How Long Does a Toilet Wax Ring Last?

A toilet wax ring prevents leaks from the bottom of the toilet. They're durable and relatively simple to install.

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If the floor around your toilet stays wet long enough, it becomes spongy. Then the toilet starts to rock, mold grows and the bathroom will smell like a sewer. What’s going on? The seal between the bottom of the toilet and the waste pipe in the floor, called the wax ring, has been compromised.

The wax ring works like a gasket around the base of the toilet. It attaches to the toilet flange, the opening of the waste line. Today you can buy waxless rings made of rubber or plastic polymers, but traditional wax rings are more common because they’re inexpensive and they work.

Wax Rings for Toilets

A wax ring is made of vegetable- or petroleum-based wax, sometimes with a polyurethane additive. It usually comes packed in a plastic container. It may have a plastic attachment that fits into the toilet waste pipe for better sealing.

Most wax rings fit three- and four-inch waste openings. A standard wax ring costs less than $5; one with plastic reinforcement costs a bit more.

The standard thickness of a wax ring is 3/4-in. to one inch; some are thicker. Oversized wax rings incorporate about 40 percent more wax, adding an extra inch for reaching flanges recessed under a thick floor covering.

Sometimes even these aren’t thick enough to make a good seal. Such cases are remedied by adding one or more flange extenders. These are plastic rings that fit on the rim of the flange and held in place by screws, decreasing the distance between the flange opening and the toilet.

How Long Does a Toilet Wax Ring Last?

The short answer is, indefinitely. Wax, unlike rubber, doesn’t deteriorate. Unless there’s another problem with the toilet, it won’t spring a leak on its own. People usually replace wax rings when they remove the toilet for some unrelated reason. When reinstalling a toilet, always remove the existing wax ring and replace it with a fresh one.

An improperly installed wax ring may leak. Perhaps the installer used a ring that wasn’t thick enough, or perhaps the flange is high enough to lift the toilet off the floor and make it rock. Once water begins seeping through a compromised wax ring, it won’t stop.

It doesn’t take standing water long to rot a subfloor. The resulting sponginess makes the toilet rock even more and worsens the leak.

How To Install a Toilet Wax Ring

If you can replace a toilet by yourself, you can install a wax ring. But if the ring failed and the toilet is leaking, you’ll probably have other repairs to do first. You may need to replace part of a water-damaged subfloor, or fix a cast-iron flange corroded by water contact with a product known as a repair ring. You may also have to add flange extenders to raise the height of a recessed flange.

After scraping off the old wax ring with a putty knife and throwing it away, you’re ready for a new one. Some plumbers place the wax ring on the flange and others stick it to the bottom of the toilet around the waste opening. If the wax ring has plastic reinforcement, the plastic must fit into the waste line, so it’s usually best to place the ring on the flange. Then drop the toilet into place.

Once that’s done, it’s important to compress the wax ring to make the toilet sit flush on the floor before bolting it in. The easiest way to do this? Sit on the toilet facing the tank and wiggle around until it hits the floor. Then tighten down the toilet bolts and hook up the water supply.

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Chris Deziel
Chris Deziel has been active in the building trades for more than 30 years. He helped build a small city in the Oregon desert from the ground up and helped establish two landscaping companies. He has worked as a carpenter, plumber and furniture refinisher. Deziel has been writing DIY articles since 2010 and has worked as an online consultant, most recently with Home Depot's Pro Referral service. His work has been published on Landlordology, and Hunker. Deziel has also published science content and is an avid musician.