Telltale Signs Your Toilet Wax Ring Needs Replacement

How Do I know if My Toilet Wax Ring is bad?

A toilet wax ring is a seal installed between the bottom of the toilet and the closet flange. It provides a watertight and airtight seal, ensuring that neither water nor gases escape but rather are contained in the drainage system.

A toilet wax ring can last for many years but with time it will stop working as designed. That is usually caused by a wobbly toilet, broken closet flange, or problems with the flooring.

So how do you know that your toilet wax ring is bad and needs to be replaced?

The signs of a bad toilet wax ring include water leaking from the base of the toilet, sewage/urine smell from the toilet, and a stained/leaking basement ceiling. A loose/wobbly toilet will almost always result in a bad wax ring.

Toilet wax rings cannot be repaired. Once you are sure that your wax ring is bad you will need to replace it. The good thing is that a wax ring is cheap and not that hard to replace on your own.

There is usually no fixed schedule on when to replace a toilet wax ring since they can last for as long as 30 years. You only replace a wax ring when it is bad or when you are replacing the toilet or the closet flange.

The telltale signs that you need to replace your toilet wax ring are when water leaks from the base of the toilet after flushing, there is a sewage smell coming from the toilet or when the ceiling of the floor below is stained or leaking.

Let us look at all these signs in more detail.

Signs to Replace a Toilet Wax Ring

From experience, the most obvious sign that you need to replace your toilet wax ring is when you have water pooling at the base of the toilet.

That will however not be the case if you have your toilet caulked to the floor. Anyway, this is how you know your toilet wax ring is bad:

1. Water Leaking from the Base of the Toilet

A toilet wax ring as I mentioned is installed and sandwiched between the bottom of the toilet and the closet flange.

A closet flange is the pipe fitting that is connected to the toilet drain line and also has 2 slots that allow toilet mounting blots to be hooked hence securing the toilet firmly to the floor.

The flange and toilet bowl are squeezed together thereby compressing the wax ring by tightening the mounting bolts, therefore creating a watertight and airtight seal.

When you flush the toilet, the flush water leaves the bowl and enters the drain line directly, and flows out into the sewer line or septic tank.

If you however have a bad wax ring, the seal will be broken allowing water to leak from the bottom of the toilet after flushing.

Pooling water at the base of the toilet is always a good sign of a leaking toilet wax ring unless the bowl is cracked. Some cracks are too small to be seen (hairline cracks) but there is a way you can tell if that is the case.

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To do that, flush the toilet and use a pen to mark the level of water inside the bowl. Come back after 30 minutes and check the water level again.

If there is water at the base of the toilet and the water level in the bowl has dropped, you most likely have a cracked bowl.

You must also be careful since sometimes water at the base of the toilet is caused by a leaking water supply line, faulty shut-off valve, or even a toilet leaking between the tank and the bowl.

Remember that a bad wax ring only results in leaking during flushing. However, a toilet leaking between the tank and the bowl will leak throughout and you may also experience ghost flushing.

Usually, when a toilet is leaking from the base, you will in most cases also notice that the toilet is loose/wobbly.

A wobbling toilet is caused by a broken closet flange, loose toilet mounting bolts, or an uneven floor.

Sometimes tightening loose mounting bolts will be enough to fix the problem. In some instances, you will need to shim the toilet to fix the problem.

When both of the above fail, replacing the toilet wax ring and possibly the closet flange is the only way out.

2. Leaking or Stained Basement Ceiling

Some people prefer caulking the toilet to the floor after installation. When that is the case, there is usually no way for water to seep out from the base of the toilet even when the wax ring is bad.

In that case, the water will force its way through the floor and leak out from the ceiling of the floor below. You will therefore notice that the ceiling will be damp after flushing the toilet and after a while, there will be ugly water stains.

It is also good to note that with a bad wax ring, water can still leak from the basement ceiling even if the toilet is not caulked to the floor.

You must however be careful in locating the exact spot where the ceiling is leaking from or stained. In some cases, it is not the toilet wax ring that is leaking but rather a faulty shower drain.

If you have a wooden floor, you must move with speed in fixing the problem otherwise the wood will soon start to rot which will without a doubt result in very expensive repairs.

3. Sewage/Urine Smell from the Toilet

As I have already mentioned, a toilet wax ring is not only supposed to be watertight but also airtight. That prevents sewer gases from coming up into the bathroom.

The water at the bottom of the bowl serves this specific function. It creates a barrier between the drain line and the bathroom ensuring that sewer gases are contained inside and only exit through the plumbing vent.

If the wax ring is bad and therefore not sealing, sewer gases will escape from the bottom of the toilet bowl and fill the bathroom, therefore, resulting in a sewage smell in the house.

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I should however mention that a sewer gas smell in the house can be caused by other factors like dried-out drain traps. Be sure to therefore check if your sinks, shower, and other drain traps are empty.

Drain traps dry up if the plumbing vent is clogged resulting in negative air pressure, or when a specific fixture has not been used for a long time like the guest bathroom sink.

If however, the smell is strongest near the toilet, you most likely have a bad wax ring.

How to Replace a Bad Toilet Wax Ring

As I have already mentioned, a bad toilet wax ring will need to be replaced. The following are the steps to follow when replacing a wax ring:

  • Buy the correct size of a wax ring.

Toilet drains will either have a 3 or 4-inch drain line and you, therefore, need to make sure that you buy the correct size of a wax ring.

Apart from that, you can decide to choose a rubber gasket seal as an alternative to the wax ring. Both of them work the same way only that the rubber gasket is less messy.


The Fluidmaster “Better than Wax” rubber gasket seal would be my recommendation. It is also very easy to install.

  • Turn off the water supply to the toilet. The shut-off valve is on the wall behind the toilet.
  • Flush the toilet and hold the lever down to remove as much water as possible from the tank.
  • Now remove the tank lid and soak the water at the bottom of the tank using a sponge.
  • Wear rubber gloves and soak the water inside the bowl as well. That prevents the water from spilling on the floor once you pull out the toilet.
  • Disconnect the water supply line. The water supply is connected to the tank from underneath it. Use your bare hands to disconnect it and only use a wrench if it is too tight, to prevent damaging the coupling.
  • Now loosen the toilet mounting bolts. There is one bolt on each side of the bowl. In some toilets, the bolts are usually covered using plastic tabs. Pry them off using a flathead screwdriver.
  • If the bolts are corroded or won’t just come off, you can cut them off using a hacksaw blade.
  • With the bolts out of the way, grab the toilet and rock it about to completely break off the wax seal then lift it off.
  • Lay it on its side on top of a towel or old newspaper.
  • Use a putty knife to scrape off old wax from the top of the flange and around the toilet outlet.
  • Check if the closet flange is broken.
  • Set the new wax ring nicely on top of the closet flange.
  • Now lift the toilet and bring it just above the wax ring to align the holes with the mounting bolts. You may need an extra pair of hands with that.
  • Set the toilet gently on top of the wax ring and push it down but don’t rock it about.
  • Insert washers and nuts on the bolts and tighten them alternatingly to keep the toilet level.
  • Connect the water supply line back to the tank and turn on the water shut-off valve.
  • Flush the toilet a couple of times and check if the leak has stopped.

And basically, that is how to tell if you have a bad toilet wax ring and how to replace it. I hope this guide was helpful.

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