Home Repair Toilet - The Straight Flush

While many do-it-yourself handman may become squemish when faced with a toilet repair you need to keep in mind that at least half of your common toilet problems (and repairs) are done on the clean water side. Most toilet repairs are no worse than any other basic diy plumbing project.

First let's look at how a toilet works. When you press the lever to flush the toilet, a chain or wire link lifts a flapper releasing water into from the tank into the bowl in much the same manner as your sink drains when you lift the stopper. When the water runs out of the tank and into the bowl, the flapper once again closes the outlet. When the water falls below a certain level a fill valve controlled by a float opens and allows water to fill the tank until the float reaches a certain level shutting the valve again. For the diy handyman who likes to know how things work, remove the lid from the toilet tank and flush - you will see the whole system in operation.

Safety Tip: If you use any type of "automatic" chemical toilet cleaner you should exercise caution before reaching your hand into a tank full of water that may have bleach, dyes, or other additives in it. In these cases, you may want to turn off the supply and use something to reach down open the flapper to drain the water - a short length of clothes hanger works well for this.

Some of common problems you may experience are (please note that these problems and solutions are relative to standard toilet setups and do not apply to pump or "upflushing" systems where the drain lines are above the level of the toilet):

    Toilet does not flush - If you push the handle and nothing happens the most likely cause is that lever for the handle is no longer connected to the flapper. This can usually be corrected by removing the lid from the tank and re-connecting the wire/chain/lever from the handle to the flapper.

    Toilet does not stop running - If, after flushing, you hear the water continue to run in the tank and see signs that water is still draining into the bowl it is likely that the flapper is not closing the tank outlet completely. The common cause of this is something preventing the flapper from closing off the tank outlet. If the age old technique of "jiggling" the handle does not fix this take a look in the tank. If you see the chain/wire that lifts the flapper is hung up free it and the flapper should close allowing the tank to fill and the water to shut off. If the lever moves freely and there are no obstructions to the chain, check to see if anything is blocking the flapper from closing.

    Sound of water running/leaking periodically - This problem is very similar to the previous problem. If you hear the toilet fill valve open periodically for a short period of time then you probably have a flapper valve that is leaking. First check the existing flapper to see if there are any obstructions. If there are no obstructions, you will probably want to replace the flapper valve with a new one. This is another example of a very inexpensive repair with the necessary parts costing under 5 dollars (not a bad idea to keep a spare on hand). Replacement is as simple as turning off the toilet water supply, removing the old flapper (typically they just snap or slide onto a post - no tools required) and connecting the chain to the handle/lever.

    Toilet does not always flush well - If you have a problem where the toilet does not always flush completely your tank water level may be too low. To conserve water, the tank level is often adjusted by how the ballcock or fill valve float is set of by putting something in the tank to take up space. Less water in a flush is less "power" to clean the bowl. Your toilet tank should have a fill line for normal operation. Adjust your float so that the tank fills to this line. One other easy to check cause can be clogged bowl inlets. Check these inlets to make sure they are free of any obstructions. If neither of these fixes help, it may be time to check with the professional - Venting, sewer, and/or septic problems are usually jobs better left for those that have the tools and experience to address them.

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