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How to Fix a Toilet

Last Updated: December 9, 2021

How to Fix a Toilet

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Leaks, clogs, overflows, oh my!

A problem with your toilet is never pleasant. Fortunately, fixing a toilet is an easy DIY job. Let’s go over some of the most common toilet problems you may encounter and how to handle them easily and inexpensively.

How Does a Toilet Work?

A toilet does not have a complex structure. It is pretty simple. A toilet is constructed with just two main parts—the main toilet bowl unit and the upper tank. Since there are no moving parts in the bowl unit, repairs beyond clearing clogs aren't usually needed. The tank contains valves and a handle. It's where most toilet repairs take place.

Water is held in the toilet’s tank until you flush the toilet using the handle. When the tank handle is pushed down, the water releases all at once through the flush hole. This forces the water and waste out of the bowl and down into the drain pipe under the toilet.

Moving Parts of a Toilet

  • Handle – Handles depress to initiate toilet flushing
  • Flush rod – Connects the toilet handle to the lift chain
  • Lift chain – Descends from float arm to the bottom flapper
  • Flapper – Closes the water flush valve opening, sometimes called the tank ball
  • Flush valve – Made of plastic or metal, the flush valve is the water opening to the toilet bowl via a soft O-ring seal
  • Float ball or cup –Senses the water level to prevent toilet overfilling
  • Fill valve – Sometimes called the ballcock or water supply valve, the fill valve allows clean water in to refill the tank
  • Refill tube – Allows a small amount of water back into the toilet bowl during refilling
  • Water supply tube –Runs on the outside of the toilet and connects the bathroom water supply to the tank
  • Wax ring – Seals the connection between the bottom of the toilet and the bathroom floor drain opening and sewer line
  • Shutoff valve – Attached to the water supply valve opening and can be used to shut off the water supply to the toilet
  • Toilet seat – Protects you from falling in the water
an infographic explaining common toilet problems and how to fix them
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How to Fix Toilet

Each of these components could need repair at some point in the lifespan of your toilet. Let’s go over some common toilet problems you may encounter and the toilet repairs to fix them. A bathroom demolition is a perfect time to fix your toilet.

1. Slow Filling Toilet Tank - Float Ball or Fill Valve

Float Ball

There are a few things that can cause a toilet tank to fill slowly after a flush. First, check to make sure the float ball isn't taking on water. If a float ball becomes waterlogged, it will prevent the water tank from fully filling or it may fill at a slow rate. Check if your float ball is floating toward the top of the toilet tank. If not, it probably needs to be replaced. This is a very simple toilet flushing fix. You just pull off the old one and put the new one in place.

Fill Valve

If it is not the float ball, check the fill valve tube. Over time, debris can cause a fill valve to clog up or shift and block the water flow. Clean the fill valve by first turning off the water supply. Then, remove the screws holding the fill cap and lift the cap away. Turn the water back on slowly. Keep your hand over the drain valve to prevent the water from spraying. Let clean water run until the debris is cleaned out. Replace the fill cap, checking to see if the washer needs to be replaced in the toilet tank.

2. Water Not Filling Toilet Tank

When your water tank is not filling after a flush, there is a bigger water supply problem. If the problem isn't the float ball or the fill valve, lift the tank lid to see if the water shutoff valve has been turned and is restricting the flow of water to the toilet tank. This water supply valve can also have mineral or debris build-up blocking the supply valve. It may need to be replaced if your other troubleshooting doesn't reveal a problem with water levels.

3. How to Fix a Clogged Toilets

Toilet clogs can result from filling the toilet bowl too much, putting a foreign object in the toilet, or toilet plumbing problems. For most clog problems, there is a simple fix. A toilet plunger will fix a clogged toilet about 90% of the time. The best plunger is one with an extension flange on the end. It makes the plunger more effective. A plunger works by moving the water surrounding the clog back and forth. This action loosens most clogs so you can flush.

It sometimes takes a dozen or more plunges to fix a clogged toilet. Be patient with the process.

If a toilet plunger can’t clear the clog, rent or buy a plumbing snake. This long wire coil works by feeding it into the toilet drain. It has a coiled hook at the end which can snag a toilet clog and loosen it easily to go down the sewer lines.

4. How to Stop a Toilet from Running

Toilet Running Intermittently

When your toilet runs for a very short period of time repeatedly when idle, you may have a slow leak from the tank into the toilet bowl. The most common source of a slow leak is a poorly fitting flapper, which can cause air bubbles as well.

A new toilet flapper is an inexpensive and easy fix. If that's not the cause, you may need to replace the flush valve or the fill valve. Fortunately, toilet rebuild kits are very affordable. They start at around $20. They have everything you need to fix any type of toilet mechanism problem.

Toilet Keeps Running After Flushing

A toilet that won’t stop running after a flush probably has a flapper valve that isn’t sealing properly. To fix this, remove the top of the toilet tank. Check to make sure nothing is keeping the valve from closing when you flush the toilet. Check the flush valve for any mineral buildup that might prevent it from sealing from the drain pipe.

5. Cracks in the Tank or Bowl

The most noticeable symptom of cracks is water leakage. If you’ve inspected all moving items of your toilet and they're working fine and the wax seal is intact, you may have water leakage from cracks in the porcelain.

Slow water leaks can damage your floors and lead to mold and mildew growth. To check for cracks in the toilet, put a small amount of food dye in your tank and bowl separately. You'll be able to determine if the water leak is coming from the tank or the toilet bowl.

6. How to Fix a Wobbly Toilet

A wobbling toilet might be caused by loose screws or bolts. This is an easy fix. If tightening bolts doesn’t solve the problem, you may have some water damage to the floor under the toilet bowl. If the wobbling is caused by a leak and not bolts, it's time for a new toilet.

7. Constant Clogging Problems

The most common cause of frequent toilet clogging is an old, low-flow toilet. Fortunately, newer toilets offer new low-flush options that work much better than older technology.

It could also be what you're flushing. Andrew Foster, plumbing manager at Roscoe Brown, explains:

“Most products labeled flushable are not good to send down the drain.”

He says you shouldn’t flush anything that isn’t toilet paper or human waste, as these break down quickly:

“Other products, such as wipes or cleaning pads, take much longer to achieve this goal, significantly raising the risk of clogging.”

8. Poor Flushing Power

If your toilet takes more than one flush to clear out the bowl, it may be time to replace the toilet. This could be a common toilet problem for older models.

9. Toilet Can’t Get Clean

If you have a consistent bowl build-up problem or an odor that won’t go away, it may be time for a toilet upgrade.

10. Toilet Needs Lots of Repairs

A household toilet should be fairly maintenance-free. If you are having to unclog your toilet or tighten bolts more than once a week, it might be time for an upgrade.

11. Old or Uncomfortable Toilet

Modern toilets offer lots of options. They are more environmentally friendly, with low-flush options or an efficient overflow pipe and fill valve. If you want upgraded toilet seats, buy one with an elongated toilet bowl for comfort.

Some newer toilets offer special coatings for the outside and seat. These coatings reduce waste buildup and control odors.

Replacing a leaky old toilet prone to clogging is an improvement for the comfort of your family. It can help keep your water bill low, and you don't need to hire a plumber. Repair parts are not typically expensive. It also helps the environment and your community. Max Rose, owner of Four Seasons Plumbing, says,

“Water is one of the easiest resources to waste without notice. Sometimes, it is the little things that can make a big difference for the planet.”

Toilet repair is an accessible DIY project with few steps for most homeowners. Foster explains,

“Simple mechanical knowledge is much of what it takes to repair these issues.”

So, you can feel confident that you can follow a few steps and fix that toilet without delay or hassle. Come back for reference when you begin toilet repairs.

About Monica Mayhak

I am an expert content writer with a depth of experience in the waste management and dumpster industry, with over 25 years of experience writing about construction, home improvement, property management, and education topics. As lead research writer for Discount Dumpster, I have expanded my knowledge and understanding of waste management, construction, and environmental issues over the past several years.

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