Discolored vinyl flooring near or under a toilet is unsightly, but it can also indicate a problem, such as a leaking toilet. Not all leaking toilets merely leave puddles on the floor. Sometimes a leaking toilet can damage floor coverings and underflooring without creating any obvious signs. Detecting and stopping leaks early helps prevent rot and costly water damage.
Stains on the vinyl flooring around a toilet may be caused by a couple of factors, including water leaking from the toilet.
Appearance of Stains Around Toilet
Discoloration from toilet leaks doesn't always take the form of a water ring immediately next to the fixture. It can also look like a colored stain and appear some distance from the toilet. These less obvious stains are caused by small amounts of water seeping through the floor material. While this type of stain can be small and unobtrusive, it still requires attention, since a slow leak can seriously degrade subflooring and wooden structural supports.
Detecting Toilet Leaks
If the toilet wobbles or moves from side to side, it probably also leaks. A loose toilet has poor contact with its wax seal and will allow water to seep from the fixture over time. Tightening the nuts on either side of the toilet can sometimes fix the problem temporarily but can also damage the fixture itself. If the seal has become deformed or broken, tightening the toilet won't help. To repair the damage, the seal needs to be replaced entirely.
Resealing the Toilet
Installing a new wax seal is a simple process but does require some care. Shut off all water to the toilet, and drain the tank and bowl before removing the fixture to prevent further leakage. Scrape the old wax ring off the floor, inspect the toilet flange for damage and place the new ring. Set the toilet back onto the ring in one vertical motion. Allowing the toilet to rock or move off center can destroy the ring, causing an imperfect seal. If you're not certain of your ability to replace the toilet correctly, have the new seal installed by an experienced plumber.
Other Stains Around Toilets
Not all flooring stains are caused by toilet leaks. In some cases, high moisture concentrations can cause a chemical reaction between minerals in a concrete subfloor and the glue used to secure the vinyl. This type of problem often gets worse after a shower or after mopping the floor.
Stains may also occur when items on the floor become wet and then create stains. This can occur, for instance, with rubber backed bathroom mats that become wet. If the backing material of the rug becomes moist from a spill or toilet overflow, it will become compromised if it isn't aired out and dried. When the backing breaks down, it can stain flooring. This is more likely to occur if the wet backing goes unnoticed for an extended period of time.
Such stains on the floor near toilets are merely cosmetic and don't indicate a leak. However, differentiating this type of stain from one caused by a leak may be difficult without inspecting the toilet seal. If you're unsure, have a plumber check out the stained vinyl floor surrounding your toilet.
G.D. Palmer is a freelance writer and illustrator living in Milwaukee, Wis. She has been producing print and Web content for various organizations since 1998 and has been freelancing full-time since 2007. Palmer holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in writing and studio art from Beloit College in Beloit, Wis.