Replacing a Wax Ring and/or a Broken Flange
Signs of Leaking Seal
Dampness or water around the base of a toilet, and/or water leaking through or staining the ceiling below is usually a sign that you have a leaking wax seal between the toilet and the drain, a damaged soil pipe or a broken flange.
But before you condemn the wax ring, make sure the water is not coming from some other source. There may be a leaking connection under the tank. Condensation on the tank may be dripping and collecting around the base of the bowl.
I recently heard of a problem that sounded like a leaking wax seal, but turned out to be a pin-hole in the drain pipe below the toilet.
In any case, moisture around the base of a toilet is a problem that should not be ignored. It will usually not go away by itself, and over time it can cause significant damage to the subflooring around a toilet and the ceiling below.
Recognize Your Limitations
Replacing a wax ring is not technically difficult, but the job is awkward, can be messy, and the toilet is heavy. It is not a job for a person with a bad back.
Some professional plumbers wouldn't think of doing this job without the help of a Toilet Truck. Sounds like a toy, but it's really a special frame designed to do the heavy lifting that installing or moving a toilet requires.
Review the Toiletology 101 page called Anatomy and take a close look at the connection where the toilet sits on the floor. The parts are inexpensive, but it's labor intensive.
This is usually one of those cut and dried plumbing jobs that permits you to do a
telephone price comparison among your local plumbers by asking what is the cost to replace a wax ring?
Online DIY Videos
When reviewing several online videos I've found that some of them over simplify the task of removing or installing a toilet. Space around a toilet can often be very restricted with very little room to maneuver or see what you are doing. Separating the tank and bowl will help to ease the strain of lifting and carrying the toilet, but this can be more difficult than it first appears. One of the videos I watched had the person undoing the bolts under the tank with his fingers ... a most unlikely situation if you are working with an old toilet. Another video appears to be a new installation, because there is no mention of how to remove the old flange. I suggest you watch several of these videos before you tackle the project. Following are a few to get your started:
If you or your plumber run into rotten sub-flooring, damaged soil pipe or flange, you've got a bigger project, and it will complicate replacing the wax ring. Don't delay this replacement; replacing the sub flooring is expensive. If the pipe or flange is damaged, there are special replacement toilet flanges just for this situation.
Check Local Plumbing Code
Before you decide to do this yourself, you should check your local plumbing codes. There are some areas that require that only a licensed plumber do this work. That said, if you're going to do this yourself, try to enlist the help of a friend or spouse. Start by buying a new wax ring -- whether you are installing a toilet for the first time or reinstalling after repairs, ALWAYS use a new wax-ring. There are two types: one has a plastic horn and the other type is just a wax ring. These rings are incredibly sticky, be prepared to wash up as soon as you handle the ring and before you touch anything else.
Some professional plumbers do not like the type with the horn, because the horn will sometimes get caught on a toilet auger. In my experience the type with the horn has solved problems with leaks that were difficult to identify. In fact, there are times when it is necessary to use both a plain ring and a ring with the horn.
Buy All New Parts
You should also plan on replacing all the parts that you loosen or remove. So when shopping for a new wax ring, also buy a new water supply line and a new set of mounting bolts. I prefer the newer style flexible supply line that comes with both end nuts in place. Altogether these parts will cost under $10. If you separate the tank and bowl, you should also buy new bolts, a new gasket and washers to re-connect the tank and bowl.
Protect any floor covering around the toilet, either remove it or cover with old towels. You will get water on the floor...count on it. If you have to turn the water supply off at the main house shutoff, fill two buckets with water. One bucket of cold water to use to drain the bowl (see below) and the other with hot water to clean the floor under the toilet and the bottom of the toilet. Finally fill your sink with warm water to wash up after handling the wax-ring.
Start by turning the water supply off. Disconnect the supply line to the tank (covered under the lessons on replacing refill valves). Flush the toilet, hold the handle down to allow as much water as possible to drain from the tank. Dump the bucket of cold water into the toilet bowl all at one time. This will leave you with just a little water in the bottom of the bowl; sponge it up.
Next you have to decide whether or not to separate the tank from the bowl. A professional plumber will probably work with the two pieces together,but it's tricky and awkward. There are usually two or three bolts holding the tank and bowl together. Review the Toiletology 101 "anatomy" pages to get an idea of how the two pieces fit together. If you decide to separate the tank and bowl, use penetrating lubricant (LPS-1 or WD-40) on the nuts under the tank. Hold a large screwdriver on the head of the bolt inside the tank while you turn the nut under the tank with an adjustable wrench.
Pry up the caps that cover the nuts and bolts that hold the toilet to the floor and remove the nuts. Use a penetrating lubricant on the nuts; as a last resort, you may have to use a hack saw to cut off the top of the bolt below the nut.
DO NOT TRY TO BREAK THESE BOLTS WITH A HAMMER!
If there is a caulk seal between the bowl and floor, you'll need to cut through it around the entire base of the bowl. Once the nuts are loose, rock the bowl from side to side to break it free from the old wax ring. Lift the toilet up and off the bolts. Turn it on its side on top of a sheet of plastic (lawn/leaf bag) and examine the old ring; you can sometimes see where and why the ring leaked. While you prepare the toilet for reinstallation, stuff an old towel into the drain opening to prevent sewer gases from entering the bathroom.
Clean off the old wax from the base of the bowl and from the flange; clean the floor and the base of the toilet thoroughly; alcohol or mineral spirits work pretty good. To make a good seal, both the flange and the bowl should be clean. Press the new wax ring evenly over the hole in the base of the toilet or over the hole in the flange on the floor. Insert the new mounting bolts into the slots in the flange and turn 1/4 turn.
This Can Be Tricky
The next step is the tricky part. You have to lower the bowl down over the bolts evenly so that the toilet remains level. It helps to have someone on the floor beside the toilet to guide you down over the bolts, because it's hard to see what you are doing.
Mike in New Orleans e-mailed me the following suggestion for making this job much easier. Stand a plastic soda straw over each bolt then lower the toilet over the straws. The straws act as guides and help prevent damage to the wax ring.
Tighten the nuts to the bolts by hand; slowly and evenly, then use a wrench until the bowl is snug to the floor. Be careful not to over tighten....you can crack the toilet. In a few days, check the nuts and make sure they are snug. Reattach the tank (if you removed it) and water supply. A toilet bowl must not rock, if you are unable to steady the bowl, use shims to fill any gap you have. There are shims made just for this purpose.
Consider An Alternative
There is an alternative to the typical wax-ring that can solve many stubborn problems...such as a change in floor level after a new floor is installed. Easy to install, the Fluidmaster Wax-Free Bowl Gasket is a reuseable replacement for the wax ring normally used for connecting a toilet to the drain pipe. It will seal to a flange that is below the floor level, and can accommodate fixture and structure movement.
...Fits 3" and 4" drain pipes.
...Adapts to most types of flooring and drain pipes.
...Clean to install, no messy wax.
...Seals on uneven floors or over tile floors with recessed flange.
...Eliminates the need for stacking multiple wax rings on new, raised flooring.
...Can be readjusted during installation.
...Moisture-proof seal and O-ring prevents splash-up and rotting of floor flange.
...Heavy-duty O-ring seals tightly to block sewer gases.
...No minimum temperature required for installation.
...Solid brass bolts secure bowl to floor.
Download installation instructions for the Wax-Free™ Bowl Gasket (7500) in the PDF format at: