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How To Tighten A Loose, Wobbly Toilet

The toilet seems to move now when I sit on it. It never did before. Why? I haven't gained THAT MUCH weight!

Hello, Weight Watchers!! Oh, you haven't put on a few hundred pounds in the last week? Then maybe we need to think about this! Below, we will discuss the why's, the how's, and what you can do to solve the problem!!

How does the toilet attach to the floor?

Toilets are attached to a metal or plastic collar known as a toilet floor flange. The flange itself is attached to the floor with screws. The flange leads to the soil stack, a large drain pipe designed to carry a large volume of liquid, etc. at high speeds. Thank goodness for that!!

Anyway, the floor flange and toilet bolt together with special bolts know as closet bolts. To seal the space between the two to prevent leakage, a ring made of wax called a (believe it!) wax ring is pressed onto the base of the toilet before placing the toilet over the floor flange. The ring is compressed between the base of the toilet and the floor flange, giving a long-lasting waterproof seal.

What can cause a toilet to loosen?

Many manufacturers and installers recommend sealing the perimeter of the toilet after bolting it down with a clear or colored caulk, or applying plumbers putty to the base of the toilet before installing it. This both protects the flange from moisture and prevents small spills from creeping under the toilet and/or dripping on the ceiling below (you know, follow the path of least resistance).

If the toilet is mounted on tile, some installers will put some of the matching floor grout under the toilet if there is any unevenness in the floor that might cause the toilet to rock on the tile. This, of course, also helps to keep moisture out from under the toilet.

Removal of toilet, repair and reinstallation...

If you made it this far, you have my sympathy. You are now going to enter a strange new world that few people see, the world under the toilet!!


Repair and preparation...

Return to the question list or index to find the necessary repair, then come back here to reinstall the toilet.

Reinstallation of the toilet...

Welcome back. I have to assume that you are here because you have solved the problems you found when you took out the toilet, or you are just visiting here from the Natural Handyman's Home Repair Index to get my take on installing a toilet.

These are the materials you will need...

By the numbers...

  1. All repairs on floor and walls must be complete and all glues, caulks, or grouts dry. If you are going to paint or wallpaper, it's easier to do with the toilet out. If you are going to tile or install vinyl flooring, do it before installing the toilet (unless, of course, you're like me and see the completion of this project a long, long time in the future... but you sure need that extra toilet!!)
  2. Test fit the toilet over the flange. Is it solidly planted on the floor, or does it rock? This is not uncommon if your house was built in the late 60's (bad hippy joke), or if you are working on a tile floor or repair job. If the rocking is slight, you will need to caulk under the toilet at the end to firm it up. Or, if on tile, you can mix up a small batch of grout (never mix less than two cups for proper ingredient proportions) and force it under the toilet after installation is complete.
  3. Gently lay the toilet on its side or back, and clean up around the hole in the toilet bowl base, if you haven't done so already. It doesn't have to be virginal, just remove the worst of the remnants of the old wax ring and assorted other goodies that may be there. Apply the new wax ring (go with a double ring or extra thick ring if the floor has be raised more than 1/2" above the top of the flange) onto the toilet base around the hole. Because the wax ring is a viciously sticky thing, try to handle it as little as possible by leaving part of the packaging it comes in on the outside as you press it into place on the toilet.
  4. Get the new closet bolts you bought, and insert them into the keyhole-like blot slots (see graphic in Title Frame above on each side of the floor flange. Some of the more thoughtful companies supply little ribbed plastic washers that will help hold the bolts vertical while you place the toilet down onto them and the flange. If you don't have this type, you can get a small square of cardboard, no more than 3/4" square, and poke a hole in it just a bit smaller than the bolt size. Press the bolt through it most of the way, then install the bolt in the cutout of and press the cardboard down on to the flange to hold the bolt in place.
  5. Align the bolts so they are approximately opposite each other on the floor flange and are an equal distance from the wall. This is not extremely critical, just a starting point for the final adjustment which will be made once the toilet set onto the flange.
  6. Lift the toilet so it is positioned over the floor flange, and lower it carefully onto the flange. The two closet bolts should come through the holes in the base of the toilet. This is a real pain-in-the-butt routine, but somebody's got to do it!! If you miss, keep trying until you get it right.
  7. Once the bolts protrude through the holes in the base, press down and very slightly rock the toilet until it bottoms out onto the floor. The wax ring has a lot of give, so you should now position the toilet in relation to the wall. If you are going to try to use the old supply tube, make sure it aligns with the bottom of the inlet valve as you adjust the toilet into its final position. You can even screw the coupling nut on a few turns.

    If you are reinstalling a toilet after doing a serious floor repair, or if you are installing a new toilet, I would recommend installing a new supply tube.

  8. Put the plastic base for the decorative cap on first, then the flat washer, and then the nut. Do both sides hand tight. Then, doing a turn or two a side, alternate tightening the nuts until the toilet is firmly pressed to the floor. You can check by trying to rock the toilet. If it is firm and unyielding, you're probably tight enough. It is possible to break the toilet by overtightening, so don't tighten more than necessary!!
  9. Tighten up the coupling nut on the supply tube to the inlet valve, if you are reusing the old supply tube, or install the new one. More tips on supply tube installation
  10. Slowly turn on the water. The tank should start to fill. Check for leaks. When the toilet fills about a third, depress the flush handle to drain the tank. Look for any leak around the base of the toilet.
  11. If there are no leaks, turn the water on fully and allow the tank to fill till the inlet valve shuts off. Do another flush and check for base leaks again.
  12. If everything checks out OK, now is the time to caulk around the base of the toilet, if you care to. If the toilet rocked back in your test fit in Step (2), I would recommend that you either caulk or, if the floor is tile, grout abound the base to stabilize the toilet. Yes, the toilet may appear firm now that it is bolted down, but the fact is that the irregularities around the toilet base will eventually cause the toilet to loosen and leak!
  13. Let the caulk or grout dry for 24 hours before sitting on the john. Vertical use is acceptable (sorry, ladies!).
  14. I'm not the superstitious sort, but I just couldn't let you finish this project on step 13. Oh boy, watch out for that black cat!

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