How To Troubleshoot And Fix Your Toilet

How to troubleshoot and fix your toilet! It's no longer necessary to contact a plumber when toilet trouble crops up.

Years ago, it was necessary to call a plumber to fix even the most minor bathroom plumbing problems. Old designs, sewer gases, and other dangers made it nearly impossible for the home owner to even attempt to rectify the situation.

Today, thanks in part to efficient designs, better plumbing structures, and improved drainage systems, you can save yourself time and money by diagnosing your own plumbing trouble, and managing your repairs.


Everyone has, at one time or another, dealt with a clogged toilet bowl. Fortunately, clogged bowls are more of an inconvenience than anything.


Toilet will not drain properly.

Toilet does not appear to flush.

Toilet overflows.

There is a large amount of debris inside the toilet bowl.

Toilet "underflows" or only partially flushes.

SIMPLE CLOGS are easy to take care of with a common household plunger. Using a straight, powerful, up-and-down motion, push the plunger hard against the opening of the toilet. Once a seal has been made, pull forcefully upwards. Most simple clogs will clear themselves with several pumps.

MAJOR CLOGS usually require a closet auger. Closet augers are specially designed for toilets, and are quite effective at treating major clogs by extending a long piece of coiled metal deep inside your toilet's plumbing. To properly use a toilet auger, take the padded section of the auger and place it at the bottom of the bowl. Shove the handle down with a quick, powerful motion. This action will cause a piece of coiled metal to "snake" approximately 4-5 feet into your toilet drain. Crank the handle around and around. Most clogs clear with one or two uses.

If your clog fails to respond to either method, you should contact a professional. Clogged outdoor drain pipes or low water pressure inside the house could be the cause.


Toilets that won't stop running are most commonly caused by leaks, tangled chains, damaged handles, debris and worn tank and floater balls. Running toilets are also easy to repair and most often involve only replacing small portions of hardware associated with the flushing mechanisms of your toilet.


Water runs inside your toilet continuously.

You have to jiggle the handle to flush the toilet or stop water from running.

You can see water leaking over the top of the overflow (inside your tank).

Water continues to trickle down the insides of the toilet bowl long after you've flushed.

Water sporadically runs and shuts itself off during the day when no one has flushed the toilet.

CONNECTIONS. With the toilet tank lid removed, attempt to flush the toilet and watch all the connections. Double check to be sure that the connections between the handle, trip lever and chain are all working.

HANDLES can sometimes become loose or "stuck" through everyday usage. For handles that appear to stick, loosen the locknut on the inside of the tank and try flushing again. For handles which are already loose, tighten the locknut and reflush.

TANGLES in the chain which connect the flush handle to the flapper or ball are common. Tangled chains can cause the toilet to run or not flush at all. Provided the inside of the toilet handle (trip lever) is not damaged or broken, you can simply untwist the chain and replace the lid of the toilet. Tangles can also be caused by loose handles. Adjust the locknut on the inside of the handle, if your toilet chain snags frequently.

DEBRIS. It is not uncommon for debris to collect underneath the tank ball. You can lift the ball up manually and clean any debris that has gathered in the underside or corners of your tank.

FLOATER BALLS are the large, hollow balls which float on the surface level of your tank. While the toilet is running, manually lift the float ball. If the water shuts off, your floater ball is set at the wrong angle. To repair the problem, carefully bend the tube connecting the floater ball to the toilet hardware, downward. Continue bending the tube with your hands until it is 1-2 inches below the overflow tube. This should stop water from running immediately. If it doesn't, you may have a damaged float ball. Check for holes and cracks in the ball. If the ball is filled with water or no longer appears to float, it needs to be replaced. You can replace the ball by unscrewing it from its tubing and screwing another on in its place.


Toilets that fail to flush are often the result of tangled or broken chains, loose handles, and improperly secured tank balls.


Toilet handle appears loose or stuck.

Pushing the handle of the toilet causes no reaction whatsoever.

Toilets that won't flush are almost always associated with worn handles and chains. Examine both the inside and outside of the toilet handle, to ensure its properly connected to the toilet chain. Reconnect the chain (or replace) if necessary, and reflush. If this doesn't rectify your problem, try tightening the tank ball by turning it clockwise. Reflush.


If your toilet seems to flush, but doesn't remove everything from its bowl, you most likely have a water level problem.


Toilet doesn't appear to exchange any water.

Toilet takes more than 90-seconds to refill water bowl.

Debris remains in toilet bowl after flushing.

With the toilet tank lid removed, check the water level inside the tank. It should be 3/4 inch below the top of the overflow tube. If it's too low, carefully bend the float arm (attached to the float ball) upwards. If it appears too high, bend the arm downward. Reflush.

Chains, which are too long, can also cause toilets to flush halfway. There should only be 1/2-inch of slack in your chain. Adjust accordingly.


BEFORE making repairs to your toilet, it's always best to turn the water off. Toilet valves are almost always located in the back of the toilet, near the floor.

ATTEMPTING to flush the toilet, while peering inside the toilet's tank, will help you to diagnose what's wrong. From that vantage point, you should freely be able to ascertain which piece of toilet hardware is not functioning. For this reason, the first step in making any toilet repair is to remove the toilet tank and attempt to reflush the toilet.

CHAINS which connect the handle to other pieces of your toilet can easily rust, break or bend. You can help to prevent future toilet trouble by replacing chains once, every 2-3 years.

ALLOWING animals to drink water from the toilet means you'll probably suffer more clogs. Hair and debris, which collect at the bottom of the bowl while you pet is drinking, are the most common cause of clogged toilets.

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