Advice on troubleshooting common toilet problems

November 18, 2014

Few things are more frustrating than when your bathroom’s most important fixture starts acting up. Try these tips before calling a plumber.

Advice on troubleshooting common toilet problems

Won’t flush

You pull the handle and the bowl fills with water but doesn’t evacuate. First, resist the urge to flush again unless you like overflowing sewage -- you’ve got a clog to deal with.

Briskly work a flanged, bell-shaped plunger with both up and down strokes. If that doesn’t work, your next step is to ream the outflow using an inexpensive tool called a closet auger, designed to thrust cable through the serpentine innards of the toilet housing. Still no luck? Then the clog is likely further down in the sewer. You’ll need to remove the toilet and work the line with a common plumber’s snake. If that’s beyond your pay grade, that’s when you'll need a professional.

Weak flush

There are several culprits. First, ensure that the chain between lever and flapper (the hinged rubber disc that lifts to release a flush) is sufficiently tight. If it seems saggy, shorten the chain by a link or two. Or perhaps the tank is not filling up to the marked fill line. Gently bend the float arm upward to allow more water. If there’s no fill line, see that it reaches about 2 cm below the cylindrical overflow tube. If it’s still sluggish, clean out the fill jets underneath the bowl rim using mild muriatic acid and a nail or bamboo skewer. If all this fails, you likely need a new fill valve, which is not hard to replace.

Ghost flush

It’s eerie when a toilet flushes all by itself. This indicates that water is leaking from the tank to the bowl because of a faulty flapper valve, a slow process that culminates in an unrequested flush. Test by putting food colouring in the tank. If it appears in the bowl, swap out your flapper valve with a new, identical replacement.


Toilet runs

Again, check for chain tangles and improper flapper seating. Inspect for calcium buildup underneath the flapper and, if it’s significant, remove it with an appropriate lime-busting cleanser. Often a running toilet is caused by overfilling, with the water trickling out in the overflow tube. In this case, the float needs to be lowered by adjusting the screw or bending the float arm. Failing that, try replacing the fill valve, a task that is neither expensive nor difficult.

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