Most seasoned homeowners who enjoy a good DIY project around the house will recognize the toilet wax ring pictured above. This seemingly simple plumbing part serves a very important job in your home -- that is, keeping everything you flush down your toilet from ending up on your bathroom floor! In other words, it helps ensure that all sewage stays where it belongs and makes its way to your local sewage plant. Additionally, a toilet's wax ring helps to keep nasty odors from sewer gas out of your bathroom. It is essentially an inexpensive soft wax ring that is mounted on the bottom of your toilet and connects the toilet to the flange that is attached to the waste line in the floor.
Types of Wax Rings
The most basic option here is a very simple wax ring. It is inexpensive, fairly straight forward to install, and generally lasts about ten years. One caveat is that you must set the toilet perfectly on top of the ring on your first try in order to get a good seal. If you make a mistake in your placement, you risk future leaks due to a faulty seal.
There are actually two types of wax rings -- one with a sleeve and one without a sleeve. A wax ring with a sleeve is a bit more durable and provides you (or your plumbing professional) more stability in the fitting and installation processes.
Some homeowners and plumbers prefer a wax-free ring, largely because it tends to have a longer life than a wax ring. Additionally, the installation of a wax-free ring requires less cleanup. This type of ring is made of rubber and provides an adequate seal as long as it is properly placed and installed.
Signs That Indicate a Failing Wax Ring
Visible standing water on the floor around the base of your toilet
Water damage or visible mold on the floor surrounding your toilet
Presence of a stinky odor in your bathroom (especially near the base of your toilet)
Water stains on the ceiling of the floor below your toilet
A toilet that wobbles or rocks back and forth when you sit on it
What causes toilet wax rings to fail?
If you spot any of the previously mentioned signs, it's best to err on the side of caution and replace your toilet's wax ring. In order to prevent problems with your new wax ring, it is helpful to know what commonly causes problems with this important little gadget. First and foremost, a loose toilet will often cause a wax ring to lose its seal and leak. Next, in the event that you have to replace your toilet, your wax ring will lose its seal, so you'll need to install a new one along with your new toilet. Another scenario that might cause a wax ring failure is a backup of your main sewer line, because the water would destroy the seal as it seeps up through the toilet, the floor, and the wax ring. Finally, an issue commonly seen in bathrooms with tile flooring is that the distance between the flange and the toilet is too large for a wax ring to form a tight seal. An easy and cost-effective solution to this problem is to use a flange heightener, found at your local hardware store, to decrease the gap between the toilet and the flange and ensure a good seal.
As we always say, a little money, time, and attention goes a long way in preventing future plumbing headaches for homeowners. This is especially true when it comes to the wax rings on your toilets. Pay now.....or pay later!