It Could be Time to Replace That Wax Ring Seal Beneath Your Toilet
Does the vinyl or tile flooring around the base of your toilet look stained or even swollen like it could be leaking from underneath the bowl? Is the toilet kind of wobbling on its base? It may need a new seal between the bowl and the drain. The mounting bolts may also need to be replaced or tightened. The water supply line could also be dripping and need to be upgraded with a higher quality line. These are not very expensive maintenance items as long as you don’t wait too long to do them.
Do not delay. Small amounts of black water and sewage leaking from under a toilet can over time cause expensive water damage to the bathroom subfloor or even adjacent walls! (It’s also a serious sanitary issue.)
Are these repairs something homeowners can take on themselves? The answer is probably yes – if you are not squeamish about getting up close and personal with the dirty side of a toilet. Mechanically this is not a difficult or time consuming task if sanitary precautions are taken and you follow some easy steps. Otherwise, call your friendly neighborhood plumber.
Following the steps below will guide you through this first time project.
The Tools & Materials You Will Need
- Open end adjustible wrenches or water pump pliers
- Toilet Plunger
- Wet Dry Shop Vac
Before You Shop for Wax Ring Replacement Supplies
- If you lift or remove a toilet for any reason, always replace the wax ring seal between the toilet and the toilet anchor flange (sometimes called a closet flange) attached to the floor.
- Wax? Why wax? Made from a molded wax loop formed around a stubby plastic tube, wax rings are mostly foolproof, inexpensive and shape themselves to fit almost any toilet and floor drain. They also resist mold and bacteria and retain their sealing ability after many years of use. They don’t last forever though, that’s why you are doing this project. If your toilet wobbles even a little bit from side to side or your toilet rocks enough for one side of the base to lift off the floor — even just a bit — you may have a broken toilet anchor flange. As a precaution, pick up a flange repair kit.
- Speaking of floors, replacing a sheet vinyl floor with something thicker, such as ceramic tile, usually will create a gap between the toilet and the toilet anchor flange. If that’s the case, add a flange spacer to fill the gap. (Heavy duty, thicker wax rings are also available to fill the space.)
- Once you drain the toilet tank and unhook the water supply, it’s a good time to replace the flush valve. Fixing a leaky valve can save hundreds of gallons of water a day. The savings in water use can pay for this entire project in no time.
- If you’re removing the toilet because of a leak at the base or water damage in the ceiling of the floor below, inspect that damage before you head to the store. Water can harm a subfloor enough to affect the strength of the mounting bolts attaching the toilet anchor flange — and the toilet — to the floor. Determine whether you need to cut away the damaged subfloor and replace it. Sanitize the area thoroughly.
- Check the condition of the mounting bolts that attach the toilet to the floor. If they’re corroded, you’ll need a can of penetrating oil to help loosen them. Even if they’re not visibly corroded, plan to replace the bolts as a precaution. Some wax rings come in a kit that includes new mounting bolts.
Drain and Remove the Toilet
Shut off the water supply to the toilet at the supply-line valve beside the toilet or at the main water source. Then flush and shop vac the water from the tank until it’s dry. Use a plunger to force most of the remaining water in the bowl down the drain and sponge out the rest.
The wet /dry shop vacuum empties toilet tanks and bowls in an instant. Check the manufacturer’s instructions for how to set it up to suction water.
Detach the water supply-line hose from the toilet tank and catch any water in the line using a bucket or towels. Loosen and remove the nuts holding the toilet to the floor.
If the bolts have corroded, first apply penetrating oil and allow it to seep over the threads for a few minutes before loosening the bolts. Apply only moderate pressure to loosen the bolts. Anything more may bend or break the toilet anchor flange.
If you’re working in an awkward space or the toilet appears too heavy to lift, consider removing the bolts attaching the tank to the bowl and moving the two parts separately. Before lifting the toilet, place four 2 x 4 x 6 blocks on edge on the floor to hold the toilet drain off the floor. Choose a corner of the bathroom away from the drain to give yourself room to work. Angle the blocks slightly so they won’t tilt as you rest the toilet on them. Carefully lift the toilet while keeping the base parallel to the floor. Check the drain to make sure the old wax ring isn’t still attached. Set the toilet on the blocks.
It’s hard to empty everything from the drain trap that loops from the bowl to the floor drain opening. That’s fine as long as the toilet base remains parallel to the floor, but tilting it back and forth will probably spill water from the trap all over your floor.
Install the New Wax Ring
Wear a pair of disposable gloves to remove and discard the old wax ring. (It’s extremely sticky and, let’s face it, was under your toilet for years.) Provide plenty of ventilation and use a plastic putty knife, followed by a rag soaked in mineral spirits, to clean any remaining wax from around the toilet anchor flange and the drain on the bottom of the toilet (if you’re reinstalling it). Remove the old mounting bolts and check the toilet anchor flange for damage.
After you remove the old wax ring, immediately plug the drain with a ball of rags or an old towel large enough that it doesn’t fall into the pipe. An unplugged drain can allow noxious sewer gas to enter your home.
Remove the old bolts from the toilet anchor flange and check the flange for cracks or missing pieces. Install any repair parts or spacers as needed before inserting the new toilet mounting bolts.
You wouldn’t think something as heavy as a toilet could fall over, but it can if not anchored down. A broken flange means a useless anchor bolt, so install a flange repair kit if you notice leaks or wobbles.
Again wearing a pair of disposable gloves, press the new wax ring into place around the raised ring at the bottom of the toilet drain on the underside. Seat it firmly enough to hold it in place, but don’t press it out of shape.
Lift the toilet with the bowl drain directly over the floor drain and lower it in place with the mounting screws coming up through the holes in the base. Press gently and rock it slightly to help the wax ring form a tight seal.
With the toilet base firmly against the floor, attach the washers and nuts holding the toilet in place. Tighten them enough to keep the toilet from rocking — even just a bit. Then add the decorative caps.
Stop tightening the nuts holding the toilet to the floor as soon as they’re snugly in place and keep the toilet from tipping. Too much torque can crack the porcelain or damage the drain flange. (You really don’t want to lift that thing again to make another repair, right?)
Apply fresh thread tape to the tank inlet threads and attach the water-supply line to complete the project. As a precaution, check the base of the toilet for leaks an hour after flushing it and again the next day to make sure the ring formed a waterproof seal around the drain.
Good to Know
For cheap insurance against leaks, replace the water line linking your toilet to the water line coming through the wall or floor. Carefully select the correct length and use a high quality braided line for added protection from future leaks or line breaks.