Does a Toilet Have to be Level?


Whether you’re installing a brand new toilet in your home or if you suddenly noticed a distinctive wobble to your toilet, you’re probably wondering just how important it is that your toilet sits level.

Does a toilet have to be level? Most toilets commonly found in the home can function even if they are not level. However, if a toilet is not level and is rocking side to side or back and forth, it can quickly cause damage to the wax seal and flange, which can lead to leaks. It is best to ensure that a toilet is level when it is installed.

Continue reading to find out more about the dangers of an unlevel toilet, and how to fix a toilet that is not sitting level.

Should a Toilet be Level?

Absolutely. Leveling a toilet isn’t all that difficult, and most homeowners comfortable with a little DIY project can do it on their own.

An unlevel toilet can lead to a toilet that leaks at the base. You might not be able to see the leak, but a badly damaged wax seal will leak waste. 

Here is why your leaky toilet is a big problem for your home:

  • It is incredibly unhygienic. The water leaking by the wax seal is not only water. It contains waste as well.
  • The floor around your toilet will become damaged, and potentially the floor joists near your toilet as well. The wood could become so weakened that the structure of the entire bathroom is compromised.
  • The leaking waste could cause damage to ceilings if your toilet is on the second floor or above the basement. 

So yes, if you want to keep your home safe and in good repair, your toilet should be level.

Why a Toilet is Unlevel

Maybe your toilet has been level for years and is suddenly unlevel, or perhaps it was unlevel on install, either way, it is good to know some of the reasons that your toilet could be unlevel so that you know how to fix them the right way.

  • Unlevel floor. It is very common, especially in older homes, for floors to be uneven, and even a slightly uneven floor can cause problems for your toilet.
  • Loose bolts. If bolts are loose, the toilet will wobble. Simple as that.
  • Flange issues. The flange should be set on top of the floor, not below it. Bolts should hold the flange securely in place. It should not be damaged or corroded.

But how do you know what the issue is? Well, you’re going to have to remove the toilet, inspect the wax seal and flange, fix the problem, and reinstall the toilet. If that doesn’t sound like something you want to deal with, it is best to call a reputable plumbing professional. In most cases, the job won’t take longer than half a day.

But if you want to tackle the job yourself, we have some guidance on how to proceed.

How to Level a Toilet?

If your toilet is already installed and is starting to wobble, figuring out the source of the problem is straightforward, but it is a process. It probably isn’t the best project for a novice DIYer to tackle, and you will also need to be able to lift your toilet, some of which are very heavy.

If you know your way around tools and have a few projects under your belt, it shouldn’t be too challenging.

Step One: Check the Level

Before you get started, check how unlevel the toilet is.

  1. Place a short level, like a two-foot level, on the top of the toilet tank. 
  2. Lift one side of the level until the bubble sits between the two lines on the vial.
  3. The distance between the top of the toilet and the bottom of the level will tell you just how out of level the toilet is. This will give you an idea of how much you will need to shim.

Step Two: Remove the Toilet

Removing a toilet is wet work, and most people would feel more comfortable wearing gloves while doing it. 

  1. Turn off the water supply.
  2. Remove the tank lid and carefully place it in a location where it will not get broken.
  3. Flush the toilet to remove as much water as possible from the tank
  4. Using a wet vac, super-absorbent sponge, or old towels to remove any water that is left in the toilet.
  5. Disconnect the water supply. Place a bucket under the water supply to catch any water that might still be in the line.
  6. Unbolt the toilet from the floor. There are two bolts, one on each side of the toilet. Usually, these are covered with a plastic cap. Remove the cap, unscrew the bolts.
  7. Lift the toilet straight up off the bolts and set it aside. You probably want to set it on thick plastic sheeting or a garbage bag.

Step Two: Inspect the Wax Seal and Flange

You’re going to need to remove the wax seal to inspect the flange, and the wax seal will need to be replaced. Wax seals are inexpensive, and replacing them when you have the chance is a good idea anyway. You can also replace your wax seal with a foam ring if you prefer.

  1. Is the wax seal in good shape? If it is deteriorated or poorly installed, then this could be the reason for a wobble in the toilet.
  2. Remove the wax seal with your hands or with a flat scraper.
  3. Is the flange in good shape? Is it cracked? Are there bolts in each bolt hole? Are the bolts secure? Is the flange corroded?
  4. If the flange is broken, you have to replace it. Here is an excellent video from This Old House on how to do this.
  5. Check the level on the floor behind where the toilet would sit. If the floor is unlevel, this could be what is causing your toilet to be out of level.

Step Three: Rebuild the Toilet

Now that you’ve fixed any problems with the flange, loose bolts, and the wax seal, you are set to rebuild the toilet. If an unlevel floor is causing your toilet to be out of level, you will fix that with shims during this part of the process.

  1. Reinstall the closet bolts with a lock washer. It is best to install a fresh set of these.
  2. Place the wax seal or foam ring. Wax rings can be more challenging to place, so if you’re concerned, go with the foam ring.
  3. Place the toilet back onto the bolts. It can be helpful to have an extra set of eyes to ensure you’re placing the toilet over the bolts correctly.
  4. If floors were the problem, you would now add shims under the side of the toilet that is low. The shims should not be wood, as these can rot over time. You can purchase shims that are specially made for use under toilets. They are plastic, small, and stackable, making them a great choice.
  5. Check the level of the toilet again to be sure that the changes you made worked.
  6. Bolt the toilet to the floor again. Be sure to reinstall the bolt cover as the bottom washer does help keep your bolt in position. Don’t tighten down one side first – instead tighten each side a little at a time.
  7. Cut off the excess closet bolt. 
  8. Reattach the water supply and return the tank lid. Does the toilet work? Give it a few test flushes.
  9. Clean up any dust or mess.
  10. You can use caulk or putty around the base of the toilet for a finished look.

Now your toilet should be wobble-free and working properly!

Do You Have to Remove the Toilet to Fix a Wobble?

I know you’re wondering if all this is necessary just to fix a little wobble. We recommend that you follow this process because there is no other way of knowing why your toilet is wobbly. You might think it is the floor, but it could be a broken flange and is leaking water and waste into your floor.

But, it is possible to level an unlevel toilet just by placing shims under it. If the shims stick out from under the toilet, the excess can be scored and cut off with a sharp utility knife. This method is only recommended if you are positive that the cause of the problem is an uneven floor. 

Video Resources for Leveling Your Toilet

If you’re still not clear on the process, there are some great video resources available on YouTube that break down this process. Here are our favorites:

  • How to Fix a Wobbly Toilet by This Old House shows the whole process from beginning to end, including how to place shims under the toilet.
  • Fixing a Wobbly Toilet by PlumbingSupply.com also shows the whole process, including how to detach the tank from the toilet base and how to raise a flange, so that it sits above the floor. 
  • How to Set a Toilet on an Uneven Surface by ehowathomechannel shows how to install shims without taking apart the toilet. 

By now, you should be ready to tackle your unlevel toilet problems, and if not, at least you know to call in a plumbing professional.

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