What should I do now that I see ants coming from underneath the toilet?
June 11, 2019 12:41 PM   Subscribe

Every day about 4-8 ants (probably carpenter ants?) appear around my toilet in slightly increasing numbers over the past week. They're probably coming from underneath the toilet, so I set up some ant bait around it and they seem to be going for it. But when I was researching online, and when talking to the staff at home depot, they all suggested that there's something bad underneath going on, maybe rotting wood. How should I start getting this figured out? Who do I call? I'm a scrawny guy with a few tools but no handy skills.
posted by seattlejeff to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
A bit more info would be helpful, e.g., where is the bathroom located (first floor?), what's underneath (crawl space?), does the floor around the toilet feel slightly soft/spongy?
posted by she's not there at 12:48 PM on June 11, 2019

Removing and replacing the toilet is easy, it just requires buying a new wax ring every time you do it (because you scrape off the old wax, put the new wax ring around the drain hole, and set the toilet down on to it to create a seal between the porcelain and the drain).

So you turn off the water at the wall, flush the toilet, put a bowl underneath where you're gonna unscrew the fill hose and unscrew that (the remaining little bit of water will flow out into the bowl), unscrew the two nuts holding the toilet to the floor, and lift the toilet off the base.

Have a putty knife and a bag to scrape the old wax into. When you go to reinstall the toilet, just put the wax ring down first. I'm sure there are YouTube vids.

That'll let you see if you've got some sort of leakage or other stuff happening under the toilet.
posted by straw at 12:50 PM on June 11, 2019

The minimum wage guy in the plumbing department at Home Depot has no way of assessing the state of the subfloor under your toilet. Unless the toilet seems unsound or wiggly, I wouldn't worry about it. You could always run a bead of caulk around the base of the toilet.

Ants are clever little fuckers.
posted by humboldt32 at 12:51 PM on June 11, 2019 [6 favorites]

@she's not there: good questions, it's a second floor bathroom, though there are occasional ants on the first floor (like a couple per week, so it's not a big deal). Underneath is the kitchen. There is a tiny bit of grout (about 1.5 inches long) that has always looked darker so I thought it might be damp, but it's been like that for years. The floor seems fine otherwise.

@straw: great I might just do that, so I have a fresh wax ring anyways. I need to get one of those large wrenches to unscrew it, but yeah I can follow the youtube instructions.

@humboldt32: I'm just worried about resolving the symptom and not the underlying problem. But maybe I'm just overworrying.
posted by seattlejeff at 2:07 PM on June 11, 2019

I wouldn't worry about it.

I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss it. Certain ants, like carpenter ants, love to build nests in wet wood. If you do have a leak they could be feasting away on the subfloor and you wont know it until the floor gives way.

I also read something a long time ago that ants near a toilet signal, believe it or not, diabetes in a household member. The urine has a high glucose content. But that's a super long shot.

But I'd definitely get that toilet up and see what's going on.
posted by JoeZydeco at 2:18 PM on June 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

Yep, definitely time to pull the toilet and check on the subfloor, and whatever else you might find. You may need to remove some of the flooring around the flange (but within the footprint of the toilet) to get visibility/access to the subfloor.

You shouldn't need a large wrench for anything--just empty the tank/bowl, disconnect the water, remove the (usually two) nuts holding the toilet down, and lift the toilet off the flange. Maybe you and I have a different definition of 'large', but I wouldn't describe any of the tools used to remove a toilet as large.

They now make replacement toilet seals that are made of rubber and are reusable. I'd buy one of those instead of a wax ring, so that you can pull the toilet in the future with much less hassle. Unfortunately, I suspect that you've stumbled into an issue that's going to require more than a day to fix, and you'll probably want to reinstall the toilet after your inspection but before you're ready to perform/hire out the repair.

If you want to hire this out, I'd probably start with a good handyman or GC rather than a plumber, since if there's damage to the subfloor you're likely to need to replace at least some of the bathroom flooring as well.
posted by yuwtze at 3:36 PM on June 11, 2019

Get one of those little hacksaw blade holders in case the nuts on the bolts holding it to the floor are rusted. Also, buy replacement bolts to have handy in case. If you have a helper and it's not too awkward to get in around the toilet, there's no need to take the tank off, since you're just lifting to check on the state of the sub floor and putting it back. Watch a few YouTube vids on the subject to familiarize yourself.
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:37 PM on June 11, 2019

It's that time of year when carpenter ants of an established colony seek to start a new colony. They will have wings. If you are sure they are carpenter ants, you probably do have a problem and, ya, it's probably rotten wood. People have already given good advice on the toilet removal.
posted by Foam Pants at 9:43 PM on June 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

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