The wax ring on a toilet is designed to provide a seal that is pliable and soft. This creates a transition points between the harder components of the toilet system while providing a stable placement point for the fixture itself. The wax ring is placed around the exit hole of the toilet and rests on the flange.
The flange of the toilet sits on the drainpipe, which allows waste to be removed by the fixture. Most flanges are made from PVC today, but older homes may still have a cast iron flange.
Although technically one could have a toilet installed without a wax ring, there are a number of benefits that are provided by this simple technology that go beyond stability.
1. Odor Control
The wax ring on the toilet creates an airtight seal from the drain pipe. Any sewer gases that would come up the pipe are forced into the trap of the toilet instead of escaping from around the fixture. This prevents gas entry into the home, which can be quite dangerous. Hydrogen sulfide smells like rotten eggs and can cause eye irritation, coughing, and even loss of smell after just 2 minutes of exposure.
2. Leak Prevention
The wax ring on the toilet also creates a water-tight seal for the fixture. This forces the wastewater into the drainpipe instead of having the chance to spill out onto the floor. One of the earliest signs of wax ring failure is puddling and water accumulation around the toilet that is not due to condensation. By preventing leaks, the wax ring protects the structure of the floor, reducing the risk of rot and other forms of damage to the floor and subfloor.
Without the wax ring on the toilet, there is a good chance that the fixture would wobble. Toilets with a broken wax ring often wobble when being used. There is a good chance that the flange is also broken, especially if the toilet has a severe wobble to it. One of the most common causes for wax ring failure when the toilet is unstable and uncomfortable is a loose closet bolt. These fasteners secure the toilet to the flange and the stress of being loose impacts the integrity of the wax ring.
What Wax Rings Are Needed for My Toilet?
There are two common types of wax rings that are used for the modern toilet: with sleeves or without sleeves. The wax rings with sleeves provide extra stability during the fitting process, which makes installation a little easier, but the sleeves typically come with an added price.
Most wax rings today are produced from petroleum waxes. It has a higher melting temperature than other wax types and creates a solid foundation for homes that maintain an average internal temperature in a normal range.
Even if the wax ring is intact, if you lift the toilet from its placement, this will likely break the integrity of the seal and require it to be replaced. When replacing a wax ring, it is imperative that all portions of the old ring are removed for the new ring is installed. You may need to use a putty knife to break or peel off chunks of the old ring.
Am I Forced to Use a Wax Ring for My Toilet?
There are wax-free gaskets available for the modern toilet if a wax ring does not seem like the best option for your needs. Wax-free gaskets typically use a rubber seal that fits onto the bottom of the toilet instead of needing a ring fitted around the area. A deep-seal flange then goes into the drainpipe to prevent gas or liquid from escaping.
Foam gaskets are another option that is wax-free and provide a unique advantage: they can be stacked. If you have a difficult flange and toilet relationship, a foam gasket can still seal a toilet that is up to 3/8-inch above or below floor level on their own. If you have even more space, stack the foam seals to achieve the desired results.
Foam gaskets can usually maintain their seal, even if the toilet happens to rock, which reduces the risk of water damage to the floor and subfloor around the toilet.
The wax ring of a toilet is designed to stabilize and protect the fixture and the drain while reducing the threat of gas exposure and damage. Alternatives exist to the wax ring, but the purpose is still the same for all these products.