Steps to Fixing a Toilet

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A toilet is an essential fixture in any home, but it is not uncommon to experience problems with it. Although toilets are generally reliable, they can still develop issues such as clogging, strange noises from the tank, or continuous water flow. Fortunately, most toilet problems can be resolved by a do-it-yourself plumber.

If you are someone who likes to tackle home improvement tasks yourself, you can learn some quick fixes that can save you from calling a plumber. In this article, we will explain some common issues related to repairing toilets.

Replacing a Toilet Seat

The easiest toilet repair task is replacing the lid and seat. With so many styles of replacement seats available, you can easily find one to match your bathroom’s color scheme or motif. Most modern toilets are manufactured in two standard sizes, and replacement seats are made to fit them.

To replace the old seat, you will need to remove the two nuts on the hinge and lift it out. However, the nuts securing the toilet seat may be rusted or corroded, making the job even more challenging. If the nuts are inaccessible, apply penetrating oil to help loosen them and use a wrench or a deep socket wrench to remove them. Be careful not to use too much force as it could damage the tank or bowl.


To install a new toilet seat, insert the two bolts, slip on the washers, and tighten the nuts. However, avoid over-tightening the nuts as it could make removing the seat harder later.

Sink, Tub and Drain Troubleshooting Guide

Here is a guide to help you troubleshoot problems with your sink, tub and drain.

Problem

Possible Cause

Solution

Water in tank runs constantly

Float ball or rod is misaligned.

Bend float rod carefully to move ball so it will not rub against side of tank.

Float ball contains water.

Empty or replace float ball.

Float ball not rising high enough.

Carefully bend float rod down, but only slightly.

Tank ball not sealing properly at bottom of tank.

Remove any corrosion from lip of valve seat. Replace tank ball if worn. Adjust lift wire and guide.

Ballcock valve does not shut off water.

Replace washers in ballcock assembly or, if necessary, replace entire assembly.

Toilet does not flush or flushes inadequately

Drain is clogged.

Remove blockage in drain.

Not enough water in tank.

Raise water in tank by bending float rod up slightly.

Tank ball falls back before enough water leaves tank.

Move guide up so tank ball can rise higher.

Leak where tank joins toilet bowl.

Tighten nuts on spud pipe; replace spud washers, if necessary.

Ports around bowl rim clogged.

Ream out residue from ports.

Tank whines while filling

Ballcock valve not operating properly.

Replace washers or install new ballcock assembly

Water supply is restricted.

Check shutoff to make sure it’s completely open. Check for scale or corrosion at entry into tank on valve.

Moisture around fixture

Condensation.

Install foam liner, tank cover, drip catcher or temperature valve.

Leak at flange wax seal.

Remove toilet and install new wax ring seal.

Leak at bowl-tank connection.

Tighten spud pipe nuts; replace worn spud washers, if necessary.

Leak at water inlet connection.

Tighten locknut and coupling nut; replace washers and gasket, if necessary.

Crack in bowl or tank.

Replace bowl, tank, or entire fixture.

If you have tried everything and still cannot remove the seat, you’ll have to cut off the bolts with a hacksaw. To protect the bowl’s finish, apply tape to the bowl at the spots the hacksaw blade is likely to rub against. Then insert the blade under the hinge, and saw through the bolts. Be extremely cautious in using the saw—a careless slip with a hacksaw can crack the fixture just as easily as a blow with a wrench.

With the nuts removed or the bolts cut, you can remove the old seat without further difficulty. Clean the area before installing the new seat. The new one can be installed by inserting the bolts and tightening the nuts. Be careful not to over-tighten the nuts, as you may want to replace this seat someday as well. If you live in a rented apartment and install a new seat that you paid for yourself, be sure to keep the old one. When you’re ready to leave, you can replace the new one with the original and take the new seat with you.

If the rubber bumpers on the bottom of your toilet lid and seat are damaged, you can purchase replacements at a hardware store. Some bumpers are screwed in, while others require nailing or gluing. When installing new bumpers, try to place them in holes that conceal the original ones.

Clearing a clogged toilet can usually be done with a plunger. Ensure there is enough water in the bowl to cover the suction cup, then use the plunger’s handle to work it up and down. If there isn’t enough water, bring in water from another source. If the plunger doesn’t work, try using a wire coat hanger or a closet or toilet auger. The auger has a long sleeve to guide the snake and auger hook into the trap.

If all else fails, the toilet may need to be removed from the floor to remove the blockage. Tank problems, such as strange noises or continuous water running, can be fixed easily and quickly.

Toilet tank problems are common and frustrating, and they can lead to wasted water and increased costs. However, most issues can be easily resolved. This article provides a cross-section view of a typical toilet tank and its components.

Understanding how the toilet works is key to identifying the source of toilet tank problems. Removing the lid from the tank allows for a straightforward inspection process.

When the toilet is flushed, a trip lever is raised inside the tank, lifting wires that raise the tank ball or rubber flap at the tank’s bottom. Once the flush valve opening is clear, water from the tank rushes past the raised tank ball and into the bowl, raising the water level above the trap. As the water exits the tank, the float ball drops, pulling down the float arm and raising the valve plunger to allow fresh water to refill the tank.

As the water level increases, the float ball rises until it is high enough to lower the valve plunger and shut off the incoming water. If the water does not shut off, an overflow tube carries excess water to the bowl to prevent tank overflow.

If water continuously flows into the bowl and down the drain, there are two steps to take. First, lift the float arm to see if the float ball rises high enough to lower the valve plunger. If not, the float ball may be rubbing against the tank’s side, requiring the float arm to be slightly bent to move the ball away. Second, if the ball does not touch the tank, remove and shake it to see if there is water inside that is preventing it from rising. If so, shake out the water or replace the ball with a new one. If there is no water, gently bend the float rod down to lower the level the float ball must reach to shut off the flow of fresh water.

To fix a toilet that continues to run after flushing, start by checking the flapper valve and adjusting the chain. If that doesn’t work, move on to checking the tank ball at the flush valve seat. If the ball is decayed or chemical residue is preventing it from seating properly, turn off the water and examine the ball for wear. If necessary, replace it or clean the debris. If excess water still flows through the toilet, check the guide or lift wire for proper alignment. If neither the float ball nor the tank ball is the problem, the issue may lie in the ballcock assembly. To fix an older-style ballcock assembly, start by turning off the water supply. Remove the valve plunger and replace any faulty washers or O-rings. If the assembly is sealed, replace it as a unit. When purchasing a new assembly, consider the benefits and drawbacks of plastic versus metal units and make sure the new assembly has a threaded shank the same size as the old one.

To replace a ballcock assembly in a toilet tank, start by locating the coupling or slip nut where the water inlet pipe enters the base of the tank. Loosen this nut and use an adjustable wrench to grip the retaining nut or locknut above it. Use another wrench to grip the base of the ballcock assembly shaft inside the tank. Unscrew the locknut under the tank to remove the old assembly and lift it out, saving the washers from all connections. Insert the new assembly into the hole in the tank and tighten the locknut on the outside sufficiently to make the inside washer fit watertight against the hole. Replace the coupling nut and water inlet pipe, reinstall the float arm, and set the refill tube into the overflow tube. Turn the water back on at the toilet shutoff valve and check for leaks. Newer types of ballcock assemblies eliminate the float arm and ball, using either a plastic cup or a diaphragm-powered valve. Follow similar steps to install these types of assemblies, starting by turning off the tank’s water supply shutoff valve and removing the old assembly.

Step 3: Place the new unit into the tank by inserting the threaded shank through the hole above the water supply pipe. Ensure that the gasket is correctly positioned in the hole. Begin tightening the retaining or mounting nut under the tank onto the threaded shank, but only hand-tighten it. Install the washers and hand-tighten the coupling nut under the tank, making sure not to over-tighten it.

Step 4: Attach one end of the refill tube to the tank’s overflow pipe and connect the other end to the stem of the replacement unit inside the tank.

Step 5: Turn on the water supply valve to fill the tank. Use the knob on the new valve unit to adjust the water level in the tank.

Solving Common Problems with Toilets

If your toilet doesn’t have enough water to flush the bowl clean, what can you do?

Step 1: Check the water level in the tank. If the water level is too low and doesn’t reach 1 ½ inches from the top of the overflow tube, adjust the float arm slightly upward to allow more water into the tank.

Step 2: If the water level is correct but there still isn’t enough water to clean the bowl, the problem may be due to the tank ball on the flush valve seat at the bottom of the tank. The ball may be dropping too soon because the guide is set too low. Raise the guide, ensuring it remains in line with the lift wire. If the guide and wire are misaligned, the tank ball will not drop straight into the valve seat opening, causing the toilet to run continuously.

Step 3: Check for other causes of inadequate flushing. The small ports on the underside of the toilet bowl’s rim can become clogged with residue from water chemicals, preventing enough tank water from flowing into the bowl. Use a small mirror to inspect the holes, and a wire coat hanger or an offset Phillips screwdriver to remove any clogged debris.

Another common problem with toilets is tank sweating and dripping onto the bathroom floor. There are jackets and drip pans designed for tanks to absorb moisture and prevent damage to the floor. A temperator valve is another solution to combat tank sweating. The valve regulates a mix of hot and cold water, reducing the difference in temperature between the tank and the surrounding air, which causes condensation. Consider installing a temperator valve if the water in the tank is usually below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.


To prevent toilet tank sweating, a temperator valve can be installed, requiring both hot and cold water connections. However, it may be inconvenient if a hot water source is not nearby and condensation can still occur. Loose connections or defective washers may also cause leaks, which can be fixed by replacing worn gaskets or washers and tightening nuts. If water is seeping from under the bowl, a defective wax ring seal may be the cause and the bowl needs to be removed and a new gasket installed. If the tank or bowl is cracked, the entire toilet must be replaced.

Replacing a Toilet

Removing and replacing a toilet should not be attempted without good reason, but can be done with the right tools. If the toilet cannot be unclogged or leaks around the base, it may need to be removed. Check local plumbing codes before attempting to replace it. To replace a toilet:

Step 1: Measure the rough-in distance from the wall to the center of the toilet floor drain using the hold-down bolts on either side or the rear bolt.

Step 2: Select a replacement toilet unit that fits the rough-in distance. A smaller fixture can be installed, but a larger one cannot fit in a smaller space.

Step 3: Shut off the water supply and remove all the water from the tank and bowl. Remove the tank if it is connected to the wall.

Step 4: Remove the bolts securing the bowl to the floor and lift it off. Install the new toilet by following the manufacturer’s instructions.

Step 5: If necessary, remove the caps covering the hold-down bolts located at the base of the toilet bowl. These caps are often made of ceramic to match the bowl and can be removed either by prying them off with a putty knife if they are held on by plumbers’ join compound or by unscrewing them if they are threaded. After removing the caps, remember to brush off any dried compound before proceeding.

Step 6: Remove the hold-down nuts or bolts. This step can be challenging, but applying some penetrating oil should help to make the removal process easier. If you plan to reinstall the bowl, make sure to keep the washers and bolts. Once the hold-down nuts or bolts are removed, there won’t be anything else holding the bowl to the floor. However, make sure to plug the opening to prevent sewer gas from backing up the drain during your work. You can tie an old towel with a cord to create a plug that won’t fall through the opening and jam it into the drain.

Step 7: Once you have prepared your work surface by placing an old piece of carpeting and having a bucket and sponge handy, gently rock the bowl back and forth to loosen it. Then, lift the bowl straight up, taking care not to crack it. The bowl weighs about 60 to 70 pounds, so be careful. Set the bowl on the piece of carpeting.

Step 8: Inspect the uncovered drain, and clear it if necessary. Once the pipe is clear, you can proceed with replacing the toilet.

Step 9: Whether you are installing a new toilet or reinstalling the old one, start by scraping off all the old putty or other sealing material from both the bottom of the bowl and the floor flange using a putty knife.

Step 10: Install a new sealer ring on the water outlet opening located at the bottom of the new bowl. If the floor flange is recessed, use a gasket with a plastic sleeve in the ring, making sure that the sleeve faces toward you as you position it since it will go into the soil pipe.

Step 11: Apply a uniform layer of the toilet-bowl setting compound that is about 2 1/8 inch thick around the edge of the bowl at the base. You can find this compound at hardware stores and plumbing-supply stores.

Finally, inspect the floor where the toilet was and rebuild it if it has rotted. If the flange or bolts are damaged, replace them before proceeding with the installation.

To install a toilet, first remove the plug from the drain or soil pipe. Place the bowl over the flange and guide the bolts into place. Press down firmly and twist the bowl slightly to ensure the wax ring is properly seated against the flange. Use a level to make sure the bowl is level and adjust as needed without disturbing the seal. Hand-tighten the nuts to hold the bowl to the floor and coat them with toilet bowl setting compound before reinstalling the caps. If the tank and bowl are separate, attach the tank and replace any damaged parts. Connect the water supply inlet pipe to the tank, ensure the ballcock assembly is properly attached, and turn the water back on. For more information, check out related articles on HowStuffWorks including How Toilets Work, How Tankless Toilets Work, and How Dual Flush Toilets Work.

FAQ

1. What are the most common toilet problems?

The most common toilet problems are a clogged toilet, a running toilet, a leaking toilet, and a weak flush. A clogged toilet is usually caused by flushing too much toilet paper or non-flushable items. A running toilet is caused by a faulty flapper valve or a leaky fill valve. A leaking toilet is caused by a damaged wax ring or a cracked tank. A weak flush is caused by a clogged trapway or a malfunctioning flapper valve.

2. How do I fix a clogged toilet?

To fix a clogged toilet, you can try using a plunger to create pressure and push the blockage through the drain. If the plunger doesn’t work, you can use a toilet auger to break up the blockage and clear the drain. It’s also important to avoid flushing non-flushable items and to use only the recommended amount of toilet paper.

3. How do I fix a running toilet?

To fix a running toilet, you can first try adjusting the flapper valve to ensure it is properly sealing the tank. If this doesn’t work, you may need to replace the flapper valve or the fill valve. It’s important to turn off the water supply to the toilet before making any repairs.

4. How do I fix a leaking toilet?

To fix a leaking toilet, you may need to replace the wax ring between the toilet and the flange or tighten the bolts that secure the toilet to the floor. If the tank is leaking, you may need to replace the tank or the gaskets between the tank and bowl.

5. How do I fix a weak flush?

To fix a weak flush, you can first try cleaning the rim holes and the siphon jets to remove any buildup that may be obstructing the flow of water. If this doesn’t work, you may need to remove the toilet and inspect the trapway for any blockages.

6. How do I prevent toilet problems?

To prevent toilet problems, it’s important to avoid flushing non-flushable items and to use only the recommended amount of toilet paper. Regularly cleaning the toilet bowl and tank can also prevent buildup and blockages. It’s also a good idea to have a professional plumber inspect your toilet and plumbing system annually.

7. When should I call a professional plumber?

You should call a professional plumber if you are unable to fix the problem yourself, if you are experiencing frequent toilet problems, or if you suspect a more serious plumbing issue. A professional plumber can properly diagnose and repair any issues, as well as provide preventative maintenance to keep your toilet and plumbing system in good condition.

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