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The problem...

I recently replaced the fill valve and the flapper in one of the toilets in my house. When I turned the water back on using the shutoff valve below the toilet, a slow drip had developed. The water seems to be coming from the valve itself, as there is no water on the supply line or the toilet itself.

What I have tried so far...

I tried to tighten the packing nut, but the nut won't budge. I'm a little worried about trying to force the nut to move. I don't want a little drip to become a raging torrent of water from the pipe and money from my bank account.

What should I try next?

  • Should I use WD-40 or some other solvent to try and loosen/tighten the nut?
  • Is there some kind of "goop" I can put on the valve to stop the leak?
  • Should I just call my handyman or a plumber to come and "make the leaking stop?"
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If you don't feel comfortable replacing the valve yourself, call a handyman or plumber. You may be able to fix the leak yourself, but it's better to plan for worst case. So if you can't replace a broken valve, don't try to fix it. –  Tester101 Aug 2 '11 at 19:39
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3 Answers 3

If the drip becomes a flood, it's not the cost of the water you should be concerned with; it's the water damage.

You say the leak seems to be coming from the valve itself, and your reasoning makes sense; if the toilet's dry it means the valve is turned off, so it's probably not any fitting beyond the valve stem. This means that the shutoff valve gasket, or the valve itself, has worn out or corroded and needs replacing. This happens over time; just like the flapper valves in the toilet and other elements of your plumbing, the shutoff valves corrode with acidic water, calcify in hard water, deteriorate in highly chlorinated water, and just plain wear out from use and water flow of any type over the years.

This is definitely something that nobody would think less of you for if you called in a plumber. However, it is DIY-able. You'll need to shut off the water to the whole house (there should be a shutoff valve near your water meter, wherever that is, and you may need a special tool to turn it off), then bleed the remaining water out of the interior lines (easy as turning on the faucet on the sink to cold, or flushing the toilet a couple times). With a bucket or pan under the valve to catch any remaining water in the line, disconnect the toilet from the valve and open the shutoff valve, letting any remaining water drain out of the line and valve. If this is a first-floor bathroom, there may be quite a bit to drain as the upstairs supply pipes will drain out as well. You can help it drain faster by opening a couple of faucets upstairs (providing a vent for the pipe stack similar to what you have in drain pipes). If it never seems to stop, you probably didn't completely shut off the outside valve.

Once the line is drained, you can work with the valve. The first thing to check is the fitting between the valve and toilet, since you have that apart anyway. Check the gaskets/washers on either side of the fitting. Some are compression fittings, and work by sealing a copper or nylon line against a ball inside the fitting; it won't work well if the end of the line or the ball has deep gouges, scratches, or is generally deteriorated. Most toilet lines are steel-braided rubber with threaded fittings, and usually can be easily replaced if necessary.

The next thing to check, and much more likely to be the problem, are the gasket washers in the shutoff itself. There may be one or two depending on the valve's design; one to seal off the supply line, and another to make the valve stem watertight. The valve stem should be going through a fitting screwed into the valve housing; unscrew that with a crescent wrench and you can take the whole thing out. You can usually also unscrew the handle from the stem and completely disassemble the valve stem. Clean off any calcium deposits from the washers, and inspect them for extreme wear or other deterioration. You can buy a bag of these washers for a couple bucks at your local hardware store. Reassemble the valve with the new washers, close the valve completely, and re-pressurize your house plumbing (make sure to turn off all the faucets you opened to drain the lines) to see if that did the trick.

If that didn't stop the leak, or the valve stem or body appears highly corroded and/or calcified, it may be time to replace the whole thing. With the house shutoff closed again and the lines drained, look at the valve's connection to the wall pipe. There should be either a compression fitting or a threaded NPT connection between the two, and in that case removing it simply takes your crescent wrench and some elbow grease. Some valves, however, are soldered directly on. If this is the case, I personally would stop and call a pro, but if you're handy with a soldering torch you can get the valve off yourself (careful you don't set the wall behind your toilet on fire). Then, simply take it to your local hardware store and buy a replacement with the same fittings; it should cost you about five to seven bucks. If the valve was threaded onto the wall pipe, get some Teflon tape as well. Use at least four wraps of the tape around the threads of the wall pipe (put it on in a clockwise direction, and stretch it a little to get it to mold to the threads), screw the valve firmly back on to the pipe, then re-pressurize the house again with the new valve closed (and all other faucets off) to check for leaks. If there are none, connect the toilet supply hose, open the shutoff, and make sure it still doesn't leak during and after the toilet fill-up.

If it STILL leaks, call a pro; you may have missed something, or done some damage in removing various parts.

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There are two basic types of valves--the ones where you turn a handle many times to go from off to full and the ball valves that only turn 90 degrees.

In my experience the latter are far more reliable, I've never had one fail in any way. The type you crank many times is another matter--leak city as far as I'm concerned. For shutoff valves there's always something downstream that actually regulates the flow so it doesn't matter if they are only full-on/full-off. Thus when I encounter a leaky valve I simply replace it with a ball valve.

This is generally quite easy but you have to turn off the water upstream of the valve--generally this means the whole house. Turn off your water heater first--should you end up with the water flowing out of it it could be damaged if it's turned on. (The controls generally contain a self-destruct that will permanently turn them off if the tank temperature goes too high. This is vastly superior to having a tank blow up but it can go off if you try to heat an empty tank.)

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+1: Always, always, replace globe valves (the kind that requires many turns to open or close) with quarter-turn valves. A quarter turn valve will last longer than you. A globe valve typically fails the very first time you actually use it after it's been in service for awhile (as the OP has just discovered). –  Dan Moulding Aug 21 '11 at 21:44
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up vote 3 down vote accepted

I called my handyman, and he told me to first make sure that the valve is open all the way. He said that the valves only form a good seal if they are either completely open or closed. I opened the valve all the way, and the leak stopped.

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