Plumbing can be a scary thing. The amount of damage that water can do to a home is astounding and often extremely costly. One of the most used and thus the most common sources of plumbing issues is your toilet. You don’t have to be a plumber to know when something is going wrong. One thing that is easy to look for is a bad wax ring.
How do you know that your toilet wax ring has gone bad? There are four very basic and fairly obvious things to look for in a bad wax seal:
- Water leaking around the toilet
- Water damage in ceiling
- Bad smells
- Wobbly toilet.
If you notice any of these things, it may be time to replace the wax ring, or you risk major repairs from water damage and health issues from sewage gases. A bad wax seal is a very easy fix that you could do yourself, so don’t let it ruin your whole floor because you didn’t know the signs.
How To Know If Your Toilet’s Wax Ring Is Bad
There are four major signs you can look for with a bad toilet wax ring. They are all fairly easy to identify.
1) Water Leaking On Your Bathroom Floor
The most obvious sign of a bad toilet wax ring is water on your bathroom floor. You shouldn’t run out and replace your toilet’s wax ring the minute you see water on the floor, though. There are a lot of places water could come from in a bathroom. If you find a puddle of water around your toilet:
- Wipe it up with a towel: if it doesn’t come back, then it was clearly spilled or splashed from somewhere else.
- Check water fixtures: look behind the toilet, where it connects to your water supply, and make sure that nothing is dripping from either the connection at the wall or at the tank.
- Make sure there is no condensation around the tank: in certain weather, your tank will start to condensate. It is possible that this is the source of the water at the base of the toilet.
- Check the closet bolts: sometimes, these bolts allow water to leak out from the base. If you tighten or replace the bolts, the water leaking should stop.
- Check other water sources: depending on how your bathroom is laid out, you may want to check your sink or tub to make sure there are no leaks coming from those water sources that just happens to be pooling around your toilet.
If you have ruled out all other sources of water, then it is time to change your toilet’s wax ring.
2) Water Damage on Ceiling or Floor
Have you noticed mold on your ceiling under your bathroom? A new water spot that was never there before? Has a bubble in your bathroom tile suddenly appeared? It may be coming from your toilet.
Plumbers sometimes caulk around a toilet when they put it in. This prevents water from seeping from the base. Instead, it travels under the floor, causing damage to either the ceiling or floor or both.
If you notice damage to the ceiling under your toilet, call someone immediately. This type of water damage can be potentially dangerous. It is possible for the water to damage the ceiling and floor enough that the toilet falls through the ceiling.
The longer you let this go without attention, the pricier the repairs will be, and the more dangerous the situation becomes for you and your family. Any damage to the ceiling and floor will have to be fixed. And you are going to need a new toilet wax ring.
3) Bad Smells Coming From Toilet
If you notice water at the base and there is a bad odor coming from the toilet, it’s safe to assume you have a bad toilet wax ring. The wax ring creates an airtight seal that is supposed to seal out sewage gases. If there are bad smells filling your bathroom, the smell is most likely sewage gases. The gases contain hydrogen sulfide, which gives off a rotten egg smell.
You should take this situation very seriously. Sewage gases are dangerous for many reasons
- They are hazardous to your health: They will make you and anyone living in your house sick.
- They are ignitable: Any open flame could possibly cause an explosion.
If you smell unexplained odors in your bathroom, even if there is no water at the base of the toilet, you should call a plumber to have it checked out.
4) Wobbly Toilet
If one edge of your toilet comes off the floor, even the tiniest bit, then chances are your wax ring has been compromised in some way. It doesn’t take much movement to disrupt the seal. There are few reasons why your toilet would be wobbly…
- The closet flange may be broken
- The bolts that hold the toilet to the flange might be loose or were never tightened enough
No matter what the reason, the slightest movement of the toilet can cause enough stress on the wax ring to ruin the seal. If the toilet wobbles at all or if you have to take the toilet off the flange for any length of time, you must change the wax ring because the seal has become compromised and could possibly leak going forward.
Basic knowledge of your toilet and how it works, paired with a few obvious signs to look for, will save you thousands in damage repairs. Once you understand each sign and are able to diagnose the problem for what it really is, you can move on to fixing the problem.
Parts of a Toilet
To fully understand the signs that your toilet’s wax ring has gone bad, it helps to know the parts of a toilet and how they work together. Here is a brief description of the major parts of the toilet that connect it to your septic system:
- Drainpipe: this is the pipe that connects your toilets to the sewer or septic system. It usually runs from your bathroom, into your basement, and out to the town’s sewer or your septic tank.
- Closet flange: also known as a toilet flange. It is a pipe fitting that allows the toilet to be attached to the floor and connects the toilet to the drainpipe. It also holds the wax ring.
- Closet bolts: these are the bolts on the flange that hold the toilet down, so it is anchored to the floor and does not rock or wobble.
- Wax ring: the wax ring seals the gap between the closet flange and the toilet, so water and gas do not leak into your bathroom.
- Toilet: this one needs no description.
How Does A Wax Ring Work?
A toilet wax ring is exactly what the name suggests, a large ring of wax. Wax as a substance is impermeable, making it great as a sealant. Wax is also soft and malleable, which makes it perfect for shaping itself snugly into pipes and toilet outlets.
The wax ring is held by the closet flange, and the toilet is placed on it. The weight of the toilet compresses the soft wax into a perfect seal between flange and toilet.
Types Of Toilet Wax Rings
There are a few different types of wax rings that you can buy. The main differences tend to just make the seal the ring makes stronger. Here are some examples…
- Basic wax ring: this is just a ring of wax. The standard ring is 1” high and fits with most flanges.
- Extra-thick wax ring: these rings use 40% more wax and can fill larger flanges.
- Wax ring with sleeve: rings with sleeves have another material on the inside of the ring. It is usually a material like urethane that makes the ring much more durable. It also helps create a tighter seal and extends the size of the ring so it will work with wider flanges.
- Wax ring with plastic extensions: the plastic extensions are sometimes called horns. They extend slightly into the flange and helps direct the flush more directly down the drain. The only problem with these rings is that some people have said that the horns can break off and clog the drain, but this is extremely rare.
- Wax free ring: these are made with rubber instead of wax.
Why You Need To Change A Bad Wax Ring
The toilet wax ring seals the connection between the closest flange and the toilet. It makes the connection between the two both water and airtight. The wax ring allows for water and wastes to flow from the toilet to the drainpipe and out to the sewer or septic tank without leaking all over the place. It also prevents gases that build in the sewer or septic tank from coming back up into your bathroom.
For these reasons, if you think that your wax ring is compromised in any way, it is essential that you have it replaced. If it stops functioning, you risk severely damaged property, such as the floor surrounding the toilet, from leaking water or potential health and fire issues from the gases.
When you place the toilet on the flange and wax ring, the ring compresses to seal the connection between the two. The compression makes the seal perfect for that toilet and flange. Moving the toilet will change the size and shape of the connection, thus making the seal ineffective any longer. The wax ring will not shift shape after it is compressed. That is why, whenever you move your toilet or the wax ring is compromised or goes bad, you must replace it.
What Would Cause a Bad Wax Ring
If you spend a lot of time with DIY home improvements, it is helpful to also know what can cause a toilet wax ring to go bad. It usually has very little to do with the product itself. It is expected that any wax ring will last the life of the toilet.
But there are a number of outside circumstances that can compromise the way the ring functions. In other words, it isn’t age that makes a wax ring go bad; it is other circumstances that make the ring not function properly.
As stated earlier, when the toilet is placed on the flange, the wax seal compresses to fit the toilet and flange. If your toilet rocks the slightest bit, there is a good chance that the wax seal will not be able to compensate for the movement. This breaks the seal between the toilet and the wax ring.
It is important to make sure that your toilet is not loose. If you sense even the smallest bit of movement, tighten the closet bolts on the toilet and make sure it is snuggly attached to the flange.
Closet Flange Height
The closet flange not only connects the toilet to the drainpipe, but it also attaches it to the floor. It is important that the flange is set flush with the floor or issues that can occur with the toilet or the wax ring itself that will make the wax ring go bad.
If the flange is installed too high above the finished floor, there is a good chance that you will have issues with your toilet rocking back and forth. With the flange too high, it is unable to solidly anchor the toilet to the floor. This instability can break the seal between the wax ring and the toilet. The flange should be no more than ¼” above the finished floor.
There are three basic fixes for a flange that is too high.
- Use grout to fill the gap: Grout will give the toilet the stability it needs. Here’s how…
- Mix grout and place rubber shims under the toilet to make it stable.
- Pack the gap between the toilet and the floor with the grout. Use grout all the way around the toilet.
- Let the grout dry for 24 hours.
- Remove the shims and fill the gaps left behind with more grout.
Remember, if you go this route, you will be sealing the base of your toilet off. If your wax ring starts to leak, you will not get pooling of water at the base of the toilet. You won’t know there is a problem until the ceiling or floor starts to appear damaged.
- Raise the floor: This is kind of a pain but may be the best option if you are looking to put in a new bathroom tile anyway. To raise your floor to the level of the flange:
- Measure the distance between the bare floor and the top of the flange.
- Head out to your local flooring or home improvement store and look for a tile that is the needed thickness.
- Take out the old flooring and put in the new one.
- Replace the flange: This is probably the best solution even though it may seem silly to remove a perfectly fine flange. Here’s how to replace a toilet flange…
- Remove the toilet and break off the old flange. You are going to need a hammer and chisel. You may have to score the portion inside the drainpipe in a couple of places with a blade to get it all out.
- Using a PVC saw, grind the drainpipe down until it is flush with the floor.
- Brush primer and glue on the surfaces of both the flange and the pipe.
- Insert the new flange into the pipe and secure with screws into the floor.
- Place a new wax ring on the flange.
- Place the toilet back on the new flange and wax ring. Secure toilet to flange with the closet bolts.
If the flange is too low, you will have issues as well. This usually becomes a problem when you have a new floor installed in your bathroom. If the new floor is thicker than the old one was, then you might have a problem. A closet flange should be no lower than ¼” under the finished floor.
A flange lower than it should be will cause problems with the seal between the wax ring and the toilet. Because it is lower than it should be, the wax ring might not compress properly, leaving the toilet not sealed completely to the drain. Without a proper seal, the toilet is likely to leak water at the base.
To fix the problem, you could…
- Double stack your wax rings: this is a common DIY fix. You stack a regular wax on top of an extra-thick wax ring and install normally. This is not a reliable fix, though. There are many things that can go wrong that would cause the rings to not seal properly.
- Use a flange extender: these are basically plastic funnels that connect the toilet to the closet flange. The extender goes into the inside of the flange and seals with an adhesive. Companies like Fernco market their extenders as wax-free toilet seals, so if you install one of these extenders, you will not need a wax ring.
- Use a flange spacer kit: the kit contains a series of flange spacers of various thicknesses that fit over the existing flange to raise the drain connection to the level of your floor. It is very simple to install if you have a good closet flange already in place. To install a spacer, you:
- Remove the toilet. Then remove the screws that hold the closet flange to the floor.
- Make sure the flange surface is clear of old wax. If not, scrape it off with a putty knife.
- Apply some silicone caulk to the underside of the spacer that extends to the finished floor and press down on the flange.
- Make sure all screw holes match up and put screws back into the floor.
- Place a new wax ring on the spacer.
- Place the toilet back on the wax ring and flange with the spacer.
If your main sewer line has ever backed up, it may cause an issue with your wax ring. Some plumbers will tell you that if your sewer water seeps back over the wax ring into your toilet that the wax ring is done.
Others will tell you that if it is properly installed, a wax ring will hold no matter what way the water is going. It may be worth checking the floor, ceiling, or crawl space, if there is one nearby, after a bad backup just to be on the safe side.
Some people have found that vigorous plunging can disrupt the wax ring’s seal. If you get frequent clogs that you have to plunge, you should regularly monitor the floor around your toilet. If you see any water or smell gas, you most likely need a new ring.
Another fix you may think of trying if you frequently plunge clogged toilets is using a wax-free ring. These rings are made of rubber and are less likely to be compromised by the plunging.
A Note About Heated Floors
If you have a heated floor in your bathroom, you might want to use a wax-free ring as well. Heated floors can potentially melt the wax ring in your toilet, causing leaks of water and gas. The rubber in the wax free rings will not be affected by the heat.
How To Change A Bad Wax Ring
Changing out a bad wax ring is pretty simple. There is no need to call an expert for help unless when you get the toilet off, you find that the flange or the drainpipe are severely damaged, or there is considerable damage done to the floor around the toilet.
Tools You Will Need
To complete the job, you are going to need a few tools…
- Fresh Toilet Wax Ring
What to Do
Once you have gathered everything you need and have set up in the bathroom, it is time to start taking things apart.
- Lay down the towels around the toilet just in case something goes wrong, and water ends up all over.
- Shut off the water to the toilet at the wall. This will stop water from flowing in while you take the toilet off. Once the water is off, flush the toilet until all the water is gone from inside the tank.
- Use the wrench to take the hose the runs from the wall off the toilet. It is okay if there is some water that still drains out.
- At the base of the toilet are two bolts that attach the toilet to the flange. Use the wrench to loosen and remove the nuts on the bolts.
- Remove the toilet and put it off to the side. Be careful; you may want help if the toilet is too heavy or unevenly weighted. It would also be a good idea to drop the toilet on old newspaper, so you don’t do any damage to the floor.
- Scrape off the old wax from the flange. You should also check the bottom of the toilet and scape any leftover wax there too.
- Take out the old ring and the bolts.
- Make sure that the flange and drainpipe are not damaged before you go further. If either look compromised, you are going to have to address those issues before going further.
- Place the new wax ring into the flange, so it is sitting flat. You don’t want to press down on the ring because it will change the shape of the ring. Just place it so that it is sitting securely on the flange.
- Put in new bolts on the flange pointing up so they can go up through holes in the toilet.
- Place the toilet over the bolts and rings and press down to help the wax create a tight seal.
- Screw the nuts back on the new bolts, so the toilet is secured to the floor and does not wobble.
- Hook the water hose back to the toilet and turn the water back on.
- Monitor the floor and ceiling around the toilet for the next few days just to make sure that everything was installed properly.
Keep Your Toilet’s Wax Seal in Good Shape
The wax ring of your toilet is an extremely important part of your toilet complex. Without a functioning wax seal, you are putting your life and anyone else who lives with you in danger. The seal keeps dangerous gases out of your house and prevents water from leaking out and damaging the floor or ceiling.
Luckily, it is affordable to purchase a replacement and easy enough to replace that you could do it yourself. So, don’t shy away from that puddle at the base of your toilet or that smell of rotten eggs that just popped up in your bathroom. Protect your property and family and get a new wax ring.
If you are interested in finding Wax rings for your toilet, here is a link to all Wax Rings you can buy for your toilet on Amazon.