By: Tiffany Ferrara
Picture this; you are planning a little shindig at your place with some of your friends and you’re really starting to feel like a grown up. As you chop carrots for your veggie platter, donning the apron your mom gave you but you never wore until this day, you’re feeling pretty proud of yourself. Your house is clean, your hair is done all fancy, and you’re finally using those scented candles for their intended use as opposed to simply using them to cover up the fact that you haven’t cleaned the house in several weeks. Here’s to moving up the adult ladder!
Everything is going well, until, dun dun dun, toilet troubles! There is almost nothing that can domestically stress a person out more than the thought of a broken down toilet. This is especially true if it’s your only toilet! Now, while there are some problems that can be far too advanced for an untrained person to handle, there are several common toilet issues that may arise that you can, believe or not, fix yourself. Here are some examples of issues that can be tackled by you’re average homeowner without too much trouble, or the need for any specialized tools.
The Problem - Your toilet is clogged.
Possible Cause - Something that was too large for the toilet to handle has become stuck in it. It could be something human made, or it could be a foreign object such as toy truck (those of you with kids know how possible this can be). Either way, you have to get it out of there.
The Process -
Step one: The first thing you’re going to want to do if you’re in the midst of a clogged toilet is to make sure that it doesn’t overflow. If the toilet has already started to overflow, or if the water level is rising and doesn’t show signs of stopping, you’re going to want to close the flapper valve ASAP. In order to do this, open the lid to the toilet’s tank and locate the only piece of equipment in there that looks like it could ever be called a flapper valve. (It’s a rubber flap located at the bottom of the tank and it is attached to a chain that goes to the flush handle). Once you have located the flapper valve, push it down to prevent water from continuing to flow into the bowl. As a quick side note: don’t worry about the sanitary effects of reaching into the tank water. It is just tap water and has not come into contact with toilet contaminants.
Step two: Next, after letting the water level in the toilet drop a little bit, toss a couple of cups of very hot water into your bowl. This is going to help break up whatever is causing the clog. Keep in mind, this will only work for organic materials. So, if you know the cause to the backup is a toy or something else that cannot be softened up, you may need to call a plumber unless you can reach in and pull the object out yourself (gross, I know, but it will save you a pretty penny if this is doable).
Step three: Now it’s time to take the plunge! Grab your plunger and place it over the hole at the bottom of your toilet bowl. You want to make sure that you are creating a solid seal. Once you have completely covered the hole with your plunger, push down to create a vacuum and then pump it up and down. Keep in mind that you never want to break the seal that you have created over the hole with your plunger. After a few pumps, remove the plunger and check to see if you have dislodged the clog. Usually, you’ll be able to tell if it's working because you can see the water level rapidly drop. This indicates that the water can flow out of the bowl once again. If you are unsure that you’ve removed the blocked object, you can try a test flush. Just make sure that the water level in the bowl has gone down enough so that you do not risk an overflow. However, if this does happen, see step one. Repeat these steps until your toilet is flushing normally again. If after many attempts the toilet still won't run properly, it might unfortunately be time to call a plumber.
The Problem - Your toilet won’t flush.
Possible Cause- The flush handle is not pulling up the flapper valve or there is no water in the tank. For a toilet to flush, the top tank needs to be able to empty water through the hole in the bottom. This hole is covered by the flapper valve. If it cannot lift, the toilet cannot flush. If there is no water, the toilet also cannot flush.
The Process -
Step one: First, take the cover off the top tank. You should see multiple components and the tank should have water inside. If there is no water inside, locate the water supply line. The line should be on the outside of the toilet towards the back, going from the tank to the wall or floor. There should be a valve on this line. Locate the valve and turn it until it is all the way open. You should see water flowing into the tank. If not, then there is an issue with your water supply to the toilet. In this scenario, get water from another source and fill the top tank until it is a bit more than halfway full, but not to the top. Now, try to flush the toilet. If it flushes, you’ve identified your problem as a lack of water to the tank, and you may need to call your water supplier to get this permanently fixed (but you can use the temporary fix of refilling the tank in the meantime).
Step two: If the tank has water in it and still will not flush, then we need to check elsewhere. First, look at the back of the flush handle on the inside of the tank. There should be a rod sticking out that runs parallel to the wall of the tank. When the handle is pushed down from the outside, this rod lifts up on the inside. At the end of the rod, there should be a chain. This chain should be connected to a rubber flap at the bottom of the tank that is called the flapper valve. If there is no chain, or the chain is broken, then the flush handle cannot lift the flapper valve. This will make the toilet unable to flush. In this scenario, replace the chain (but in the meantime you just need to manually pull the flapper valve in order to flush the toilet).
Step three: Assuming the there is a chain, make sure that it is connected to both the flush handle, and the flapper valve. If it has come off either component, reattach it and flush the toilet. If the toilet flushes and the chain stays connected to both parts, then you are all set. If the chain is coming undone at either end, check to see if the chain is broken at any point. If so, replace the chain. If the chain is not broken, check the points where it would connect to the flush handle and the flapper valve. If either of them is broken and won’t hold on to the chain while under tension, then the broken part needs to be replaced.
Step four: Let’s say that the chain is fine and so are the connection points on the flush handle and the flapper valve. Yet, the toilet still won’t flush. While holding the flush handle down in flushing position (with the cover still off the tank so you can see inside), take a look at the flapper valve at the bottom of the tank. If the flapper valve doesn’t lift, check for slack in the chain. The chain length is made to be adjustable in order to accommodate different tank heights. If the length of chain between the flush handle and the flapper valve is too long when the flush handle is held down, then the toilet will not flush. To fix this, adjust the length of the chain so that when the flush handle is held down, the flapper valve is being lifted up, but also ensure that there is enough slack in the chain to allow the flapper valve to close when the handle is released and the toilet is finished flushing.
Here’s a bonus problem for you. This one is a bit more advanced, in the sense that it could have several possible causes. In most cases, this is something that you can likely fix on your own, however there can be several reasons why you would need to call a professional to take care of this problem.
The Problem - Your toilet won’t stop running.
Possible Causes - While there can be a number of variables that contribute to why this is happening, here are two of the most common. 1. The chain is too short. 2. The floater not reaching the correct position.
The Process -
If the the chain is too short:
Step one: Open the top tank and look at the flush lever. There should be a chain that goes from the lever to a rubber flap at the bottom of the tank. If the chain is too short, the flap will remain partially open, causing water to exit through the hole underneath. This causes the water level to stay too low in the tank, making it so that the floater that shuts off the water supply never gets high enough to engage.
Step two: To fix this, adjust the chain so that it is short enough to pull the flapper valve up when the toilet is flushed, but long enough to let it close when the toilet is idle.
Step three: Give the toilet a test flush.
Step four: If everything is back to normal, put the lid back on and go about your business.
If the flapper valve is closed all the way, but the toilet continues to run, this could be a problem with your floater. When the floater is low, the valve that turns off the water supply into the tank is open, allowing water to flow. As the water rises, so too does the floater. When everything is working correctly, the floater rises to the correct height, causing it to close the valve that it is linked to, thus shutting off the flow of water to the tank. If this is your issue, here is how you can correct it:
Step one: Take off the lid to the tank.
Step two: Locate the floater. The floater is exactly what it sounds like. It is a part that floats in the water of your tank. Connected to the floater should be some sort of rod that connects to a valve. When the water is low, so too is the floater.
Step three: You can test that this is working by flushing the toilet and then manually lifting the floater until the flow of water to the tank stops. If this is functioning correctly then you should have a tank that is not full, but with no water running into it. If the water doesn't stop, then you’ve identified the problem area as the fill valve. Unfortunately, a broken fill valve is an issue that should be handled by a plumber or more experienced handyman.
Step four: With the tank full, follow the rod that is connected to the floater to the end where it connects to a valve. On the valve you will find a screw, which may have come loose. Adjust the screw until you get the water to stop running. If this does not work, then that signifies a possible problem with the fill valve or its installation and unfortunately, this will be a job for a plumber.
Even though toilet issues can seem daunting, there are several common problems that you can fix on your own and save yourself a large bill from a plumber. Do keep in mind that if you do not feel comfortable performing any of these functions, it is always best to reach out to a professional so that you do not cause more of a problem. However, with a little know-how and some confidence, you can fix these common toilet problems on your own.