Common Toilet Problems: Handle Them Wisely

Most toilets operate problem-free for years but some common toilet problems do arise from time to time. Most of them require simple inexpensive DIY fixes. Combining common sense with regular maintenance and inspection gives years of efficient toilet operation.

Most people never look inside a toilet tank until something goes wrong. Be a little proactive, take the lid off, and watch the mechanics in action when they are operating properly. Being familiar with what to expect helps diagnose and repair problems–if and when they happen.

Common toilet problem

6 Common Toilet Problems

Most common toilet problems start small and can be fixed easily and inexpensively–by the homeowner. When not attended to early, you might require the services of a plumber which is costly and time-consuming.

Clogged Toilet

Toilet clogs start small and can be easily cleared with a plunger. Or at worst, with a toilet snake. Causes of clogs include:

  • Using too much toilet paper. Use less or flush more often.
  • Flushing inappropriate items. Paper towels. Sanitary products. “Flushable” wipes, etc. (Don’t believe the advertising if you want to prevent clogs.) Grease and leftovers. Hair. Even tissues. Toilet paper is made to be used in toilets. Nothing else.
  • Low water flow. Usually caused by too little water in the tank. Check the tank water level and adjust the float to ensure a full tank of water.

Constantly Running Toilet

A constantly running toilet wastes water and money. It can usually be fixed by:

  • Replacing the flapper. Replacing the flapper costs about $4.00 and should take less than an hour.
  • Adjust the fill valve. Adjust the float to shut off the valve when the water level is just below the top of the overflow drain pipe.
  • Lift chain. May be too long and get stuck under the flapper–preventing it from closing.

Leaking Toilet

Leaks commonly occur at tank penetrations or where the toilet joins the sewer pipe. They are:

  • Gasket between tank and toilet. Can be damaged if the tank becomes loose.
  • Bolts holding tank to the toilet. Loose bolts cause the tank to wobble unseating the gaskets.
  • Fill valve connection to the water line. May start leaking if a new valve is installed incorrectly.
  • Wax seal under the toilet. May wear down over time. Should be replaced if the toilet is removed to install new flooring. They are cheap to buy and should not be reused.

To find the leak, empty the tank and dry it out. Turn the water back on and watch for leaks. Replace gaskets and seals as required. (Adding food coloring to the water makes it easier to find the source of the leak.)

Toilet Won’t Flush

A toilet that won’t flush might cause a little panic. No need. It is often one of the simplest repair jobs.

  • Lift chain problem. The lift chain may have come loose. It may also just be slack and won’t lift the flapper. Re-attaching the chain or adjusting the length is usually simple and easy.
  • Handle problem. The handle may have come loose or has broken. It can be replaced or tightened easily and cheaply.

As long as you can get the top off the tank and water flows into it, you can flush the toilet manually by lifting the flapper.

Weak Flush

A weak flush is almost as annoying as no flush. It does not generate enough power or weight to move everything out of the bowl. Weak flushes usually have one of three causes.

  • Too little water. Adjust the intake valve and/or float to ensure each flush uses a full tank of water.
  • Improper flapper operation. Make sure the flapper opens completely and stays open so the entire tank of water empties into the bowl quickly.
  • Plugged holes under the toilet rim. Water flows into the toilet through holes under the rim. If they are clogged by mineral deposits and/or dirt, they can be cleaned by using a mirror to see and a small wire brush to remove the obstructions. Keep them clean by adding vinegar or a commercial cleaner to the tank every month.

Toilet Seat Pinches

Most toilet seats don’t last forever. Cracked toilet seats are a real pain in the butt. They are easy and inexpensive to replace. Remove the two nuts holding the seat on the toilet and install a new seat. Almost all toilet seats fit existing bolt openings in the bowl.

Loose toilet seats can be repaired just by tightening the two bolts holding the seat in place.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when fixing common toilet problems.

  • Do not over-tighten steel nuts and bolts. You may crack the porcelain base, bowl, or tank. Bad cracks usually lead to having to replace the toilet.
  • Do not over-tighten plastic bolts or nuts. The threads are easy to strip–making the part useless.
  • Turn off the water and empty the bowl.
  • If possible, take the old part with you when buying a new one.
  • Read and follow the directions.
  • Caulking between the toilet and the floor does not stop a toilet leak.
  • If you doubt your abilities or can’t diagnose the problem, call a plumber. It may cost less.