I was actually pretty scared to install my first toilet mainly because the toilet was a mystery to me; I just knew there had to be some overly complicated way that the toilet’s contents made it from the porcelain to the pipe, and if I messed that up, the result would be just awful. I am here to tell you that a toilet is actually pretty simple, and if you want some serious brownie points, replacing that old toilet with a new one is a great way to become a hero at home! Just check out the toilet we are getting rid of:
Besides, if you mess it up somehow, you usually can just shut the water off to the toilet and call your plumber (which you would have done anyway if you weren’t doing it yourself).
I would allocate 2-3 hours for this project for first timers to take it nice and slow, but if you are experienced, you can probably install a toilet in as little as 30 minutes.
When purchasing a new toilet, it is VERY important to make sure you get a “wax ring” (explained in the installation instructions); these can either come as part of the toilet or separate, so be sure you know you have one before leaving the store. A helpful tip to ease those newbys who are nervous – American Standard makes a few “no tools” toilets which boast that you don’t even need tools to install. We unknowingly bought one, and discovered that while the claim is pretty much true when there isn’t an existing toilet, it is not completely true for replacing an existing toilet. Either way, this kind of toilet may give some confidence to those in need.
The tools you will need include a putty knife (middle), either an adjustable wrench (right) or a wrench set (left), and a flat head screwdriver (not pictured but you know what this looks like)
The advantage of an adjustable wrench is you only need one (rather than a set of wrenches), but it also can be tough getting the adjustment right and not accidentally changing the adjustment while working. I prefer a wrench set for this project because the bolts are generally a standard 7/16″. You will also want some rags and a small bucket for any spillage. (Please don’t be scared by this next sentence, but…) You may need to cut a screw as part of the installation, which would require a hacksaw, reciprocating saw, or something like them; just FYI, we haven’t needed one yet and have done two toilets in this house.
Because every toilet is different, you definitely should read and follow the instructions of the toilet you purchased. It is also smart to know which plumber you are going to call just in case 🙂
Please be aware, if you are squeamish, this may not be the post for you because the toilet we will remove is old and fairly nasty, so the pictures are kind of gross; this is to be expected with older toilets, so be prepared.
Ok, let’s get started!
First, turn off the water supply to the toilet. This is pretty important, and I guarantee you will know if you don’t do it right because water will be spraying everywhere! Generally this will be a knob that looks kind of like a spigot near the bottom left of your toilet.
Detach the supply line from the tank by unscrewing the line that comes from the floor or wall where it attaches to the tank (white cap at the top of the metal supply line). You may want to have that bucket on hand to catch any water coming from the connection, but it shouldn’t be much.
Now, flush the toilet. This will clear the tank of its water, which will make the removal of the old toilet easier and less messy.
(Optional) If you are doing the replacement by yourself, you may want to unscrew the tank from the bowl to make removing the old toilet lighter and easier. If you choose to go this route, have your bucket ready underneath the tank to catch drip water. Use the flathead screwdriver and wrench to remove the screws / nuts that hold the tank to the bowl; the screw heads are inside the tank itself and the nuts are underneath (the metal nut on the left).
Next we have to unfasten the old toilet from the floor. This is done by removing those plastic half domes you never knew had a purpose from the base of the toilet to expose the screws. They should just pop off with a squeeze or a tug.
Use your wrench to remove the nuts from the screws (generally there will be one on either side of the toilet).
Ok, now here’s where the real fun begins: lift the old toilet up and out from its position, ideally keeping it upright to avoid spilling water, and place the old toilet in a “safe” place where leaking water won’t be a problem; for me, this was the tub!
You can make removal even easier by leaning the toilet backwards to drain the water from the bowl that was not drained earlier.
You have just successfully uninstalled a toilet! Check out what that looks like, but remember, there won’t be any nasty surprises in the septic pipe because we flushed the toilet before uninstalling it. Don’t worry!
Now we get to install the new toilet! Let’s take a second to talk about that wax ring we brought up earlier. The wax ring is the main reason a toilet doesn’t leak all over your floor when you flush it; the wax side of the ring seals to the bottom of the toilet and the rubber funnel goes into the septic pipe below the flange (picture shown below) so the toilet contents drain right where they should. Cool, huh?!
So to prep for the new toilet, you must remove the old wax ring. Fair warning, this could be a little gross, but the pictures look worse than it actually is. I tried to remove my wax ring by sticking the screwdriver into the pipe to lift the ring out by the rubber funnel, but the ring didn’t want to play nice. So I had to do it the gross way by scraping the wax off of the flange…
and then removing the rubber funnel…
to give us a nice, clean flange!
Helpful hint: put the wax ring and rubber funnel directly into the trash because they are very sticky and you will only want to have to touch them once.
The flange is the end of the septic pipe to which the toilet is secured. If the flange is cracked, broken, or otherwise damaged, I would seriously recommend calling a plumber because it’s way easier to fix this now than after the faulty flange allows leaks all into the floor / ceiling below. Having said that, I have yet to come across a damaged flange in this house’s and previously installed toilets.
Now we have to remove the old screws from the flange to make room for the new screws; typically these screws just slide out.
Finally, we get to start installing the new toilet!! Out of the box, your new toilet will probably come in two major pieces (the tank and the bowl), so don’t be alarmed that some assembly is required.
Just as you removed the old screws from the flange, put the new ones in and make sure when you are done, the are perpendicular to the direction you want the toilet to finally face.
Ok, here’s a very important moment which could dictate the success of your toilet install: affixing the wax ring on the new bowl. Once the wax ring is attached to the bowl, apply even, consistent pressure to the ring so the seal is not compromised. While this is a very important step, it is also easy to do correctly, so don’t fret 🙂
Next the bowl has to be placed and attached into the floor. You do this by putting the rubber end of the ring into the septic pipe while making sure the screws we just put into the flange pass through the holes on the bottom of the toilet. It sounds complicated, but it just takes a little coordination and patience. Fair warning – the screws will almost certainly get some wax on them.
Then use the washers and nuts to secure the bowl to the floor. Do not over tighten the nuts because they can crack the porcelain. Basically, tighten them up just enough so the toilet doesn’t wobble around too much.
Now place the new weird, plastic half domes over the screws. Here is where you may need to cut the screw down if it is too tall for the plastic dome to cover it.
Now we need to attach the tank to the bowl, which starts with placing the rubber gasket where the water from the tank will enter the bowl.
From here, the tank will sit on top of the rubber gasket, and may be unstable until you screw the tank and bowl together.
Now, place the screws and washers through the holes in BOTH the bottom of the tank and top of the bowl and screw the nuts and washers onto the new screw from the bottom.
Generally using a flat head screwdriver for the screw and a wrench for the nut will do the trick. Again, do not over tighten the nuts, so screw them in only until the wobble is gone from the tank.
Now you can really see the toilet coming together!
Reattach the supply line by screwing the line into the tank. Some people like to use plumber’s tape for this connection, so if you want to be cautious, please feel free.
Now is the moment of truth: turn the water supply back on and check if it leaks.
Because you did such a great job, you will begin to hear the tank filling up!
As a side note: my rule of thumb is that whenever you mess with plumbing, always check connections 1) immediately, 2) 5 minutes, 3) 1 hour, and 4) 1 day after the water is turned back on. Leaks can really cause some damage, so cautiousness is good. In this case, the connections would be the water supply to the tank, the tank to the bowl, and the bowl to the pipe.
Next, you must attach the toilet seat: open the plastic flaps covering the back of the seat and place the exposed holes over the corresponding holes in the bowl.
Drop the (generally plastic) screws and washers through the top of the opening and screw the (generally plastic) nuts and washers up onto the screws.
These nuts are usually designed to be able to be tightened by hand, so tighten them up and close the plastic flaps back over the screws to hide them.
If all goes well, you are ready for the final step: placing the tank lid over the tank.
Wow! You are done and have a beautiful new toilet to boast!!!
As a bit of parting and unsolicited advice, cleanup is very important to the success of this project. Yes, you just spent a very long time messing with arguably the most disgusting part of the entire house, but you will probably get even more of those ever-so-precious brownie points by not making your wife clean up arguably the most disgusting part of the entire house when you are done.
Well done, and cheers!!