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Replace a Toilet Wax Ring

Does the base of your toilet look like it had an "accident"? It may need a new seal between the bowl and the drain.

Toilet

Know Before You Shop for Wax Ring Replacement Supplies

  • Whenever you remove a toilet for any reason, 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 around a short plastic tube, wax rings are pretty 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 years of use.
  • Does your toilet wobble even a little bit from side to side? If 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, can create a gap between the toilet and the toilet anchor flange. If that’s the case, add a flange spacer to fill the gap.
  • 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. To test the valve before turning off the water, tint the water in the tank with food coloring, and let it sit for 10 minutes. If any colored water leaks into the bowl, replace the valve.
  • 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.
  • 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

Step 1

Shut off the Water Valve

Shut off the water supply to the toilet at the supply-line valve beside the toilet or at the main water source. (If you don’t have a shutoff valve, see shut-off valve installation story for tips on how to install one.) Then flush and sponge 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.

A 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.

Step 2

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.

Step 3

Lifting the Toilet

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.

Caution

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 can spill water from the trap all over your floor.

Install the New Wax Ring

Step 1

New Bolts

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.

Step 2

Check the Flange

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.

Caution

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.

Step 3

Press the New Ring Into Place

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.

Step 4

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.

Step 5

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.

Caution

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 don’t want to lift that thing again to make another repair, right?)

Step 6

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.