Homefix: Repairing a leaning toilet can be a simple process

Dwight Barnett

Q: I live in an older home, 1970s, and I have noticed that the toilet in the master bath is leaning off-center. I tapped on the vinyl flooring next to the toilet and it is kind of soft to the touch. Is this serious, and, if so, can I fix it myself?

A: The toilet is secured in place using a metal or plastic flange that is fastened with screws to the wood subfloor. The flange also is attached to the main sewer drainpipe. When a toilet bowl is installed, a wax ring is used to connect the outlet, or neck, of the bowl to the flange, creating a watertight seal.

There are two bolts, one either side of the bowl, that extend up from the flange to receive a washer and cap nut. It's pretty simple, but over-tightening of the nuts can crack the ceramic bowl.

Depending on your DIY skills, it's pretty easy to replace a wax ring. (That said, do proceed with caution: Please have no qualms about contacting a plumber to do the job instead if you have any doubts about being able to do this work yourself.) First, check the toilet bowl by facing the toilet and use your knees to see if the bowl is secure by rocking the bowl from side to side. It should not move at all. If there is movement, the bowl needs to be removed.

A slow leak over many years can cause wet rot and decay damage to the subfloor and the toilet may start to lean to one side.

If you do not have one of the new low-flow toilets, it might be a good idea to replace the older toilet or at least add a 1-gallon milk jug or tank bag to the tank to displace the stored water. You will save 1 gallon of water with each flush, but it should be monitored because the jug or bag could interfere with the flapper valve and allow water to leak to the bowl.

The other problem with the displacement is that the bowl may need the extra water to flush properly. This can be established only by trial and error. A milk bottle or jug needs to be weighted down with gravel or small stones before filling with water. The tank bags are available at most home and hardware stores.

What to do:

1: Shut off the water supply to the toilet tank. There should be a shut-off valve under the tank on a wall or through the floor. If there is no valve, shut off the main water supply to the house. After removing the toilet, add a shut-off valve so the water can be turned on during repairs. On copper pipes you can use one of the newer solderless fittings that simply snap in place.

2: Flush the toilet and drain the tank as much as possible. Use a sponge to soak up the remaining water and drain it to a sink. Carefully remove the two, sometimes four, bolts and nuts that secure the tank to the bowl. For this, you will need a large flat-blade screwdriver and a crescent wrench or pliers. Be careful with the rubber washer and rubber spacers between the tank and the bowl and save for reinstallation. Replace the tank's bolts if they are heavily rusted or damaged.

3: Remove and discard the nuts and bolts from either side of the bowl. If the bolts are not in the wax ring kit you purchased, they can be purchased separately.

4: Place towels or rags on the floor next to the toilet to soak up spills. The toilet bowl still contains water in the gooseneck, so be careful when lifting the toilet bowl off the flange. Tip the bowl upside down in the bathtub, shower or sink to drain, being careful not to damage any of the surfaces.

5: Remove the old wax ring from the bottom neck on the bowl and from the flange at the floor. Check the flooring for rot or decay and check the flange for damage. Replace any damaged wood subfloor and install a replacement flange if needed.

6: Install the two bolts in the flange and place the wax ring on the neck of the tank. Carefully align the bowl with the bolts and press the bowl down to seal the wax ring. Tighten the bolts to secure the bowl. Replace the tank and connect to the water supply.

It would be a good idea to replace the tank's components at this time. The flash valve in the bottom of the tank and the refill valve for the water supply all will fail over time.

Dwight Barnett is a certified master inspector. Contact him at C. Dwight Barnett, Evansville Courier & Press, P.O. Box 268, Evansville, Ind. 47702 or