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. Amy says

    You know how most public bathrooms these days have the automatic flush sensor so you don’t have to touch anything? Well, not too long ago I was in a public bathroom that had something kind of amazing — AUTO dual flush. How was this accomplished, you ask? Well, a little sign behind the toilet tells me that it senses HOW LONG YOU TOOK, and flushes accordingly. Creepy, right? But also kind of awesome.

  2. says

    1. Ewww…did you really have to put your hand in the toilet to soak up the water?? I think I would have had to wait weeks after company left to feel like the toilet had been rid of all those extra germs!

    2. I like the push button thing. I think it would make it a lot easier for our two year old to flush the toilet herself. Thanks for letting me know that is out there!

  3. says

    Who would have thought I’d learn so much from a post about toilets?? I actually have to remove some paneling from behind a toilet in our master bathroom but I didn’t know how to get it out without removing the toilet so it’s just sat there, partially painted, for over a year. Now I guess I have no excuse to not finish the project.. Oh, and we got that toilet sprayer (after seeing it here) and LOVE it. It’s made the whole cloth diapering thing a whole lot less scary. Now I want to convince the hubs to put the duel flushing thing on the toilet so we’re not using a ton of water after rinsing off a diaper..

  4. Diana says

    Our plumber recommended we use a stack of two “plain” wax rings instead of one with a plastic flange. He claimed the flange tended to catch paper and clog the toilet. I’m not sure this has really made a difference, but it was slightly cheaper and works just fine. We will have more wax to remove if we need to re-seat the toilet again.

  5. blair says

    love the t-shirt john! i got the same one when i ran the virginia breach half marathon last year. i love wearing it down here in north carolina!

    also, i work with new home construction in the charlotte, nc area. i’d suggest using a product called ‘bar keepers friend’ on the rust. it comes in a shaker can and you can pretty much buy it anywhere (grocery stores, target, etc.) dampen the area and sprinkle on ‘bar keepers friend’ to form a paste. leave it on for a few minutes and then scrub away (scotch brite should do the trick.) good luck!

  6. John says

    A tip if you’re putting the toilet on the bolts yourself. While you’re getting the wax ring and stuff, stop at a fast food joint and pick up a handful of straws, you only need two, but get a few in case you mess up. Then before you’re placing the toilet on the flange/bolts, put the straws on the bolts to extend them. then it’s a bit easier to align the toilet with the bolts since the straws guide you down correctly. then once it’s on over the flange and bolts, pull the straws off. Easier to align while it’s a few inches above the floor instead of 1 inch above the floor while the wax ring is hitting and stuff.

  7. says

    Thank you so much for posting this! We’re about to start our DIY bathroom renovation but we don’t really know what we’re doing, haha. This could not have come at a more perfect time! And I never knew those dual flush converters existed…awesome! We’ll have to grab one of those too. Thanks again for the helpful tips!

  8. Katie Rose says

    Last year I helped my dad fix one of our toilets. Getting the toilet back on the screws was the hardest part, especially since our toilet is older and the water tank wasn’t detachable. Let’s just say his arms were pretty sore the next day from all the lifting and hovering! You made it look easy :)

  9. tracy says

    Shoeless Johnny strikes again! I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a DIY post from him wearing shoes. Or even socks for that matter. :)

  10. Robyn says

    I had a little drip that turned into a bigger dribble in the bathtub faucet. I’m not shy about doing home improvements and repairs myself, but I’ve never really had to deal with plumbing before. A few weeks ago, with lots of online research and video watching, I took a chance to try to fixed it myself. I figured if I couldn’t do it, then I would call a plumber. I knew the hot water was the culprit, but I went ahead and changed both of the “guts” behind the hot and cold water handles. The project actually ended up taking a whole weekend. The cold water plumbing came out and was replaced just fine. The hot water was stuck like chuck, and I tried every tool I could think of to get it off. I went to Home Depot 4 times in 3 hours buying tools and returning them when they didn’t work. (Luckily I live less than a mile from a HD and a Lowes!) After getting some Liquid Wrench penetrating oil and letting it sit over night, the hot water plumbing final loosened! I got everything changed out on the hot water, and the drip is gone.

  11. says

    I installed that same dual-flush converter kit, and have been really happy with it. However, I heard from one of my readers that she was really unhappy with her. Her complaint? That the buttons were too hard for her to push, and that her long nails made it difficult to push the buttons down.

    But we’re six months in and couldn’t be happier.


  12. says

    We started our complete gut job of a bathroom reno yesterday! New joists, new subfloor, new walls, new everything! We have a whole whack of plumbing in our future. It’s definitely going to take awhile, since we’re doing the majority of it ourselves. Yikes!

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