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  • Writer's pictureMike Roberts

How to Fix Four Common Toilet Problems

Toilets are used repeatedly each day, so problems inevitably develop. Here are four common toilet problems you can fix yourself for minimal money and hassle.

Anatomy of a toilet

Here’s how a toilet works. The water supply line comes out of the wall near the floor level. (You’ll see it on the left side when facing the toilet.) The line feeds into the toilet tank from the underside. A fill tube sprays the water into a standpipe to fill the tank. A float valve turns off the water when full.

When you push the flush handle, a flapper valve at the bottom rises and the water drains out the bottom of the tank into the bowl. Then water is resupplied into the standpipe to fill the tank and stops when the float valve reaches the top.

Here’s what can go wrong.

The stopped-up toilet

When waste clogs the drain of the bowl, a backup occurs. It’s time to use a plunger.

There are two kinds of plungers. The plunger for toilet use has the familiar bell-shaped rubber exterior, but within the bell, it narrows to a smaller opening. Plungers without this narrowing are for sink and shower drains.

To clear a clogged toilet, first, place a toilet plunger over the drain at the bottom of the bowl and position it for a good seal around the drain. Next, push the plunger slowly to form the seal, then pump vigorously several times. You should feel the water being forced down the drain. When you remove the plunger, the water in the bowl should drain properly. If not, plunge again. If it’s still clogged after several attempts, call a plumber.

The running toilet

Sometimes the water filling the tank never completely stops, or it stops, restarts, and stops again and again.

Two possible problems can cause a toilet to run. Limescale debris could have built up inside the fill valve, or the flapper covering the drain at the bottom of the tank is not getting a good seal. In either case, the water continues to flow when it should stop.

Start by seeing whether the flapper at the drain is fully sealed. If not, water leaks into the bowl below, preventing the tank from filling properly. Replace the flapper with a new one. It just snaps on and off, so replacement is a breeze. There are two sizes, so be sure to buy the right one.

If the flapper is working properly, then the fill valve isn’t shutting off when the tank is full. The top of the valve comes off by pressing and turning. Open it, pour in vinegar, pick out any debris you spot, and return the cap. Wait 15 minutes, then flush.

The weak-flushing toilet

You flush, and the water doesn’t flow into the bowl with enough force to flush waste totally down the drain. The flush looks and sounds weak.

Inside the bowl, small holes line the underside of the rim. Over the years, limescale can clog those holes, choking back the volume of the water that flushes the bowl.

To resolve this problem, turn off the water at the wall. Flush and let the tank drain. Remove the fill hose from where it is clipped into the standpipe. Pour a cup of vinegar and two cups of water into the standpipe. This mixture will flow down into the rim and dissolve the limescale inside the rim and the drain holes.

Return the fill hose to the standpipe. Wait one hour. Then turn the water back on, let the tank fill and then flush. The flow should be restored to normal.

Water leaks

Leaks can come from several sources.

  • Leaks usually happen at the water supply line that runs from the wall up to the bottom of the tank. Turn the water off at the wall valve. With your fingers, touch from the top of the line where it goes into the tank down to the wall. If you feel the water at the bottom of the tank down along the line, the water is leaking from the tank connection. It may just need tightening. If that doesn’t stop it, the gasket may need replacing.

  • When the water supply line is dry, but the baseboard and floor under the valve at the wall are wet, the wall valve is the problem. The compression nut may need tightening. If that doesn’t fix the problem, you may need a plumber to replace the supply valve at the wall.

  • To deal with water on the floor around the base, touch the back of the toilet where the tank sits atop the bowl. If it is wet, the seal from the tank to the bowl needs replacing. This is the seal that the flapper sits on at the bottom of the tank. Otherwise, the water is probably coming from beneath the toilet. The wax ring seal under the toilet is leaking, or the toilet may be cracked. Repair means removing the whole toilet. Promptly deal with this problem because the wooden floor deck under the toilet can rot. Removing the toilet and replacing it or the wax seal is a big job, but you can learn how to do it by watching YouTube videos. If you don’t feel comfortable handling this job, call a professional.

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