Better to caulk or not?

Caulking Around Toilets

The Natural Handyman

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Dear Natural Handyman,
There was a bad piece of advice in your last newsletter. I am a home inspector, and one should never under any circumstances caulk around a toilet base. You need to allow the moisture to run out in case the wax seal or something else breaks or you take the chance of rotting the sheathing and growing strange critters! I'd like to hear back your comments on this!

Your concern is well based, and if a leak occurs under the toilet, there will be moisture-related problems. But "silent" leaks can occur under any toilet. I have seen countless rotten floors where water has leaked from a toilet underneath vinyl flooring, with no caulk in sight! Loosening of the toilet over time or just poor installation practice can cause leakage. Also, many slow toilet leaks never appear until severe damage is done to the subfloor. Moisture takes residence under the finished flooring, be it vinyl or ceramic tile, and does its dirty work in secret.

To make the blanket statement that caulking is an absolute no-no needs some clarification and, as with most home repairs, needs to leave some room for a little improvisation.

Caulk around the base keeps water from getting under the toilet. One such source of moisture is dripping from tank condensation, when humid air liquefies as it touches the cold toilet tank. In this circumstance, judicious application of caulk can actually protect the naked wood under the toilet from damage!

Using grout, caulk or even using plumber's putty around the base of a toilet to stabilize it is common practice precisely because it is not always practical to rip up a perfectly good bathroom floor and replace it just because the floor is not perfectly level. Though shims alone can stabilize a toilet, they also cause pressure points on the porcelain which can lead to cracking or breakage.

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So let me clarify. I do not recommend that anyone routinely caulk around the base of an otherwise stable toilet. However, if a toilet rocks severely due to a poorly leveled floor, partial or complete caulking can be helpful, along with appropriate use of non-rotting shims for the initial stabilization. Also, if there is severe condensation-caused dripping off the tank, partial caulking at the bowl-floor seam may be helpful in keeping moisture from seeping under the toilet.

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