How Long Does A Toilet Wax Ring Last?
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The wax ring is vital for preventing water and sewer gasses from leaking into your bathroom from under your toilet. It creates an airtight seal, and if it ever starts to go bad, it’s critical to replace it as soon as possible.
Technically, a wax ring should last as long as the life of your toilet, which can be between 15 and 30 years. However, it’s not uncommon to need to replace the wax ring before this timeframe passes. Signs the wax ring is failing are leaks at the toilet base, foul odors, and floor damage around the toilet.
Of course, your toilet can leak for other reasons besides a bad wax ring, like loose toilet bolts. This is because for the wax ring to work correctly, it must fit tightly between the toilet and the toilet flange. So, if the bolts loosen, it can break the airtight seal.
Why Do You Need A Wax Ring?
Quite simply, you need to install a wax ring between your toilet and toilet flange to prevent dangerous sewer gases from leaching into your home. The toilet flange installs on the floor and is the piece you connect your toilet to using large flange bolts.
The wax ring goes on top of the flange. When you secure the toilet with the bolts, it squeezes down on the ring, creating the airtight seal. This seal should also keep water from pooling around your toilet’s base.
Without a wax ring, there’s nothing to properly seal against the odors coming up the drain pipe from the sewer. Plus, every time you flush, you would have excessive water coming from the toilet’s base.
The Lifespan Of A Wax Ring
A toilet typically lasts between 15 and 30 years, depending on the brand, quality of parts, and how it’s used. The wax ring should last as long as the toilet, so, basically, a wax ring could last about 20 years.
However, for various reasons, many people end up replacing a wax ring before replacing their toilet. Or, if you decide to replace your toilet, whether for design reasons or other issues, you should also replace the wax ring.
This is preferable to continuing to use an old wax ring with a new toilet. Especially since wax rings only cost about $10, if you’re having your toilet replaced, get a new wax ring, too.
But, how do you know if you’re supposed to replace your wax ring before its expected lifespan? Typically, you’ll notice signs that indicate you’re dealing with a worn-out or damaged wax ring.
Signs You Need To Replace The Wax Ring
There are a few tell-tale signs your wax ring is failing. If you notice any of these issues, you can be pretty confident you need to replace the wax ring soon.
1. Water Pooling Around The Toilet Base
If you see water pooling around the base of the toilet, it’s likely the wax ring is failing. You can double-check by drying up the water, then rechecking the spot a few hours later.
If it weren’t a leak, you wouldn’t see any more water, and it could have been from a spill or similar event. However, if a few hours later the water has returned, this signals a leak.
2. Bad Sewer Odors In Your Bathroom
If you’re smelling foul odors in your bathroom, it could be from sewer gasses seeping in from the toilet base. You might notice these odors along with water around the toilet base, or there might be no water.
Either way, you need to take these smells seriously as they can pose severe health consequences, among other issues. It’s necessary to address the situation immediately.
3. Floor Damage Around The Toilet
What if you don’t notice water around the toilet base, but the floor is starting to show damage? This would be a likely situation if someone applied caulk around the bottom of the toilet. Then, water won’t seep out but will simply collect behind the scenes.
This can result in damage to the surrounding floor, and in the case of upper floor bathrooms, ceiling damage below. This is a serious situation that needs to be handled ASAP before your toilet falls through the floor.
For this reason, many pros advise against caulking around a toilet base. Or, over time, if you do, at least leave a small section toward the back of the base open. This way, water has a place to go in the event of a leak and can alert you before things get worse.
4. Wobbly Toilet
Although a wobbly toilet might not signal a bad wax ring, it can cause one. If your toilet is rocking from side to side when you sit, this can damage the wax ring.
Typically, a rocking toilet is due to loose toilet bolts. So, if you start to notice a slight wobble, check the bolts. Tighten them without over-tightening to avoid damaging the wax ring and seal.
However, if foul odors or pooling water around the toilet base accompany your rocking toilet, the wax ring is likely already compromised.
How To Replace A Toilet Wax Ring
If you determine you need to replace your toilet’s wax ring, you’ll need to get the proper size. Luckily, there aren’t many options to choose from. You’ll find wax rings in two standard widths, three and four inches, which are the standard sizes for toilet drain openings.
Addiontlaly, wax rings come in two thicknesses–regular, which is about 1 ½ inches thick, and extra-thick wax rings. These are roughly double the standard thickness. You can determine the size you need by measuring your old wax ring.
Most wax rings are universal and will fit either three or four-inch drain pipes. When you remove the toilet, lay it on its side and measure the outlet’s diameter.
For thickness, it depends on the location of the toilet flange. If it is flush to the floor, you can get a regular wax ring. If the flange sits below the floor, get an extra-thick ring.
If you want to do your shopping before you begin your project, you could always buy a couple of options. Don’t open any of the rings until you figure out which one is the right one for the job, and save your receipts. Then you can return the ones you don’t need after you’ve finished the project.
Tools You Need For The Job
- Putty knife
- Flathead screwdriver
- New wax ring
- Rubber gloves
- Newspapers or towels
- An extra set of hands
- Small hacksaw
Step One: Shut Off The Water
Turn the water supply valve clockwise to shut off the water to the toilet. The supply valve is on the wall behind the toilet. Make sure you turn it all the way to the right.
Step Two: Drain And Disconnect The Toilet
After shutting off the water, flush the toilet to drain the tank as much as possible. You can hold the flush lever down to allow as much water as possible to drain.
Remove the lid of the tank and set it somewhere safe, so it doesn’t break. Put on gloves and use the sponge to soak up any remaining water in the tank. Squeeze the water from the sponge into the bucket as needed.
Repeat the sponge and bucket technique with any remaining water in the toilet bowl. Once you’ve removed all the water, position the bucket under where the supply line connects to the tank.
Disconnect the supply line from the tank, letting any water in the line drain into the bucket. You should be able to disconnect it by hand, but if not, use a wrench to loosen it first.
Step Three: Remove The Toilet
If you have a two-piece toilet, you may want to remove the tank first to avoid any damage. Plus, it will make things lighter and easier for you.
Removing the toilet is where you’ll need an extra pair of hands, so enlist the help of a buddy. Toilets can be pretty heavy, weighing between 80 and 100 pounds.
First, spread some newspaper or towels out on the floor where you plan to place the toilet. Then, locate the two bolts on either side of the toilet base. These bolts connect the toilet to the toilet flange in the floor.
There are likely caps over the bolts that you can remove by hand. Some pop off; you can pry them up with a flathead screwdriver. Others you can simply unscrew.
Next, use the wrench to loosen the nuts holding the bolts in place. If the bolts or nuts are rusty, you can cut them with the hacksaw and replace them.
After removing the washers and nuts, rock the toilet side to side to loosen and break the wax seal. With the help of a buddy, lift the toilet and move it, laying it on its side on the newspapers or towels. Use the rag to plug up the drainpipe in the floor so you can block odors and gasses.
Step Four: Replace The Wax Ring
Still wearing your gloves, slide the old wax ring off the toilet outlet. Use a putty knife to scrape off old wax from the toilet bottom and toilet flange.
This is a good time to check the condition of the toilet flange and bolts as well. You can replace all the parts at one time if necessary.
Place the appropriately-sized new wax ring on the toilet outlet, pushing it into place gently. Do this instead of placing it on the flange, as it might move out of position when you reinstall the toilet.
Step Five: Reinstall The Toilet
Ensure the bolts and flange are positioned correctly. Then, take the rag out of the drainpipe, and with your buddy’s help, lift the toilet. Carefully lower it straight down onto the flange.
Make sure you align the bolts and holes properly. With the toilet in place, put a washer and nut over each bolt and hand tighten.
Use a wrench to alternate tightening the right and left nuts and bolts. Doing it this way will help keep the toilet level. Finally, replace the bolt caps.
Step Six: Test The New Wax Ring
After you’ve reinstalled the toilet, connect the supply line and open the supply valve. Wait a couple of minutes for the tank to fill, then flush. Examine the toilet base for any leaks.
Wait a few minutes, then flush again. After a few tests, if no water comes out of the toilet base, you can be confident with your DIY replacement. Replace the lid on the tank, pat yourself on the back, and thank your buddy.
Frequently Asked Questions
What other reasons can cause a toilet leak?
A leaky toilet isn’t always because of a bad wax ring. It could be loose toilet bolts or a leaky supply line. Water could be dripping from the supply valve and puddling around the toilet base, appearing like a damaged wax ring.
There could also be a hairline crack in the toilet tank, dripping water down and collecting around the base. If this is the case, you might be able to apply a sealant to the tank. Otherwise, you would need to replace the entire toilet.
Is there an alternative to a wax ring?
Although wax rings are still the most common way to create an airtight seal under your toilet, there’s a new alternative. A waxless seal, which is a rubber gasket, goes in the same place and acts in pretty much the same way.
It is typically glued to the toilet’s base to create a more permanent seal. Which you use comes down to a matter of personal preference as both function well.
Can you stack wax rings?
Some people will attempt to stack two regular wax rings to get a tighter seal. However, this setup ultimately results in leaks as the rings can shift and fail to create the necessary seal. It’s better to get an extra-thick wax ring instead.