Like all plumbing fixtures that require some type of seal to prevent leaking, your toilet depends on a thick wax gasket between its base and the connecting flange in the floor. A toilet wax ring is a simple but effective concept: the pressure of the toilet base expands the sticky, pliable wax until it forms a watertight seal. Because the wax is soft and malleable, however, the seal can occasionally fail, which means you need a quick replacement to prevent major water damage. Knowing the bad wax ring symptoms helps you spot the issue early before it becomes a problem.
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Bad Toilet Wax Ring Symptoms
The first clue that a wax ring is failing is often the presence of water on the floor around the base of the toilet due to the toilet ring seal leaking. If the toilet installer caulked around the toilet, though, water might not be visible on the floor. But it could still be leaking and damaging the subfloor or the ceiling of the room below your bathroom. Smelling an unpleasant odor is another sign that the wax ring seal is broken, which allows sewer gasses to seep into the bathroom.
Other Causes of Leaking Water
Water on the floor doesn't always mean the wax ring is bad. It could be seeping out between the tank and toilet base, the mounting bolts could be loose, or the toilet could have a cracked base. If the toilet rocks back and forth, the toilet flange could be damaged. Whether or not the wax seal toilet ring is at fault, once you remove the toilet you'll still need to install a new wax ring.
Toilet Wax Ring Replacement
If you've never replaced a wax ring, don't be intimidated. It's a straightforward do-it-yourself task. After removing the old wax ring, check the flange for damage, and repair it with a flange repair kit, if necessary. Once you're ready to install the new wax ring, you can do it in one of two ways. Either position it on the toilet flange, or fit it on the boot base of the toilet. Then set the toilet carefully back in place. To get a good seal with the new wax ring, gently rock the toilet back and forth while pressing down until it's snug and flat on the floor.
Choosing a New Ring
Wax rings are one-size-fits-all and are available with or without an attached rubber or polyethylene "boot" that extends into the toilet flange opening. The booted rings are nice, but if the toilet flange sits a little high, the boot can keep the toilet from resting flat on the floor. Plain wax rings don't have the added boot protection, but they fit all toilets. If the flange is lower than normal, you can get a thicker wax ring to fill in the extra space.
If you see signs of a damaged wax ring, investigate quickly to keep the issue from getting worse. Replacing the wax ring is a relatively simple DIY project that can ensure a good seal and prevent damaging leaks.
Glenda Taylor is a contractor and a full-time writer specializing in construction writing. She also enjoys writing business and finance, food and drink and pet-related articles. Her education includes marketing and a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas.