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4 Things That Cause a Toilet Wax Ring to Fail

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With a toilet wax ring in place and functioning, you won’t have to worry about sewage odors filling your bathroom.

But at times, even after installing a wax ring, you may find sewage water leaking out of your toilet as a stench fills the air. This can mean that the toilet wax ring has failed.

If you or your plumber did everything right while installing a toilet wax ring, seeing the wax ring fail might leave you confused. But then, sometimes, toilet wax ring failure comes from other factors besides installation.

Below, we run through four things that cause a toilet wax ring to fail and offer tips on how to fix each cause. After reading this article, troubleshooting your toilet wax ring failure should be easier.

4 Things That Cause a Toilet Wax Ring to Fail

Toilet wax rings are soft and flexible. So, in some cases, even when you install them correctly, other factors can easily manipulate them and cause them to fail.

When your toilet wax ring fails, you have to replace it. But if you get a replacement without finding out why it failed in the first place, the same thing may happen again.

In the following paragraphs, we discuss some factors that cause toilet wax rings to fail.

Loose Toilets

White toilet bowl and seat on light yellow paint background

More often than not, toilet wax ring failure comes from a loose toilet.

Sometimes, toilets are not installed securely. Other times, they loosen with time. Whatever the case may be, when toilets become loose, they sway while in use.

When your toilet sways, it may dislodge the toilet wax ring, causing the wax ring to lose its seal.

Remember we said toilet wax rings are soft and flexible? Their softness and flexibility make dislodging them pretty easy.

Toilet wax rings typically compress fully not long after installation. Therefore, they cannot make up for the movements of a loose toilet. Consequently, they lose their seal.

Unfortunately, the function of toilet wax rings is dependent on their seal. So, with the seal lost, the toilet wax rings fail, and sewage water and stench find their way out.

How to Fix

Of course, if the issue is a loose toilet, firmly reinstalling the toilet bowl will prevent a repeat of the toilet wax ring failure.

The Distance Between the Flange and Toilet

Another thing that causes a toilet wax ring to fail is the distance between the toilet and the closet flange. The toilet wax ring may fail if the gap between your closet flange and the toilet bowl is too large.

Toilet wax rings can compress and seal the space between a flange and a toilet within a limited range. Beyond that range, the toilet wax ring will be ineffective. As a result, it will fail to seal the gap.

You may have increased the distance between your closet flange and your toilet by installing new flooring.

When you use thick flooring – such as tiles – in your bathroom, the flooring will widen the gap between the closet flange and the toilet. As you already know, this creates a problem for the toilet wax ring and makes it fail.

How to Fix

In some cases where people realize that the closet flange is too far from the toilet, they try to use multiple toilet wax rings. And while it is effective for some people, it is not the best way of dealing with the problem.

Sure, using multiple toilet wax rings is inexpensive. But you will get better results if you use a flange heightener.

Flange heighteners increase flange height, reducing the gap between the flange and the toilet. Your toilet will get an effective seal with just one toilet wax ring when you do this.

Sewage Backup

ceramic clean toilet bowl and toilet paper with smiley face in modern restroom

Sometimes, the failure of your toilet wax ring may come from factors outside the toilet. For instance, if your main sewer line starts backing up, it may cause your toilet wax ring to fail.

When your sewer line backs up, there will be an accumulation of sewage water. As the water builds up, some of it will start flowing backward.

Then as it flows backward, it will push on the toilet wax ring. When the sewage coming back up the pipe gains sufficient pressure, it will destroy the seal of your toilet wax ring.

Of course, when this happens, your toilet wax ring will fail.

How to Fix

Sewage backup is a serious issue, and you must fix it before you install a replacement toilet wax ring. If the backup is not very bad, you could try fixing it using a plunger.

Another way to try to fix the sewage backup yourself is to release the pressure in the sewer line. To do this, turn off your main water supply and unscrew your sewer cleanout line cap.

But if the clog is severe, it could be caused by tree roots that have infiltrated your sewer lines. So, you could try chemical drain cleaning.

This method typically involves pouring herbicide that kills roots down the toilet to kill tree roots inside the sewage. This method will destroy such roots within a few hours. However, it can take months for every root to get washed away.

You can also try water jet cleaning. This basically involves shooting high-pressure water into the sewer line to remove clogs.

If trying DIY methods to fix the sewage backup is not your thing, get professional plumbers on the job.

Low-Quality Toilet Wax Ring

plumber changing toilet wax ring

Your toilet wax ring may also fail if it is of low quality.

All things being equal, toilet wax rings should stay functional for around 20 to 30 years. But if you buy a substandard ring, it may only last a few months or a few years before it fails.

Now, before you conclude that your toilet wax ring is low quality, check to confirm that there aren’t other factors that could have caused it to fail.

How to Fix

The fix here is straightforward.

If you confirm that the product you bought is low-quality, get a better brand as the replacement. If you are unsure of what is high-quality, you could ask a trusted plumbing professional for recommendations.

wet floor signage in front of bathroom

Signs of Toilet Wax Ring Failure

It is almost impossible not to notice when a toilet wax ring fails. The water that seeps out and the odor announce the failure well enough.

That being said, the following are some signs you will see when your toilet wax ring fails:

  • The most obvious sign of a failing toilet wax ring is the collection of stagnant water on the floor at your toilet’s base.
  • If your toilet is well-caulked to the floor, you may not see water at its base when the toilet wax ring fails. However, you may see water on the floor in the surrounding areas.
  • When you do not see water at the toilet base, you may see signs of water accumulating beneath the flooring. You may also notice mold growth.
  • Another sign of a failing toilet wax ring is a stench. Such stench would emanate from the toilet’s base, and it will be somewhat ever-present. When toilet wax rings fail, they allow sewage gas through freely. Hence, the stench.
  • If your toilet feels loose, there is a chance that the toilet wax ring has failed.

Other Causes of Water Leakage

Water accumulation at the base of your toilet is not always a sign of a failing toilet wax ring.

Sometimes, the leakage may come from:

  • A crack at the base of the toilet.
  • An improper connection between the tank and the toilet bowl.
  • Condensation on the toilet.
  • Flush valve impairment.
  • A bad flapper (the rubber in the toilet reservoir).
  • Worn out pipes.
repairman installing new wax ring for toilet

Replacing a Toilet Wax Ring

You can replace your toilet wax ring by yourself if you want. The process is pretty simple once you know what to look out for.

  1. Of course, when trying to replace your toilet wax ring, you must remove the old one.
  2. After removing the old toilet wax ring, assess the flange for damage. If you notice any sign of damage in the flange, you must repair it. A flange repair kit would come in handy here.
  3. Install the new toilet wax ring. When installing the toilet wax ring, you have two options: install the ring on the toilet’s boot base (see above photo) or on the flange.
  4. After installing the new toilet wax ring, firmly mount the toilet bowl back in its position.

Types of Toilet Wax Rings

When getting a toilet wax ring replacement, you have two main options: sleeved wax rings and sleeveless wax rings.

Some people typically opt for sleeved toilet wax rings because of their durability and stability during installation.

But then, others prefer sleeveless toilet wax rings because they usually have long lifespans and require minimal cleanup after installation.

So, depending on what you want, you may go for a wax ring with sleeves or a wax ring without sleeves.


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