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How to Replace a Toilet

Whether you're installing a better-flushing toilet or resetting the old one after remodeling, these tips will help you do it faster and with fewer problems.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Measure before buying

If you’re buying a new toilet, you need to know the “rough-in” measurement of the old one. For the vast majority of toilets, the waste pipe is centered about 12 in. from the wall. But with a few models, that measurement is 10 in. or 14 in. To check the rough-in, just measure from the wall to the toilet’s hold-down bolts. If that measurement (plus the thickness of the baseboard) isn’t approximately 12 in., toilet shopping will be a bit harder. Most home centers carry only one or two 10-in. models and no 14-in. models. If you have to special-order a toilet, be prepared to spend much more. If there’s a door near the toilet, also measure how far the bowl protrudes from the wall. If you replace a standard bowl with an “elongated” model, the door may not close.

Brass bolts are best

Cut hold-down bolts

Lock down the bolts

Flange fixes

A rock-solid toilet flange is the key to a leak-free toilet. The flange is the only thing anchoring the toilet to the floor. If the flange is loose or damaged, the toilet will rock. And a rocking toilet will distort the wax ring and cause leaks. So be sure to scrape off the old wax ring and inspect the flange. Here are some solutions for broken, corroded or loose flanges.

Eliminate rocking with shims

Sit on the toilet to squish the wax ring

Don't overtighten the water connections

Cut the bolts last

To make positioning a toilet easier, new toilet bolts are extra long. That means you have to cut off the protruding ends later with a hacksaw. But first connect the water line, flush the toilet a couple of times and check for leaks. Leaving the bolts uncut until you’ve done these final checks lets you easily remove and reset the toilet if you find any problems.

After cutting, double-check the bolts for tightness. Cutting often loosens the nuts a bit.

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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

    • Cordless drill
    • Tape measure
    • Caulk gun
    • 4-in-1 screwdriver
    • Adjustable wrench
    • Locking pliers
    • Level
    • Hacksaw
    • Pliers
    • Rags
    • Slip joint pliers
    • Shop vacuum
    • Utility knife

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

    • Wax ring
    • Brass toilet bolts
    • Toilet flange
    • Plastic shims
    • Caulk
    • Flexible water supply

Comments from DIY Community Members

Share what's on your mind and see what other DIYers are thinking about.

1 - 7 of 7 comments
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January 15, 8:42 PM [GMT -5]

Big question here...Please help me out.

My experience, seeing my dad and relatives reseat toilets, is to put the wax ring ON THE FLOOR, then place the bolts, then seat the toilet.

When I went to get a new wax seal for leaks, I got told PUT THE SEAL ON THE TOILET FIRST, then place on the floor...

Which is right ???

September 04, 2:19 AM [GMT -5]

I am a contractor and agree on everything in this install with the exception of the shims. Using one of The Family Handyman toilet install tips linked below:
This is a great tip and usually eliminates the need for shims. Just put the bowl in place without the wax ring of course, and then tape on the floor around the bowl. Remove the bowl and caulk around the inside edge of the tape template. And be liberal with the caulking it should push out and can be cleaned up after. This usually self levels the toilet. The only drawback with this method is you should not use the toilet for about 24 hours so the caulking can harden.

September 03, 2:54 PM [GMT -5]

Wax seal? give me a break-the waxless one's are so much better.

September 03, 8:50 AM [GMT -5]

I like TeXan's suggestion #4 about leaving the back uncaulked for leak detection. This way you have the best of both worlds; a solid connection to the floor (not to mention a cleaner looking job) but also the ability to detect leaks.

March 10, 6:19 PM [GMT -5]

Holmes on Homes from HGTV insists one never caulks the toilet to the floor for the reason that you want to be able to see if there is a leak, especially when the toilet is mounted on a wood floor. Should the seal leak, the caulk would contain the leak resulting in rot of the wood fooring or more damage if it is on an upper floor.

January 01, 11:19 AM [GMT -5]

Nic article most common cause of sewage smell in bathroom is a failed wax seal.

1. The toilet flange should be ABOVE the finished floor. not even with it. If it is too low add shims to raise it to the correct level.
2. Most plumbers would recommend that the wax seal not have the built in plastic horn or funnel in it .. Just plain wax.
3. Waxless toilet seals can work but are more prone to failure. I like the Fernco branc myself
4. I like to caulk around the base with a non silicone caulk Leave the back open to detect a leak if it would occur. (it seals the toilet to the floor) I use poly seam seal. silicone sticks too much to the floor. Just a little caulk will do. Some like to use plaster of paris or plumbers putty at the toilet floor interface.
5. make sure you check to make sure the toilet has not been leaking and the subfloor or joists rotted. if rotted, they should be repaired first!
6 Toilet recommendations. I like a gravity flush with larger flush valve and fully glazed trapway. all major manufacturers make them now. Look at some plumber chat sites.. ie plbg.com for name recommendations..

December 21, 1:50 PM [GMT -5]

you advise to caulk around the toilet base after it has been put in place and shimmed. i thought conventional wisdom was that you don't caulk around the base in order to be able to see any leakage that may be happening at the wax riing or flange. with the base caulked the leak won't show, with potentially damaging consequences. how say you.....

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