Fixing A Toilet That Rocks, Replacing A Wax Ring, & Adding Dual Flush

So apparently the “Dude” in Sherry’s “Dude, Get On That Already” is calling my name. So I got on the toilet. Okay, that sounds weird. What I mean is – the toilet in our hall bathroom has rocked a little bit from the day we moved in (the inspector even noted it on our little home inspection form). We quickly diagnosed the issue as a loose bolt, so “replace bolts on toilet” has been on my to-do list for over a year now. Yup, over a year. Why? Because replacing those lose bolts necessitated removing the entire toilet and reinstalling it. But I finally decided to seize the day toilet (amidst all of the photoshoot craziness) and tell this rocking throne who was boss. Why now? Something had to be done now that photo folks were actually using that room every day (hmm, a rocking toilet… embarrassing, much?).

We actually gave a toilet installation tutorial back in 2009 (using my parent’s bathroom as our model), but I figured I’d document this process because this project involves removing an old toilet first. And it’s also a good read if you have to replace your wax ring (it’s pretty much the same series of events) so hopefully it’ll help anyone else out there with a rocking/needs-a-new-wax-ring toilet. So ready yourselves for lots of somewhat grody and uncomfortable photos of the Petersiks’ potty. Complete with odd inherited rust spots and various caulk/paint spatters and discolored grout. Sounds like fun, right? Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Let’s start with turning off the water.

With the supply line is turned off, I flushed the toilet to get as much water out of the tank and bowl as possible. Since that didn’t get things totally dry, I broke out a sponge to sop up the extra water by hand. And no, I won’t show you a picture of my hand in the toilet bowl.

Once things were pretty dry, I unscrewed the supply line from the bottom of the toilet tank. We’ve got Clara’s diaper sprayer attached so ours looks a bit crazier than your average toilet, but the idea is basically the same.

There was a bit of water leftover in the supply line, so I had some paper towels on hand to soak it up.

Next up was removing the tank, which is bolted to the bowl in three spots. I was pretty much able to do it with a screwdriver all from the top, but I did have to unscrew the nut from the bottom side at one point.

Once it was unscrewed, I lifted it up carefully and set it down somewhere soft and out of the way. In this instance, that meant an old towel the bathtub. Oh yeah – we’re a classy operation ’round here.

Speaking of classy: here’s our topless toilet.

To remove the bowl, I had to unscrew the bolts on either side – this particular guy was the culprit for the rocking situation that got us into this whole mess:

With both bolts unscrewed, I used a gentle rocking motion to detach the toilet from the floor. It’s stuck to the floor in place by a wax ring (just wait for that beautiful picture – it’s coming up!). But once you’ve got it unstuck, the bowl comes up pretty easily.

And here’s that beautiful picture I teased. If you’re eating breakfast, you might want to stop scrolling. You can see I plugged the hole with an old rag to minimize the odors creeping back up and assaulting my nostrils. You just have to be careful not to put it in so deep that it gets lost into the sewer system. You might anger the Ninja Turtles living down there.

Since the old wax ring had to come up to make room for the new one, I got to scraping. This is probably the grossest picture of the post, so please accept my apologies. But rest assured that it’s just wax and rust – nothing more.

Oh, and I made sure to remove the old rubber reinforcement ring too. This comes in some wax rings, so it shouldn’t be left in place (our new wax ring had one in it).

I also had to clean a little bit of the wax off of the base of the bowl too so it was all pretty looking. Well, pretty is probably a stretch.

Here’s the new wax ring kit. It came with new bolts and everything for a whopping $6 at Home Depot.

The new ring gets stuck to the bowl, not the floor. I just pushed it slightly down over the opening at the bottom of the bowl. Be sure to have an inquisitive chihuahua double check your work.

Oh, and of course the new bolts had to go into place around the flange (that’s the steel piece attached to the floor – ours is very rusty). And remember to pull up the rag right before you put your toilet back into place (again, so as not to meet the wrath of Ninja Turtles).

Then came the tricky part – which I’ve been known to mess up in the past – putting the toilet bowl back into place. It’s tough only because (1) they’re a bit heavy and (2) you have to line it up perfectly over the bolts. But if worse comes to worst, you just pull it back up and try again (though if you’ve squished your wax ring too much you may need to put a new one on). That’s why I always buy two wax rings just in case. Better to spend an extra $6 to save a trip to the store (or risk a leaky toilet). Plus you can always return it the next time you’re at the store if you don’t end up needing it. Oh and this step can be helpful with two people (not only did Sherry take this picture to document things, then she got on the floor and helped me slowly lower the toilet down onto those bolts so it was all nicely aligned).

Once we had the toilet placed and straight, well, I sat on it. And Sherry took a picture. But the toilet-sitting was for good reason. I had to put a little bit of pressure on it to squish the wax ring into place to ensure that we were getting a good seal. I wish I could say this is the first post that featured a picture of me on the john, but alas…

Once it felt pretty set, I went to work bolting it into place. You can see how the new bolts stick up nicely through the holes in the bottom of the toilet bowl.

I hand tightened the nuts most of the way, but used a wrench to finish things off. The thing about a toilet is you don’t want to over-tighten because it can easily crack the ceramic. So just be sure to do this slowly. Note: that is not a hairball on the floor, it’s a weird rust stain that has been there since we moved in. So we plead the fifth.

I also had to bust out the hacksaw to cut off the extra length of bolt (so the little plastic covers can fit over them and hide the bolt entirely).

Bowl securely in place? Check. Not rocking anymore? Check. Now it was time for some tank action. I put the tank back into place on top of the toilet and screwed it in. Again, not too tightly because I didn’t want it cracking. But enough so that it felt secure and I didn’t think it would leak.

And last but not least, I reconnected the water supply line so we could check for leaks around the base of the bowl, the bottom of the tank, and where the water line is connected.

All of that checked out okay, so I ran a line of caulk around the base of the toilet. I only did it around the front 75% of the bowl so that if a leak were to happen in the future, it could escape out the back and alert us to the issue (that’s a little plumber’s trick we learned a few years back for ya).

Now this is usually where a toilet replacement adventure would come to an exciting conclusion. But this particular bathroom drama has another chapter. Because another thing on my more-than-a-year-overdue to-do list was to install a dual flush converter in here.

We did this in our last house so you can read a more in-depth description of the why and the how of dual flushing here. But basically this $20 converter kit which is now sold at Home Depot and on Amazon (here’s an affiliate link to it for ya) lets you take a normal toilet and give it two flushing options: a lighter flush for, um, lighter “activities” and a fuller one for the, you know, other stuff. Hooray for saving water (and money) and pretending your toilet is from the future.

The installation was a cinch compared to the whole wax ring replacement stuff. Here’s a shot of the finished product.

And for the grand finale – and “after” shot of our now fixed, now dual-flushing toilet. Sure, it looks pretty much the same. But just try sitting on it. It’s soooooo much better. No more seasick-esque motion. No more shouting a warning to guests who head down the hall to use the facilities. And admit it, that diaper sprayer on the right is hardcore. Like our toilet is wearing a little holster or something…

So that sums it up. Has anyone else had any bathroom adventures lately? Actually – let me phrase that more carefully. Has anyone else done any plumbing or bathroom fixture updates recently? Don’t want to hear about other sorts of activities going on in there. Oh and does anyone else know how to get hairball-esque rust out of tile? We’ve scrubbed that odd little squiggle of orange to no avail.

Psst- Now that I’ve assaulted your eyes with toilet pictures, check this out (it’s much cleaner and sweeter).


  1. says

    what was the difficulty level of sawing of the long part off the toilet screw so the plastic caps could fit over them? i have this issue with my toilet and for some reason i’m kind of wary of trying it. our screw is pretty rusty, so i’m wondering if that would make the job harder…


    • says

      Difficulty level 1: if you can slice fruit you can do it. Just get a cheap and simple hack saw (they’re usually just a few bucks) and go back and forth. Will probably take you 50 times back and forth, but they should pop right off eventually (whether they’re rusty or not). Hope it helps!


  2. says

    We just made the switch to cloth diapers (thanks to your posts on the topic), and also got the diaper sprayer for the toilet. FYI – They changed the plastic tube to a chrome one now, so it looks a little nicer. Installing it was pretty easy! We love it, and the cloth diapers, not to mention the massive amount of money we are already saving.

    Have you tried CLR for the rust spot? Or steel wool? Or a combination of both?

    • Priscila P. L. says

      Steel wool and your favorite cleaning product will definitely work. I’ve already used this trick to make plated taps look like new. Hope it helps.

  3. Mary says

    I’m glad you explained the diaper rinse thingy. From the very first photo, I was thinking….what the heck is that?? Great idea! I used cloth diapers too for my (now adult) babies.

  4. Merideth says

    Do you ever caulk the other 25% around the toilet? Or do you leave it that way forever?

    By the way, I love these in depth how-to posts…thank you so much!

    • says

      We’ve heard you should always keep the back part open so at any point if it starts leaking it won’t be all sealed up under the toilet rotting the floor and you’ll see it come out the back and be alerted of the problem!


    • Emily says

      I don’t know, Mike Holmes (Holmes on Homes) told me (via the TV) never to caulk a toilet. I pretty much think he is god, but perhaps the 75% thing gets you around that.

  5. says

    John on the john. Ha.
    Sitting on a wobbly toilet can very effectively scare the living daylights out of my if I’m not prepared. Not sure exactly what it is that I think will happen (death! dismemberment! being soaked in noxious substances!), but it always makes my heart skip a beat.
    I love the dualflush idea. We might need to look into that!

  6. Lauren says

    Long time lurker, first time poster! I swear by Bon Ami (basically same thing as Barkeepers Friend but in a cuter container). It’s super cheap and gets the rust off of EVERYTHING. I use it on my stainless steel pans and ceramic sink – its never scratched a thing. Happy de-rusting!

  7. Anne says

    Try Magic Erasers, but don’t ever get the off brand! (They disintegrate faster). It’s the only thing I know of that has successfully worked for us for removing little rust stains like that, soap scum in the bathtub/shower, AND that little red stuff that collects in the shower because of hard water! Good luck!

  8. Rachel G. says

    Such a timely post as we have a toilet in our guest bathroom that also “rocks” out. It drives me nuts (and has since we moved in two years ago). I always thought it was because the floor in the bathroom was uneven, which doesn’t make a lot of sense since we live in a brand new house, but I guess it is possible. So is that a major indicator of a bum wax seal? If that’s the case, it will definitely go on my daddy-do list for the next time my dad is in town (my hubby=not so handy).

    • says

      Oh yes, if it rocks, the wax ring probably isn’t perfectly sealed anymore and it could just be loose bolts – both of which can be remedied with a new wax ring kit (it comes with all those parts new). Good luck!


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