Waxing eloquently on water closets gaskets

REMEMBER THE FIRST time you encountered a wax gasket? Man, Ill never forget that humbling experience! Popping off the plastic closet bolt caps revealed a sticky mess that had oozed past the center post of the bolt. What in the world??? Before I could move out of the way, it seemed this goo had managed to infest my tools and clothing. As if possessed by some weird twist of the Midas touch, everything

REMEMBER THE FIRST time you encountered a wax gasket? Man, I’ll never forget that humbling experience!

Popping off the plastic closet bolt caps revealed a sticky mess that had oozed past the center post of the bolt. What in the world??? Before I could move out of the way, it seemed this goo had managed to infest my tools and clothing. As if possessed by some weird twist of the Midas touch, everything I touched became smeared with whatever that was. Back to the truck for the paper towels.

Once the nuts, cap retainer and steel washer were removed, the water closet held fast to the floor as if glued down. It became necessary to forcibly rock the closet side to side in order to free it from the maniacal grip of the as yet unseen gasket. Once freed, the mystery deepened. I had lifted the water closet and set it down on the tile flooring. To my utter surprise, there was the closet flange (surrounded by the previously leaking water that had motivated the homeowner to call for service) devoid of a gasket. Back to the truck for my dipping sponge!

With all of the tank and bowl water removed, I tilted the water closet for a view of the horn. I was greeted by tiles now coated with blackened yellow goo and a view of what appeared to be a flattened misshapen doughnut adhering to the bowl’s underside. I recognized what I had previously seen at supply house counters but had not used due to our company using only rubber gaskets.

Gently laying the water closet on its back, I began scraping up the mess from the floor and bottom of the bowl. Let’s just say my knife now had lifetime protection from rust and my hands would never be chapped again. The cleanup took longer than the actual work.

Following that experience as a young apprentice, I kept a broad putty knife in my toolbox along with newspaper on which to rest the bowl. The newspaper kept the floor clean and served as a neat way to wrap up the wax gasket.

Water closets set on upper floors seemed to go through wax gaskets much more frequently than did those set in basements or industrial settings. When you consider the properties of wax gaskets, that makes perfect sense. Wood floors tend to give, while concrete floors do not and, once compressed, wax gaskets do not spring back into place. Blackened areas of the gasket clearly show where the water has seeped past the seal.

I’ve encountered more than a few water closets that refused to flush properly because a portion of the wax gasket was stuffed up into the bowl’s outlet. The problem became more pronounced once low-consumption water closets were installed.

Wax gaskets come with or without a plastic insert that helps prevent misalignment between the outlet and closet flange drain opening. Of the two styles, I much prefer those with the guide. When cold, they must be warmed to allow for compression or a cracked bowl becomes likely when tightening the closet bolts.

By now, you’re probably wondering about the history of wax gaskets. I know I did and that’s why I began asking the old-timers I worked with about these sticky doughnut-shaped rings. They told me that they used to set toilets with putty, the kind used for caulking window panes, and that this often resulted in leaks as the putty would become brittle and crack. I can remember removing water closets and chipping away the hard remnants of that putty.

Then in the late 1920s, a gentleman by the name of Harry Lichten developed a putty that wouldn’t stain flooring or dry out and it became widely used for setting water closets. We know that putty today as “Stainless Putty” and use it for setting sinks or under faucets to create a watertight seal. He named his company the Black Swan Mfg. Co.

Then along came William H. Harvey in 1944, a Master Plumber for 25 years, who was forced into early retirement due to health issues. Needing a means to support his family, he developed many products, the wax gasket among them. The wax gasket became the standard issue and its use rapidly caught on in the trade. Both of these gentlemen created companies that continue to thrive today. According to the William H. Harvey Co.’s Web site, more than 450 million wax gaskets have been sold!

Today we no longer use putty to set water closets. Wax gaskets continue to be a reliable and inexpensive method for setting water closets in areas where no flooring movement can be reasonably assured. The Harvey Co. manufactures a combination wax and rubber gasket for wall-hung closets and urinals, which offers the best of both worlds - good adhesion with resilience for a water- and gas-tight seal. When used properly, I’ve found that callbacks are virtually eliminated.

Dave Yates owns F.W. Behler, a contracting company in York, Pa. He can be reached by phone at 717/843-4920 or by e-mail at [email protected].