Toilet wax bowl ring.
This is not a Bundt cake.

Why Is My Bathroom Always Stinky?

Replacing A Wax Bowl Ring
Under A Toilet

In This Article:

We yank the toilet off the floor, turn it over, scrape off the nasty remains of the old wax gasket and install a new wax bowl seal. Then we put the toilet back in place and give it a "test squat".

Related Articles:

Skill Level: 2

Time Taken: About 45 minutes.

By , Editor

To keep foul odors from entering the house, toilets have traditionally been sealed to the drain pipe with a ring of wax. During installation the wax gets squeezed between the porcelain and the iron (or plastic) flange. This method of sealing the toilet will work... as long as the toilet never moves even a small amount. But once the toilet is moved from it's original position, the wax ring must be replaced.

A new wax ring is needed when:

  • Water leaks from the base of the toilet when it is flushed.
  • Sewer odors are constantly noticed in the bath room.
  • The toilet is removed so the flooring can be replaced. Removing a toilet is easy, there is no need to cut around the base of the toilet when installing new flooring.
  • The toilet rocks back and forth, even just a fraction of an inch.  The wax seal will lose its grip if the toilet moves at all.

Replacing a wax bowl ring is straightforward - yank the throne, tip it over, scrape off the old goop, slap a new doughnut in place, and drop the john back on the pipe. Need more info? Follow along...

The object of our attention.

This is a good time to give it a good thorough cleaning. It's no fun getting "up-close-and-personal" with a dirty toilet.


This toilet rocked back and forth a bit.

On the floor around the base of this toilet there was a mark that told me the toilet had shifted recently.


Toilet hold-down bolts, corroded.

The hold-down bolts (sometimes called "Johnny-bolts") were corroded and kind of loose.


Before I got too far involved, I shut off the water supply to the toilet.


To get the water out of the bowl, I flushed the toilet and held down the trip lever to let out as much water as possible.


I used a plunger to push the remaining water from the bowl.


I removed the nut that connected the water supply line to the stop valve. A few ounces of water usually dribble out when the tube is disconnected, so I had a paper towel ready.


I tried loosening the hold-down nuts. They wouldn't move, which is typical.


But the Johnny-bolts were not tight. In fact they were so loose I could fit my finger under the nut. It seemed like they might have been disconnected from the pipe flange, so I tried picking up the toilet. But it was still attached.

It seemed to me that the person who installed this wax bowl ring did not take the time to tighten the nuts fully, so over time the toilet squashed the wax ring and the bolts became loose. 

As usual, I had to cut the Johnny-bolts with a hack saw.

Cutting toilet hold-down bolts with a hack saw.


Pick-Up Lines:

Since I didn't have a helper, I couldn't take a picture of myself lifting up the toilet. But I've found the best way to pick up a toilet is to grab the bowl right behind the seat (with both hands, I had to use one hand to take the picture) and kinda squat down a bit as I walk carrying the throne.


Walking like an ape, I carried the toilet into the kitchen so I could turn it upside down. Earlier I had put a scrap of carpet on the floor to absorb spills.


This is an old wax bowl ring, stuck to the bottom of the toilet.


This is the cast iron pipe flange that the toilet  bolts to.

Cast iron toilet drain flange, after toilet has been removed.


Cast iron toilet flange, showing old wax bowl ring.

A closer view.

Note how the vinyl flooring goes right up to the flange. This is how flooring is supposed to be installed.  I've seen lots of houses were some knucklehead was too lazy to remove the toilet (or didn't know how) so they cut the flooring around the base of the toilet, which never works well.


There are a lot of things that a wax bowl ring can tell you:

At "A" there are whitish water-marks. I've seen these kind of marks when a wax ring has been leaking.

"B" points out the large black areas. My guess is that this is fungal growth. Fungus would only grow on the wax surface if there was both water and air present. In other words, this wax ring was not sticking to the toilet.

"C" points out where the wax ring stuck to the toilet but not the flange. The wax should stick to both parts.

"D" points to one of the two bolt slots in the flange. Plastic flanges have a different type of slot.

Remains of toilet wax bowl ring after removing toilet.

All these facts are consistent with the symptoms: the room smelled of sewer gases. We never noticed any leaks, but there was some waviness in the flooring behind the toilet, possibly caused by minor water leakage.

Down To Business:

Using a small putty knife, I scraped the old wax ring off the flange.


The old wax ring had a plastic funnel built in, which I removed.


I scraped as much old wax as I could from the the bottom of the toilet.


I decided to try something. I sprayed a little WD-40 on the old wax, and it helped soften it so I could wipe it off.

Then I sprayed on some cleaning solution (I used Simple Green) to remove the WD-40 residue.


New wax bowl ring, used to seal toilet to floor.

This is the new wax bowl ring, the deluxe kind with the plastic funnel built in. I think the funnel really helps prevent water from leaking out if the seal gets broken. This product costs less than $2.


I placed the ring on the toilet's horn, or discharge outlet.


It is usually necessary to press the wax ring in place, or it will fall off when the toilet is picked up.


I installed new Johnny-bolts in the flange.

Installing new toilet flange bolts in slots.


These bolts have little plastic "keepers" that help hold the bolts in place while the toilet is being installed. Otherwise it's really easy to knock the bolts over.

I put two easy-to-see tools on the floor, lined up with the flange bolts to act as a guide when I'm dropping the throne in place.


I set the toilet down on the flange. This is the hardest part.  

When working alone it can be quite a trick to get the Johnny-bolts into the holes in the toilet. It often takes me a few tries before the bolts come through their holes, and all the while I'm holding onto this 60 pound chunk of ceramic sculpture. One thing you cannot do is rest your tired arms and set the toilet down anywhere but the final destination.

But the next part is the easiest. I sat on the throne (with my pants up) to apply some weight to the wax ring. I usually give the throne a slight rocking back and forth, and side to side, to squash the wax ring. The toilet base must be touching the floor.

Just to be sure they were still in place, I gave each Johnny-bolt a tug.


I installed the washer and the white plastic flat thing that holds the cap in place.


I tightened the hold-down nuts.

Warning: These nuts must be tightened carefully and evenly, a little at a time on each side. In the past I have been overly aggressive and actually BROKEN the cast iron flange, which can be a big headache. Breaking the porcelain base would be even worse.

While a toilet may seem like a big object, capable of supporting big people, DO NOT treat these little fasteners like lug nuts on a car. The flange, the toilet base, and the bolts can only withstand a few foot-pounds of torque. I'll agree that this is a pretty weak system, but that's the way it is.

I cut off the extra bolt using a hack saw. The motion of the sawing caused the bolts to loosen up, so I had to tighten them some more.


I snapped the plastic caps in place.


I reconnected the water supply tube.


I tightened the compression nut for the water supply line, and turned the water on.


These stop valves commonly leak around the stem, so I tightened the packing nut a bit.


The finished product, all cleaned up and ready to go.

The last step for a toilet installation is to apply a bead of Kitchen-and-Bath silicone caulk between the toilet and the floor. This will help hold the toilet from moving. But... I don't caulk at the back of the toilet. If a leak ever develops, water will have a chance of trickling out and being detected.

Applying silicone caulk around base of toilet to prevent toilet from moving.



Tools Used:

  • Adjustable Wrenches
  • Hack Saw
  • Putty Knife
  • Flat Blade Screwdrivers
  • Plunger
  • Caulk Gun

Materials Used:

  • Wax Bowl Ring
  • Toilet Hold-Down Bolts
  • Plastic Bolt Caps
  • Kitchen & Bath Silicone
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Copyright 2001-2007

Written March 28, 2001
Revised October 19, 2007