge of the water in the bowl. If your toilet bowl shouldn’t be refilling but you still see this kind of water movement, no matter how minor, it’s a good indication you have a leak.
A Colorful Test
To test for a leak, simply open the lid on the toilet tank and add a few drops of food coloring. Don’t flush the toilet -- instead, wait an hour or two without using the toilet at all.
Afterward, check the water in the bowl. If the food coloring has seeped into the bowl, you know you have a leak.
The cause of this is often something minor like built-up sediment, rust or dirt on the flapper, which is the seal that covers the opening at the bottom of the tank. To inspect and clean the flapper, turn off the water supply to the toilet by closing the valve on the water line coming from the wall. Then manually lift the flapper, allowing all the water to drain from the tank.
Use a paper towel or sponge to thoroughly clean the edges of the flapper, and open and close it several times to ensure smooth movement. Then reopen the waterline, allow the tank to refill, and try the food coloring test again.
If you still see the color in the bowl after the second test, it’s time to make a repair.
The simplest way to fix a running toilet is to call a licensed plumber, and you may wind up doing that in the end. But if you’re not afraid to attempt a little DIY work, the fix could be simple and cheap.
Toilet flapper kits are one-size-fits-most and available at hardware stores. In most cases, detailed replacement instructions are printed right on the package and installation requires no tools.
Replacing the flapper is often worth a shot because flappers can chip, rust or decay over time, leading to minor leaks. Even if this doesn’t work and you end up calling in the pros, you can usually attempt this fix for $10 or less.