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Need to Fix a Leaking Toilet Bowl? Start with the Wax Ring and Toilet Flange

Fix a leaking toilet-start with the wax ring and closet flange

Have you ever had your toilet move when you sit on it? Has your toilet ever leaked down into the living room, kitchen, or garage?

All of these things have happened to me and needless to say it’s not how an ideal standard toilet should behave. The old cliché about rental homes is true-you will get phone calls about toilet leaks and it will be unpleasant. And when you’re on the receiving end of that phone call you learn how to fix this problem quickly.

You can tighten the toilet closet flange bolts, cross your fingers and call it a day.

Or, you could do the project that I did and make sure your toilet won’t slide or leak down into your living space.

Toilets are your house’s digestive system. Their health is essential for the rest of your humble abode’s well-being. And I don’t know anybody who wants mold problems in their walls, ceilings, or floors because of a leaky toilet.

After you read this post you’ll be able to adjust the height of a toilet flange, install a new wax ring, and fix or prevent a leaking toilet bowl.

Here are the supplies you’ll need:

  • Closet flange spacer (1/2 inch)
  • Silicone caulk in white
  • Caulking gun
  • Wax Ring for 3 ” or 4″ waste lines  (without plastic flange)
  • Closet flange bolts (extra long)
  • Closet flange nuts (2 pair for a total of 4)
  • LiquiLock by Oatey
  • Sponge & bucket or container
  • Plunger
  • Crescent wrench
  • Hacksaw
  • Plumber’s putty
  • Paper towels
  • Putty Knife
  • Old bath towels or drop cloth

Dang, there are a lot of supplies!! But trust me, you’ll be glad you have them.

So let’s get started :)

Remove Your Toilet Without Spilling Nasty Water 

The last thing you want to do is spill nasty toilet water on your floor. Me too!!

To avoid this mess turn off the shutoff valve that supplies water to the toilet tank.

Flush the toilet until there is almost no water in the toilet tank. Use a large sponge to sop up the rest of the water (ring out the sponge into the toilet bowl or separate container). You’ll want the toilet tank to be dry because it will be tilted to scrape off the old wax ring.

Use a plunger to push the excess water in the toilet bowl down the sewer drain.

Here’s my Jedi trick that prevents dirty toilet water from getting on your floor.

Add Oatey LiquiLock to the toilet bowl water. This will cause the water to gel and remain in the bowl.

Sweet!!!

When water is added to the gel it will liquefy. I love science.

 

Fix a Leaking Toilet-Use LiquiLock for toilet bowl water

 

Lift the caps off the toilet flange nuts and bolts.

Unscrew the toilet flange nuts, remove the washers, and set them aside.

Grab a container and set it next to the toilet water supply line. Unscrew the supply line from the toilet tank. Water will trickle from the line but that’s why you have the container nearby.

Voila!! You’re toilet can be removed.

Now you can lift up the toilet and set it on top of old Budweiser beach towels or a drop cloth.

 

Add a Toilet Flange Spacer to Stop Toilet Leaks

The ideal standard toilet flange should rest on top of your bathroom floor or be 1/4 inch above it.

My favorite plumber here in Pittsburgh, Charlie Henderson, gave me this advice. He’s been fixing plumbing leaks for over 25 years and is A rated on Angie’s List (which by the way is where I found him).  So he’s like Yoda to me.

If your toilet flange sits below the bathroom floor the wax ring will compress over time until it no longer creates a good seal with the toilet bowl. When this seal is lost your toilet begins to leak water every time it’s flushed. Mold loves water and wood subfloors.

Before you touch the toilet flange you need to adhere two pieces of blue painter’s tape on either side of each closet bolt. Then make a mark on the tape that represents the bolt positions. This will help you reinstall the bolts exactly how they were before you removed them. The marks and bolts will serve as a guide to help you position the toilet on the wax ring.

 

Fix a Leaking Toilet-Mark the closet bolt position with tape and a marker

 

Inspect your toilet flange for any damage and remove the wax ring from it. Make sure the plastic flange from the old wax ring is removed, too. Scrape wax residue from the toilet flange with a putty knife and use paper towels to cleanup the rest.

Grab your silicone caulk and squeeze out a 1/4 inch bead on the flange & waste pipe. Line up the slots on the toilet flange spacer with those on the toilet flange on the floor. Firmly press the toilet flange spacer into the caulk.

Check to see that the combined height of the spacer and flange are about 1/4 inch above the bathroom flooring. If they aren’t you can add an extra spacer to achieve this goal.

 

Fix a Leaking Toilet-Add a closet flange spacer

 

Insert the extra long closet flange bolts down into the slots of the old flange, align them with the marks on the blue tape, and tighten them with nuts. This last step will help the toilet flange spacer stick to the caulk and old flange-think GRILLED CHEESE.

The caulk is the cheese. The flange & spacer are the bread.

Center the new wax ring on the closet flange spacer. I don’t use wax rings with plastic flanges anymore because several plumbers, including Charlie, advised against it. The plastic flange could dislodge from the wax ring and prevent solid waste (aka poop) from being flushed down the waste pipe.

Woo hooo!!! Give yourself a high five because this is a huge accomplishment and will ultimately prevent your toilet from sliding and leaking water.

Here’s a video to help you with this process. You can ask any question in the comment section below and I guarantee I’ll answer :)

 

Fix a Leaking Toilet Bowl
Runtime
3:15
View count
23,655

 

How to Re-install an Ideal Standard Toilet (One That Won’t Leak)

Scrape off the remaining parts of the wax ring on the bottom of the toilet bowl.

Line up the holes in the toilet bowl base with the marks on the blue tape.

Slowly lower the toilet bowl so that the closet bolts come through the holes. Now the bowl should be resting on top of the wax ring. Peel the blue painter’s tap off the floor (unless you like how it looks). Grab both sides of the toilet with your hands (gross stuff) and push down with even pressure until the wax ring is compressed. The bowl should rest evenly on the floor when you’re done.

Make sure the toilet tank looks even with the back wall then put your washers and nuts on the closet flange bolts. Tighten the nuts just enough to prevent the bowl from moving. This is critical because you can easily crack the bowl by over tightening the nuts. This would suck big time.

Since you used extra long closet flange bolts you’ll have to trim them in order for the white caps to fit. Use a hack saw or Dremel like tool. If you choose a Dremel use a wrench to hold onto the closet nut because the vibrations of the tool will jiggle it loose.

Here’s another plumbing tip I learned from Charlie (my plumber mentor and Yoda). Add plumber’s putty to the inside of the white caps. This will hold the caps in place and prevent them from popping off when you clean the floor or toilet.

 

Fix a Leaking Toilet-Add plumbers putty to the bolt caps

 

So that’s how I prevented my toilet from leaking and sliding around while I try to do my business. After all the bathroom is kinda like my office and it’s great because nobody bothers me in there (most of the time).

If you would like to see more pictures feel free to ask in the comment section. I always take more than I need.

A prior post of mine, that’s related to this one, discusses how to install a brand new toilet and why I recommend American Standard’s Cadet 3. Here’s the link to that post http://www.homerepairtutor.com/american-standard-cadet-3/. This toilet is the easiest one I’ve ever installed.

Until next time, make it a great day.

Jeff Patterson

 

 

 


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20 comments… add one

  • Thomas December 7, 2012, 10:30 AM

    Thank you Jeff; I look forward to all you share with us homeowners. The way your “hands-on” methods explain things so even an old retired guy as my self understands. I have replaced a few wax rings over the years; but “YOU” have made the chore so much easier w/ your video .. Ps. I got a kick out of your —>”The caulk is the cheese. The flange & spacer are the bread. ” lol please keep up the great work ..

    • Jeff Patterson December 8, 2012, 9:37 AM

      You’re very welcome Thomas :)

      I’m really happy that the wording made you laugh a bit, I try to make these posts funny since sometimes leaky plumbing isn’t exactly humorous. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten a call from a tenant or my wife letting me know water is creating havoc. It’s a bummer to say the least.

      I’ll keep the metaphors coming if they make home improvement entertaining.

  • Sam December 11, 2012, 1:10 AM

    Such a great website! It’s so helpful!

    • Jeff Patterson December 11, 2012, 5:17 AM

      Thanks Sam, you made my day. If I can help one person it’s a success. My hope is to share ideas that make projects more doable for anyone willing to swear a bit :)

  • Leaking Toilet April 30, 2013, 5:49 PM

    thanks for the entertaining detail great help!

  • Lisa July 17, 2013, 1:25 PM

    Hi Jeff.

    Great website. Thank you for clear and accessible tutorials.

    Maybe you can help us. We have a Mansfield toilet that was recommended by a plumber about 12 years ago. A few years back, it started to smell around the base, despite keeping it really clean. We’ve pulled it twice now and replaced the wax seal, having to clean what is obviously leakage from the toilet where it meets the wax seal, and from the floor. But the problem keeps coming back. Our closet flange isn’t recessed into the floor, so we’ve been using a regular wax ring. The closet flange is old cast iron.

    Anything you can recommend?

    Thanks so much.

    • Jeff Patterson July 20, 2013, 6:05 AM

      Hi Lisa,

      Sorry to hear about your recurring leakage, that’s no fun. I’m putting on my Magnum PI mustache and going to ask you a few questions:

      1. Does the toilet become loose over time, such that it wiggles?
      2. Your closet flange, does it sit on top of the flooring? What kind of flooring do you have?
      3. Did you check for cracks in the toilet base? Even a small one could lead to leakage issues.
      4. Have you ever had to snake out your house stack?

      Add any other info you think would be helpful and maybe we can solve this problem ourselves :)

      Jeff

  • Lisa July 20, 2013, 3:12 PM

    Hi Jeff.

    Thanks for your quick response. Here’s what I know:

    1. The toilet doesn’t become loose over time. It’s quite solid.
    2. The top of the closet flange sits probably 1/4 inch or 3/8 inch above the floor. The floor is vinyl/lino over regular plywood subflooring. The flange is level to the floor (we checked it).
    3. We have checked for cracks in the toilet base, but can’t see anything at all.
    4. In the 13 years I’ve owned the house, I’ve neer had to snake out the house stack.

    When the toilet was first installed, the plumber noted on the work order that he had added a closet flange spacer. But when we pulled the toilet, we had to scrape the old wax from a metal flange that looked very old — are all spacers plastic? Perhaps he didn’t in fact add a spacer. He also put a bead of clear silicone around the base. Over years, that eventually turned a muddy brown, so we cleared it out. That’s when we first noticed the smell and the leakage. On both occasions when we have pulled the toilet and replaced the wax seal ourselves, we didn’t add a bead of silicone or caulking around the base.

    The toilet is a standard 12-inch Mansfield Alto 130-190.

    The leakage appears in the back, on the sides and at the front. It’s usually worse at the back, which is understandable, as that’s closest to the flange.

    Should we perhaps be using a wax ring with a plastic extension? (Although I understand that those are not recommended, as the plastic ring may dislodge and fall into the pipe.) Or perhaps two wax rings? Would it be better for us to just pull the toilet again and replace the closet flange entirely? What is the optimum height for the closet flange above the floor? My partner purchased the wax rings for the last two replacements, and apparently there are several depths available. He bought a standard depth. Maybe that’s a factor?

    Thanks!

    Lisa

    • Jeff Patterson July 21, 2013, 7:48 AM

      Thanks Lisa for the great info because this really helps diagnose the yucky problem you’re experiencing. I’ve only installed plastic spacers but that doesn’t mean your plumber didn’t use a different variety. Plastic is my preference since it won’t rust. I also agree with not adding a bead of silicone around the base. This only hides leaks and redirects them down into the subfloor. I’d rather see the water leak from under the toilet then notice it has rotted out something.

      My plumber recommends using a standard wax ring without the plastic extension for the reason you inferred. You may want to try either a thicker one wax ring this time around. If your bowl works fine for a few weeks then leaks that indicates the wax ring is compressing too much. The seal is broken between the bottom of the bowl and the ring, then water leaks at this intersection. You could also upgrade your toilet to a Kohler or American Standard. I’ve installed several American Standard Cadet 3s at our rentals and they’ve been great. The cost is $130-200 but worth it.

      What do you think?

      • Lisa July 22, 2013, 7:52 PM

        Hi Jeff.

        Thanks for your feedback. I suspect that we have a seal problem … and of course, it’s the one spot you can’t view! There’s one chance to seat the toilet onto that wax ring, and then you have to just hope that it all snugs up — with no way to check.

        We’ll have to pull the toilet again in any case, because we can’t just leave the leak. We’ll examine the horn again for any cracks, and if we can’t see anything, we may try a thicker wax ring, as you suggest. If that fails, we’ll have to replace the toilet.

        Interestingly, the plumber recommended a Mansfield or a Toto as top of the line, and it wasn’t inexpensive to buy. We have two Mansfields in the house, and the other has never had a problem. But we might have to switch brands.

        Thanks again. I’ll let you know how it goes!

        Lisa

  • Brett August 16, 2013, 6:11 PM

    Hi Jeff,

    My old flange was completely rotted along with damage to my subfloor. I replaced the subfloor section and have put in new tile. I purposely didn’t tile up to the hole. I thought using a spacer to lift it above the floor would be easier. I was concerned about drilling holes through porcelain tile without cracking it.

    My flange is a 3″ inside fit with metal ring. My spacer is a plastic ring. It seems more logic to me to put the spacer on the bottom since i’m putting both in at the same time. That way I don’t have to worry about caulking between the flange/spacer. The toilet/wax ring will be set right onto the actual flange.

    I couldn’t find any examples of it being done this way as most were starting with an already set flange. Any reason I couldn’t do it this way?

    • Jeff Patterson August 17, 2013, 9:58 AM

      Hey Brett,

      Thanks for your question. I totally know where you’re coming from. Most of the DIY stuff doesn’t address this issue.

      What will you attached the spacer and flange combo to? Will it be the wood subfloor? Just wanted to get more details :)

      Jeff

  • Shannon September 29, 2013, 6:10 AM

    Hi Jeff,
    We bought a new home last summer, and since then I have noticed a fairly loud dripping sound that appears to be coming from behind the wall, behind the toilet. The dripping sound didn’t seem to be happening all the, but it was driving me crazy. I had plumbers come out to the house and charge me just to tell me they didn’t hear the sound, and not to worry unless I saw water somewhere around the toilet, or on the ceiling below the bathroom (not too helpful as the point of them coming out was to prevent damage to my flooring and drywall). Well it has been months and it has finally dawned on me that we only hear the dripping when someone is actually sitting on the toilet. Our house is 37 years old, with very little insulation, and we have ceramic and hardwood throughout the house, so little sounds are definately magnified. Does the fact that it only happens when someone is sitting on it mean that there is a leak in the wax seal? Also…..is there probably a good chance that damage has been done to the subfloor since it has been leaking for so long? What should we do now, and what exactly should we tell the plumbers so that they’ll take us seriously, and won’t rip us off. I’m so sorry for all the questions, but I married my husband for love..not his plumbing abilities, which is a good thing…because he has none. We will definately have to call a professional to fix what ever is wrong, and we have been taken advantage of so many times that I am completely frustrated.
    I thank you for your time, and can’t wait to hear from you.

    • Jeff Patterson September 29, 2013, 8:45 PM

      Hi Shannon,

      Thanks for your questions. You definitely want to be able to reproduce the problem for the plumbers so that they can understand your concern.

      If the you don’t have any brown water marks on your ceiling by this point it could simply be some water dripping into the toilet bowl’s trap when someone sits on the bowl. But it’s really hard for me to assess the situation via the web.

      You can also try a different plumber. One who is a referral and someone a friend or relative has used.

      So, try reproducing the drip. Once that’s done then call a plumber. Then you you can show the plumber what you’re problem is. Hope this helps Shannon.

      Jeff

  • Leanne May 4, 2014, 9:35 PM

    I have a question, after you tighten the nuts of the “grilled cheese”, how long do I wait to set the toilet on? Does the silicone need to cure any first?
    Thanks,
    Leanne

    • Jeff Patterson May 9, 2014, 6:02 AM

      Good question Leanne, I let the caulk setup according to the directions. But to be safe you could wait 24 hours. Admittedly this is hard when it’s the only toilet in the house. So using a quick drying silicone caulk made for plumbing is the way to go.

  • Charles June 9, 2014, 2:20 PM

    I changed the flapper flush valve and flapper with a fluid master universal kit.my tank drains a 1/2 inch every ten minutes then refills. the water feed hole is not way down the tube creating a suction so im baffled to why it keeps draining

    • Jeff Patterson June 19, 2014, 7:34 PM

      There must be a slow leak somewhere in the tank Charles. One way to test this is to put food coloring in the tank water and see if it shows up in the bowl. If this is the case then you know the leak has to do with the flush valve and flapper.

      I’m assuming you don’t have any leaks having to do with the fill valve. The water would show up on the floor of the bathroom. Although, you may want switch out the fill valve just to ensure the toilet operates as efficiently as possible.

  • Jon Herschel November 17, 2014, 12:37 PM

    Thanks! Couldn’t ask for better instructions to get me going.

    • Jeff Patterson November 19, 2014, 6:18 AM

      I’m glad it helped you Jon. Let me know if you have questions.

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