When a toilet develops leaking around the base of the bowl, it very often has nothing at all to do with the toilet itself. The problem is usually that the wax ring that seals the base of the toilet against the drain opening has worn out. The fix is to simply remove and "reset" the toilet with a new wax ring. The same technique is used if you are removing an old toilet in order to set a new one.
While removing and resetting a toilet may seem like a big job, mechanically it is one of the easier DIY tasks there is. While a professional plumber can change as much as $200 for a service call to reset a toilet, a DIYer can do it for just $10 to $20, the cost of a new wax ring. It does require careful work, however, to ensure that you don't crack or otherwise damage the toilet as you move it.
Before you start working, it's good to have a few extra gaskets and bolts on hand, since it's possible they will break when removed.
A toilet can be heavy and bulky to lift. If you have a bad back, then this isn't the project for you. Even if you separate the tank from the bowl, it will still be very heavy.
Equipment / Tools
- Bucket and sponge
- Adjustable wrench or channel-lock pliers
- Putty knife
- Wax ring
- Old newspaper
- Toilet floor bolts (if needed)
Shut off the Water
As with most plumbing repairs, shutting off the water is the first step. Look for a fixture shut-off valve located on the water supply stub-out pipe near the bottom of the toilet. Turn the handle of the valve fully clockwise to shut off the water. If there is no fixture shut-off valve, you'll have to shut off the water at the nearest branch line valve or at the main shut-off valve near the water meter. If you have to turn off the water at the main shut-off valve, then open sink faucets in the house to drain water from the lines before disconnecting the toilet.
Disconnect the Supply Line
Disconnect the flexible supply tube connected to the tailpiece of the toilet's fill valve. It may unscrew by hand, or you may need to use channel-lock pliers to unscrew the tube's coupling nut from the tailpiece.
Before you disconnect any piping, you should flush the toilet to make sure the water is off and to relieve the pressure. In addition, this will empty most of the water from the tank.
Remove Any Remaining Water
Remove the tank lid and set it aside in a safe place. With the tank mostly empty, use a sponge or rag to soak up any remaining water, wringing out the sponge into a bucket.
Also use the sponge to soak up and remove any remaining water in the toilet bowl. Both the tank and bowl need to be as dry as possible for the next steps.
Disconnect the Floor Bolts
Pop the nut caps off the floor bolts, using a putty knife. Putting them into the open tank will ensure that they don't get separated from the toilet. Use an adjustable wrench or channel-lock pliers to remove the nuts and washers holding the toilet down to the floor bolts.
You may find that the floor bolts are rusted and corroded in place. If so, you may need to cut them off with a hacksaw. After removing the toilet, you can replace the old corroded bolts with new ones.
Lift Off the Toilet
Spread out some old newspaper on the floor near the toilet, but still out of the way. This will be used to protect the flooring from the dirty, sticky wax on the bottom of the toilet.
Straddle the toilet bowl, holding it just in front of the point where the bowl connects to the tank. Lift with your knees (not your back) to separate the toilet from the floor, then turn and set it down on the newspapers.
Some people like to use this opportunity to do a complete upgrade to the toilet, including replacing the fill valve and flush valve/flapper assembly. If you choose to do this, it will involve detaching the tank from the toilet bowl. It makes for a longer project, but separating the tank from the bowl also makes the toilet easier to move.
Clean the Bottom of the Toilet
Make sure the bottom of the toilet is clean to ensure a gap-free seal when you reset it. This step is also easier with a helper.
While your helper tilts the toilet at an angle, scrape off any old wax stuck to the bottom of the toilet, using a putty knife. Pay particular attention to the "horn" of the toilet—the round opening that fits into the floor drain. This area needs to be clean and smooth in order to seal properly against the drain.
If you must lay the toilet on its side during this process, be very careful, as the porcelain can crack and chip quite easily. Be especially careful not to apply too much force at the point where the toilet tank is bolted to the bowl—this spot can be especially fragile.
Apply a New Wax Ring
With the bottom of the toilet cleaned off, you're ready to apply a new wax ring. It helps if the wax is warm and malleable, so a few minutes on a heat duct or radiator, or sitting in a sunny window, will help soften the wax.
If the gap between the drain flange and the floor is too wide, you may need to install a riser extension to ensure a good seal between the floor and the toilet drain opening. This is more likely to be an issue if new, thicker flooring was installed that creates a wider gap between the drain opening and the toilet.
Remove the protective paper and apply the wax ring to the floor drain opening, with the cone-shaped extension facing down into the drain. If you are replacing the floor bolts, now is the time to set them into the floor flange. Use a washer and nut to tighten them down onto the floor. Make sure that they are mounted at the same distance from the wall, so that your toilet will sit straight.
Set the Toilet
Carefully lift the toilet onto the wax ring and floor bolts, making sure it sits square to the wall and that the floor bolts extend up through the holes in the toilet base. A helper again comes in handy as you position and lower the toilet.
Once the bolts are lined up, press the toilet down, rocking side-to-side and back-and-forth to make sure the seal is uniform. This action will compress the wax ring slightly. Once the bowl is resting on the floor, check again to make sure it is sitting square to the wall.
Tighten the Bolts and Reconnect the Fill Valve
Using an adjustable wrench, thread the nuts onto the floor bolts and tighten them down until the toilet rests securely on the floor, without wobbling. It is important to do this slowly and carefully, alternating from side to side to make sure the toilet is tightened evenly. Avoid over-tightening, which can crack the base of the bowl. To make sure the bowl is stable, place your arms around it and try to rock it side-to-side and back-to-back. If it moves, continue tightening the nuts, still alternating sides. Place the caps back over the floor bolts.
When the bowl is secure, reconnect the flexible water supply tube to the fill valve tailpiece, then turn on the water and test the toilet by flushing it a few times. Watch for leaks around the base of the toilet bowl and on the flex tube connections.