Behind every good toilet -- or rather, beneath -- is a good wax ring. But with time, even good wax rings can go bad.
The wax ring is exactly what it sounds like: a ring made of sticky wax that helps form a watertight seal between the bottom of the toilet and the sewer pipe. It requires no maintenance and can last 30 or more years, often as long as the toilet itself. But sometimes wax rings can dry out, crumble and fail prematurely, and when that happens, they need to be replaced.
The telltale sign of wax ring failure is water leaking out from around the base of the toilet. You might also notice a toilet feeling unusually wobbly if the wax ring is coming loose.
Wax rings are available at most hardware stores for $10 or less. To perform the replacement, you’ll only need a few common tools: an adjustable wrench, a putty knife, a bucket and some towels or paper towels. If you have a wet/dry shop vacuum, that will make the job cleaner and easier.
Drain, Dry and Disconnect
Turn off the water supply line leading from the wall to the toilet. You should be able to turn the valve by hand, but if it hasn’t moved in several years, it might be sticky.
Flush the toilet to bail as much water as possible out of the bowl and tank. If you have a wet/dry vac, use it to suction up all the water that remains. Otherwise, you’ll have to use a combination of plunging, bailing by hand or sopping up with towels to get the bowl and tank fully dry.
Next, disconnect the water supply line from the bottom of the toilet tank. There will be a little water in the line, so have your bucket handy to catch it.
Johnny Off the Spot
Now it’s time to remove the toilet. Remove the protective caps covering the bolts at the base of the toilet, then remove the bolts and washers using an adjustable wrench.
All that’s keeping the toilet in place now is gravity and what remains of the crumbling wax ring. You can gently rock and twist the toilet a bit to loosen it. When you’re ready to remove the toilet, get a good grip near the center so that the weight of the bowl and the tank are distributed evenly. Lift with the knees, pulling straight up, and set the toilet to the side.
Just Scraping By
This is where the real work begins. Using a putty knife, you’ll need to remove as much of the old wax ring as possible from both the bottom of the toilet and the pipe fitting in the floor, called the toilet flange.
Clean and dry the flange completely before preparing to install the new wax ring. If the flange appears dented or damaged, call a plumber for an assessment before proceeding.
Some wax rings are self-adhesive and there may be small design differences among brands, so you should refer to the instructions on your packaging. Most wax rings can either be affixed to the bottom of the toilet or to the top of the flange, allowing you to choose whichever you’re more comfortable with.
With the wax ring centered in place, carefully lower the toilet onto the flange, making sure that the bolt holes in the toilet’s base line up with the holes in the flange.
Take a Seat
Close the toilet lid and sit down, using your body weight to compress the wax ring and push the toilet into place. You may need to shift your weight around several times to complete this process. In the end, you want the base of your toilet to be flush with the floor.
With that done, simply replace the mounting bolts and bolt covers, reattach the water supply line to the tank and reopen the supply line valve. Give the toilet a couple of test flushes while carefully inspecting for any signs of leaks.
That’s all there is to it! But if you feel in over your head at any point, or if you discover damage to your flange or toilet, put down the wrench and give a call to your local Benjamin Franklin for expert emergency service.