How to fix a loose toilet:
Here we explain how to diagnose and repair a loose, wobbly toilet.
A toilet that is loose is unsanitary and possibly unsafe. But worse, if it has rotted the bathroom floor or if the waste pipe flange below the toilet is damaged, repair can be more difficult (and expensive) unless you know these tricks of the trade.
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This article series TOILET REPAIR GUIDE discusses the cause, diagnosis, and repair of toilet problems (water closet problems) such as a toilet that does not flush well, clogged toilets, slow-filling toilets, running toilets, loose wobbly toilets, and odors at leaky toilets. Here we explain how to diagnose and repair problems with toilets, leaks, flushes, odors, noises, running and wasted water.
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Our page top photo shows ugly staining in a toilet bowl - strong evidence that this toilet has been running, wasting water, possibly flooding the septic system, and sometimes giving bad flush performance as well. Details are below.
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Before launching into our series of articles on diagnosing and repairing toilet problems such as clogged toilets, toilets that don't flush properly, running or leaky or noisy toilets, toilet odors, and loose toilets, take a look at the simple connection between a typical reservoir-tank toilet and the soil stack (waste piping) in the Carson Dunlop Associates sketch (above left), and review our description of basic types of toilets at TOILET TYPES, CONTROLS, PARTS.
Loose toilets are more than a leak, source of sewer odors , and sewer gas hazard. A toilet that is poorly secured to the floor can actually be dangerous if it tips over, dumping its user onto the floor.
See Odors in Bathrooms from loose leaky toilet seals.
Should a toilet tip it is likely to break its water supply pipe, leading to building leaks and water damage, and its user could be injured by a fall or by broken toilet parts. If you do break a toilet supply riser pipe, turn off the water to the toilet immediately.
If the toilet supply riser water shutoff valve [photo] is stuck or not working, you'll have to turn off water at the main water shutoff for the building or at a shutoff supplying cold water to the bathroom.
Loose toilets are especially dangerous to people who have limited mobility and who have difficulty transferring between a wheelchair or walker and the toilet.
Our photo (left) shows a toilet tipped over and leaning on a nearby wall. You might notice that this is a bathroom undergoing gut renovation following a building flood - was it from a broken toilet water supply riser pipe?
For fire safety, that blue foam insulation on the foundation wall would not normally be left exposed in the building.
Tighten the Toilet Mounting Bolts?
It is tempting to simply try tightening the toilet mounting bolts that secure the toilet either to the floor or to a flange connected to the top of the sewer pipe. And indeed if those components are in good condition, this repair may seem to fix the loose toilet problem.
But as we pointed out above, if a toilet has been loose and wobbly, it has usually compressed and spread its wax ring seal between the toilet base and the top of the waste pipe.
The result is a leak (photo at left), sometimes hidden, that sends unsanitary wastewater into the floor structure or into the ceiling below the toilet each time the toilet is flushed.
So a better loose toilet repair is to turn off water to the toilet, empty water from its tank and bowl, remove the toilet from the floor, remove and replace the old wax ring, and then bolt the toilet [photo]securely to the toilet mounting flange [photo] or floor.
Some toilet models use four bolts, two are connected to the waste pipe flange and two more lag bolts secure the toilet to the floor or subfloor.
What if the Toilet Mounting Flange is Broken or the Floor Below the Toilet is Damaged and the Bolts Won't Tighten?
There are several fixes for this problem. If the floor around and below a toilet is badly damaged, the best repair is to remove the toilet, remove and replace the damaged subfloor and finish floor, and then reinstall the toilet, mounting it securely with its bolts and perhaps also with a thin bead of caulk around the toilet base for extra security.
Toilets that are intended to be secured by bolts connecting to a flange at the top of the waste pipe (photo at left) use a flat-headed T-bolt. The "T" is inserted into a slot in the toilet mounting flange, moved in a slot around the flange to the proper location, and the toilet is set over the protruding bolts and bolted down (with a new wax seal).
If the subfloor does not provide enough purchase for a lag-screw toilet mounting bolt, or if the subfloor is soft, but yet the finish flooring outside the toilet footprint is in good condition, you may not want to tear out the whole bathroom floor to fix this condition.
If there is access to the floor around the toilet from below, perhaps by removing drywall from the ceiling of the room below the toilet, it is usually possible to cut two 3/4" thick solid core plywood braces that surround the waste pipe. Screw these flat plates to the underside of the subfloor below the toilet, and use longer lag-screws to reach through the old soft subfloor or flange and into the new solid repair material.
Alternatively, a four-bolt toilet may afford two more mounting positions to secure the toilet to the floor.
We use a thin bead of caulk applied to a clean under-side of the edges of the toilet base, combined with careful cleaning of the floor around the toilet, to provide additional adhesion of the toilet to the finish floor when it is reinstalled. Use just enough caulk to glue down the toilet, but not such a wide bead that later removal of the toilet will be difficult. To remove a glued toilet later, we use a utility knife to simply cut through this caulk bead.
Here is our list of toilet trouble diagnosis and repair articles. You will see that some toilet problems are fixed easily and right at the toilet by a simple adjustment, while others may not be the toilet's fault at all, and may need more thoughtful diagnosis and repair.
Taking off the toilet tank top: Some of these simple toilet diagnosis steps require that you look into the toilet flush tank on the back of the toilet.
Just lift the top off of the toilet tank and set it carefully aside on the floor where you won't break it or trip over it.
If you leave the tank top on the toilet seat (as we did for this photo) you're asking for trouble, and also, it's a bit in the way.
Our sketch below shows the parts you'll see inside the toilet tank. You may want to refer back to this drawing while reading the details of each class if individual toilet problems listed above and how they are detected, diagnosed, and repaired.
Continue reading at TOILETS, INSPECT, INSTALL, REPAIR or select a topic from the More Reading links shown below.
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