How to Remove Rusted Toilet Bolts from Your Tank

Toilet bolts are constantly exposed to the most corrosion enabling environment in the entire household. They sit in the bathroom, which is the room with the most humidity in the entire house. Rusty bolts and nuts can’t be screwed and unscrewed when required, and you have to replace them before you can adjust your toilet.

You need to be tactical with your approach, so you don’t damage the toilet. It is important to know how to safely remove toilet bolts when they have been afflicted with rust.

rusty and calcified flush tank of toilet

To successfully remove rusted toilet bolts, you should follow these steps in order:

  • Unscrew the nuts as far as they will go using wrenches, pliers, and screwdrivers while trying to brush off the rust
  • Cut the bolts using bolt cutters, hack saws, reciprocating saws, or rotary tools with metal blades if all efforts to unscrew the nut fails
  • Drill the bolts out if you are unable to cut them successfully.
  • Clean the surface to get rid of rust and debris

You don’t necessarily have to go through all these steps. The amount of effort will depend on how rusty the bolts are among other factors highlighted throughout this article. Keep reading to get the full breakdown of the options at your disposal.

Preparation

Drain all the water from the bowl. Cut off the water supply and flush the toilet until the tank is empty. Use the toilet brush to push the water down the drain. Use a cloth or sponge to mop up any residual water.

Water will start running to the floor as soon as you loosen the bolts, and you want to keep the floor as dry as possible, especially since you may introduce power tools. It will also double as your working surface, and you don’t want to risk falling on the slippery surface.

Wear eye protection when using power tools; the drill, reciprocating saw, or rotary tool might spew debris directly into your eyes if you leave them exposed.

Unscrew the Nut

Use a flat head screwdriver to hold the bolt in place while employing a wrench to turn the nut counterclockwise. This should loosen it up. Resist the urge to turn the bolt with the screwdriver as it will make the bolt head loose, resulting in future problems.

If the bolt is still spinning along with the nut such that you can’t hold it with the screwdriver, try introducing an extra pair of pliers to hold it in place as you turn the nut.

Scrub it with a steel brush to clear rust particles on the bolt stem if you can still unscrew the nut.

Sometimes the rust is so intense the bolt disintegrates into dust when you hold it as you try to loosen it. If it is impossible to unscrew the bolt due to rust, you may have to resort to cutting the bolt.

Cutting the Bolt

There are a number of tools that can be applied depending on the available resources and the concentration of rust.

Bolt Cutters

A bolt cutter will come in handy to unscrew the nut to a certain point before it froze completely. This means there is space for the nose of the bolt cutter to access the bolt’s stem, allowing you to compress it and cut the stem.

There are instances where you cannot loosen the bolt to create space for a bolt cutter, and you will have to look for a thinner cutting tool with a better chance of getting to the bolt stem.

Small Hack Saws

Look for a small hack saw with a flexible blade that you can fit under the head of the bolt. If the head is too tight against the tank for the hack saw to fit, and you are completely unable to loosen it, try stripping its rubber washer, which should create room for the saw.

Reciprocating Saw

A reciprocating saw is automated and uses a back and forth motion to cut through the bolt. It cuts quicker than the hacksaw with less effort, but the risk of damaging the toilet also increases, so you need to be extra careful.

Choose a blade with a high number of teeth per inch (TPI), around 18, which is suitable for metals. The shorter the blade, the more control you have, which enhances accuracy.

If you cannot reach the bolt from inside the tank because it is wound on too tight, you can try accessing it from below.

A Rotary Tool

A rotary tool is more ergonomic than the previously mentioned tools for cutting rusted toilet bolts if you attach a metal cutting wheel to it.

Align the wheel so that it is at a 90-degree angle to the bolt you intend to cut. Ensure the edge goes between the nut and the washer as much as possible. If there is no allowance for this, you will have to settle for the point of contact between the washer and the nut and get the wheel under the nut as you proceed.

Drilling the Toilet Bolts Out

If you have unsuccessfully tried unscrewing and cutting the bolts, you might be forced to make this move as a last resort. It has the highest probability of breaking the porcelain if the drill gets out of line, but it will also solve the problem if you pull it off successfully.

Cleaning Up

Scrub the surface where the bolt head was to ensure there are no residual rust particles or pieces of the old bolt because they may affect how the washer fits, resulting in leakages after replacing the bolt.

Our Take

You should consider changing your tank bolts as soon as you notice the buildup of rust because it will only get worse. The more it builds up, the harder it will be to take care of the problem and replace them.

Try as much as possible to replace them with a set of quality bolts made either of stainless steel or brass, as these are hardly affected by rust. As much as their initial purchase price is higher, they last longer and will provide more value for your investment in the long run.

Modern toilet seat

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why Do You Need to Remove Rusted Toilet Tank Bolts?

It becomes necessary during regular maintenance, which sometimes involves stabilizing the toilet tank. Rusty bolts can’t be fastened. They may lead to the connection between the toilet tank and toilet flange becoming loose, which will result in leakages, and you will have to harness the situation.

How Do You Replace the Bolts On a Toilet Tank?

Clean the surfaces where the bolts will eliminate the chances that the washers will have spaces for leakages. Hold the bolt in place inside the tank using a flathead screwdriver and screw the nut onto it. Don’t make them too tight because this will keep water inside the toilet tank.

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