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Water is leaking from my toilet tank into the bowl

ISSUE:  A trickle of water is leaking down the back of the toilet bowl when the toilet is not being flushed.  Occasionally the toilet might seem to  be flushing by itself, (phantom flush), even though nobody is near it.  (Related concerns:  hissing sound; trickling water; tank continuously refilling when toilet wasn't flushed).


There are two possible issues that may cause water to leak from your tank into the bowl.  

Remove the lid of your toilet to look inside; you will see an Inlet or fill valve, (this is the valve that regulates water coming in to your tank) and an Outlet or flush valve, (this is the valve that removes the water from your tank to flush the toilet). 


Cause #1-Inlet Valve: There is a mark on the back of our toilet tanks indicating the proper level of the water.  If you notice that the water level in your tank is too high and that water is gradually escaping into the overflow tube, (see image above), there is an issue with your inlet (fill) valve. 

It could be either:

  • debris has come in from the water line and lodged inside the valve, causing it to stick in an open position.  Normally the inlet valve senses when water in the tank has reached the proper level and automatically shuts off.  If debris is causing the valve to 'stick', water can continually flow into the tank.  The tank has an overflow tube installed for just this reason, so that water will drain from the overflow tube into your bowl rather than causing a leak in the bathroom.  
  • the seals in the inlet valve have worn and need replacement

Solution: Clean the inlet (fill) valve to remove debris or change the inlet valve head.  

How do you know which is the right solution for you?  

It is likely debris if:

  • your toilet is newer (less than a year or two old),
  • your home is new or you recently renovated, as building disrupts the incoming water supply and increases debris in city water lines
  • there has been a recent weather event in your area, (flooding in particular), that increases the amount of debris going in to city water lines

If you need to clean your inlet valve, you will first need to remove it.  To see how to remove your inlet valve, click here.  Once the inlet valve is removed, soak in a 50/50 solution of vinegar and water for 10 minutes and rinse thoroughly.  If the valve needs further cleaning, return it to the vinegar and water solution for longer, rinse and once cleaned, return to your tank.

It is likely that you need to replace the inlet valve or replace the seals if: 

  • the seals are older than 2 years, (it is standard maintenance to change seals every 2-3 years)
  • you live in an area with hard water; (so calcifications/scale build up on your valve is more likely)

If you need to replace or repair your inlet valve, click here to finding the parts you for instructions on how to make the repair. 


Cause #2: Outlet (flush) Valve. If water is at the correct level in the tank and is not leaking into the overflow tube, the issue will most likely be that the seal at the bottom of your flushvalve is worn and needs to be replaced.  Seals wear over time and it is standard toilet maintenance to replace them every couple of years.  (Seals may wear more quickly in areas with hard water, and definitely if you use an in-tank chemical cleaner (which is not advised and can cancel your warranty).

Solution:  Replace the seal at the bottom of your valve.   Find my part.     How do I do this?

Related Issue:  Phantom flush:  My toilet seems to sometimes mysteriously "flush" on its own. 

While it might seem to be working fine other than the occasion mystery flush, this is generally a telltale sign of a leaking flush valve.  The seal at the bottom of the flush valve should be replaced every couple of years as standard toilet maintenance.  After time it can wear or crack, and allow water to seep slowly through from the tank into the bowl.  If it is a very small leak you might not ever notice it.  But, over time, enough water will escape from the tank that the fill valve will be triggered to refill the tank, and seem to automatically flush.  (It isn't actually flushing the water from the bowl, but because the inlet valve is triggered to refill, it sounds like the toilet has been flushed).  To test that this is happening, put a few drops of food coloring into the water in your tank. With the added color you will quickly see if water is escaping slowly down the back of the bowl.

Solution: Replace the seal at the bottom of your Outlet (flush)  valve.   Find my part.  How do I do this?