“Cause if you like it, then you shoulda put a ring on it.”—Beyoncé, world-renowned DIY plumber
Your toilet throne may seem like a simple, ordinary house fixture. In reality, a toilet is a complex system of various components.
As a DIYer, you may one day need to dismantle your toilet, at which point you’ll discover all of the different parts. One of the most crucial parts is the wax ring, which we’ll discuss in this article today.
What is a toilet wax ring? Where is the wax ring? What does a toilet wax ring do? And what happens when that ring doesn’t work as it should? We’ll address all of these questions in this article, so keep reading to learn more.
Table of Contents
- About Toilet Wax Rings
- Damage to the Wax Ring
- Toilet Wax Ring Replacement Signs
- What Happens to the Wax Ring when Replacing the Toilet?
- Wax Ring Replacement Frequency
- Bottom Line
About Toilet Wax Rings
A wax ring is, not surprisingly, a ring of molded wax, set on a short plastic pipe. The main purpose of the wax ring is to create a watertight seal between the bottom of the toilet and the drainpipe. In other words, the wax ring is a type of gasket, much like the washer in a sink faucet.
During the toilet installation, the wax ring is set on the toilet flange, or closet flange, before the toilet is mounted on top of the flange. The ring seals these two elements together to prevent leaks.
In addition to the wax ring, toilet bolts are used on each side of the toilet to fasten the toilet firmly to the floor. These bolts squeeze the toilet hard against the wax ring to further prevent any leakage from the point where the toilet connects to the drain.
A newer wax ring alternative is the rubber gasket seal, which is another viable option for connecting a toilet and preventing leaks.
Damage to the Wax Ring
Even though toilet wax rings are made to last for a long time (just like wedding rings—how’s that for a comparison?), there’s always a chance of unexpected damage or other problems. In particular, both a loose toilet and a low flange can lead to wax ring malfunctions over time.
If the toilet itself is loose, it will move or even rock in place while in use. Although you may fear you’ve deposited too heavy a “load” for the toilet (or become too heavy a load yourself), toilet movement more likely indicates a problem with the bolts. This movement can wear down the wax ring over time, eventually causing the wax to lose its seal and allowing water to leak out.
If you notice your toilet feels loose, check the bolts or call in a professional to resolve the problem and prevent wax ring damage in the long term. If it’s your bowels that are loose, well, call another kind of professional.
Low Closet Flange
Because most bathrooms have thin tiled floors, the closet flange sits low once the tiles are installed. A low flange creates a space between the flange and the toilet. If there’s too much space between these parts, the wax ring won’t be compressed tightly enough and you won’t have a strong seal.
If your bathroom has a particularly thin floor, it’s advised that you use special flange heighteners to help your wax ring compress properly and form a strong seal.
Toilet Wax Ring Replacement Signs
As stated, the wax ring should serve you for many years. However, if you’re facing one of the problems described above or your wax ring is older, you’ll want to keep an eye out for certain signs that a wax ring is starting to wear out.
Here are the top four signs that your wax ring may need replacement.
1. Pooling of Water Around the Toilet Base
If you spot wetness around the toilet’s base, it doesn’t necessarily mean that someone in your household has bad aim! Instead, collecting water could mean that your wax ring is leaking.
If you notice more water appearing right after flushing the toilet, your wax ring is likely the problem. What happens is that the flushing action forces water out through the compromised wax ring instead of down the drainpipe.
If you do notice leaking from your toilet, you should check a few parts to confirm where the problem lies. First, see if the water is leaking from the base or the toilet tank. Then, check the shut-off valve to confirm the water isn’t leaking from that point. If all else looks good, you probably have a wax ring problem.
2. Foul Odor in the Bathroom
If you notice a foul odor similar to rotten eggs in your bathroom, you might need a better air freshener. But if the odor persists even when the toilet hasn’t been used recently, it could be hydrogen sulfide gas, which is prominent in sewer gases.
Normally, the wax seal traps sewer gases within the drainpipe. So if you notice a sulfur smell in your bathroom, it could mean that the wax ring is damaged.
You’ll want to replace the wax ring quickly in this situation because sewer gases are not only unpleasant but also hazardous to your health. Once you replace the wax ring, the gases shouldn’t leak out, and you won’t have to give up Mexican food.
3. Water Leaking Through the Ceiling or Floor
When the wax ring leaks, the water sometimes seeps directly through the floor. If you’ve caulked around your toilet (um, don’t say that out loud if you’re at work), you won’t see any leakage there. Instead, you may notice water damage in the ceiling of the room directly below the bathroom.
Whenever you spot water leaking through your ceiling below the toilet, you should replace the wax ring as soon as possible. Otherwise, you may have to replace the whole ceiling or deal with even larger, more expensive repairs.
If the leak continues unchecked for too long, it can even become dangerous, softening the ceiling to the point where the toilet may end up falling through the floor. Although that sounds like a great story to tell your friends or grandchildren, the potential injuries aren’t worth the adventure.
Ultimately, the expense for an emergency plumbing repair is well worth avoiding the extreme damage a leak in the ceiling can cause if ignored for too long.
4. A Wobbling Toilet
Above, we talked about the problems a loose toilet can cause. But when a toilet is so shaky that you can lift one edge off the floor, the flange is almost certainly broken. In this case, you must repair the broken toilet flange. While you’re at it, go ahead and replace the inexpensive wax ring for a thorough job.
To prevent a wobbling toilet in the future, tighten the closet bolts appropriately. And check the bolts regularly to ensure they don’t loosen over time.
Even if there aren’t any other problems with your wobbling toilet and you’ve created a great playlist to go with it, toilet movement can damage the wax ring. That’s why it’s so important to fix a wobbling toilet sooner rather than later. If your toilet wobbles due to a broken flange, you’ll need to install a new flange in addition to the new wax ring.
What Happens to the Wax Ring when Replacing the Toilet?
If you ever have to remove your toilet temporarily or replace it entirely, ensure that you replace the wax ring when you reinstall the toilet. That’s because as you lift or reposition the toilet, any movement is highly likely to break the ring and prevent it from ever creating a strong seal again.
Removing the old wax ring is fairly easy. You should be able to remove it simply with the following steps.
STEP 1: Once you’ve shut off the water supply and removed the toilet, you’ll have access to the old wax ring.
STEP 2: Using a putty knife, peel off the ring in chunks. Be sure to remove any pieces from the base of the toilet as well as the floor and drainpipe. Remove any wax residue you see anywhere.
STEP 3: Once you’ve removed all pieces of the old ring, you’ll be able to install the new wax ring.
When installing a new toilet wax ring, it’s vital that the ring sits directly on the toilet’s porcelain base and flange without any obstruction from the old wax. Therefore, it’s worth taking the extra 10 or 15 minutes to fully remove the old wax ring before moving forward.
Wax Ring Replacement Frequency
In most cases, the wax ring seal will last the entire lifetime of the toilet, which is at least 20 to 30 years. That’s longer than a lot of marriages these days. Therefore, as long as the seal doesn’t incur any damage and no other problems develop, you shouldn’t need to replace the wax seal regularly.
But if you do have either toilet damage that might impact the wax seal or a problem with the wax seal itself, it’s best to replace the seal as soon as possible.
After reading this article, you should have all the answers to the most common questions about wax rings: what they are, what they do, and why they’re so important. Ultimately, the wax ring is an essential part of the toilet system that helps trap both liquids and sewer gases where they’re supposed to be, keeping your bathroom both clean and safe.
Although wax rings are made to last a long time, use the tips in this article to stay on top of any problems that can arise. If you do suspect you may need to replace your wax ring, it’s always a good idea to seek a professional’s services to confirm the problem and help resolve it quickly.