Replacing a Toilet
Toilets are very durable fixtures, but sooner or later you'll likely want to replace a toilet in your house—perhaps for cosmetic reasons or because the toilet is broken or cracked, or it's a water-wasting dinosaur. If the toilet is simply leaking and you need to replace its wax ring, you'll follow the same steps for removal and reinstallation.
Drain the Water
Before you do anything, you must first get all the water out of the existing toilet.
- Turn off the water supply valve at the toilet or the main shutoff valve for the house.
- Flush the toilet to empty the tank.
- Remove the tank lid and set it aside in a safe place.
- Mop out the remaining water from the tank and the bowl with a large sponge. Squeeze the water out into a bucket and repeat the process until the tank and bowl are dry.
Remove the Toilet
The next step is to remove the toilet from the mounting bolts holding it to the floor. If you are careful, you can lift off both the toilet and tank while they are still connected. Be careful, though, as it is easy to crack the tank where the bolts connect it to the toilet bowl. (Another method is to disconnect the tank from the bowl, which requires a large screwdriver and an adjustable wrench to remove the tank bolts.)
- Disconnect the water supply tube that connects to the tailpiece of the fill valve on the toilet tank, using an adjustable wrench or tongue-and-groove pliers.
- Remove the porcelain or plastic cover caps on the floor bolts that hold the toilet to the floor. Remove the nuts, using an adjustable wrench. If the nuts are rusted in place and cannot be removed, cut off the bolts below the nuts with a hacksaw blade.
- Have your helper to assist you in lifting the toilet bowl and tank assembly of the closet flange bolts. (The closet flange, which is fastened to the floor, both secures the toilet to the floor and provides the outlet opening for the drain.)
- Place the old toilet on a soft, absorbent material, such as an old rug or stack of newspapers, to prevent staining your flooring.
- Gently lay the toilet on its side or back, making sure the porcelain tank and bowl are supported.
- Remove the wax ring and plumber's putty from the bottom of the toilet, using a putty knife.
- Remove the old wax and plumber's putty from the closet flange on the floor.
- Inspect the closet flange. If it is damaged, you will have to replace or repair it.
The metal or plastic fitting that fits under your toilet is known as a closet flange. This flange is the connecting interface between the toilet and the floor structure. It has two square holes that allow special bolts with flat sides to slide into it. These bolts secure the toilet to the flange, and the square heads prevent the bolts from turning when the nuts are tightened onto the bolts. The flanges also have holes that allow long screws to drive through them and into the floor structure.
Closet flanges come in several different types:
- Replacement for cast-iron drains
- Replacement for PVC (plastic) drains
- Repair kit for either type of drain
- New closet flange for either type of drain
- Offset flange
If you need to replace your toilet flange, choose a suitable replacement part (or kit) and install it following the manufacturer's instructions.
Prepare and Test-Fit the Toilet
Test-fit the base of the new toilet by temporarily setting it on the flange and checking to make sure the bolts align with the holes in the base. Also, make sure the toilet sits level. If necessary, level the toilet by shimming beneath it with stainless steel or plastic washers.
Remove the toilet and gently set it upside down (if separated from the tank) or on its side or back (if the tank is attached) on a protective surface, such as an old rug.
Apply the Wax Ring
The wax ring seals out sewer gases and prevents flushed water and waste from leaking out from under the toilet during a flush. Some rings are just wax, while some others have a plastic "funnel" or "flange" or "bell" built in to provide added insurance for ensuring that waste finds its way into the drain line. You just need a simple plain wax ring if the closet flange is slightly above the finished floor, but if the closet flange is flush with the floor, or slightly below, use a wax ring with a plastic bell or funnel.
The preferred method of installing the wax ring is to place it on to the bottom discharge outlet (horn) of the toilet. Remove all paper or plastic packaging and protection on the wax ring. Make sure to install at temperatures over 70 degrees. Center and press the wax ring firmly until it is well seated on the outlet. Be careful not to damage the wax ring or set the toilet down with the ring attached until the final installation. If the ring becomes deformed, it will not seal properly and cannot be reused.
- Tip: Some plumbers will set the wax ring in a warm spot, such as on a radiator or in a sunny window, for a few minutes to slightly soften the wax and make it easier to adhere it to the toilet.
Another common approach used by many plumbers is to set the wax ring directly over the closet flange first, and then to set the toilet onto the wax ring. This can be a less messy method.
As an option, you can run a bead of plumber's putty around the outside of the bottom of the toilet base, to seal the toilet to the floor and keep mop water and crud from the joint. Alternatively, you can caulk around the toilet base at the end of the installation.
Set the Toilet
Once the wax ring is set in place, you now need to place the toilet.
- Set the flange bolts into their respective slots on the flange so their threaded ends are pointing straight up.
- Carefully lift the toilet (with or without the tank) with a helper, and set it onto the closet flange, slipping the holes in the base over the flange bolts. The toilet will be elevated off the floor slightly as you hit the wax ring, but continue with gentle rocking pressure until the toilet is firmly seated against the floor. You will need to lean down right over the center of the bowl to best control the placement of the bowl.
- Install the plastic cover base, washer, nut and nut cover on the flange bolts.
- Tighten the bolts gradually, alternating from one side of the toilet to the other to keep the pressure similar on both sides of the toilet. Be careful not to over-tighten the bolts, or the tank base may crack.
- Clean up any oozed plumber's putty from around the bottom of the toilet base.
- Install the toilet tank onto the base, if they were separated.
Make the Plumbing Connections
Complete any remaining plumbing connections and turn the water supply back on to check for leaks. This is really just a matter of reversing the process by which you disconnected the toilet at the start of the project.
Many new toilets now come with the fill valve and flush valve already installed in the tank, but it's possible you will need to buy these fittings and install them yourself (this is easiest to do before installing the toilet, but you can do it afterward, too).
If desired, seal around the base of the toilet with a neat bead of pure silicone caulk. Some installers leave the very back of the base uncaulked so that a toilet leak will reveal itself more readily.
Many plumbers use this opportunity to also replace the water supply tube and shutoff valve since these parts also eventually wear out.