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Common Toilet Problems

If your toilet is leaking, running, slow-filling, noisy or if it won’t flush, try a DIY fix before you call a plumber. First learn how a toilet works, then you can troubleshoot and repair it.

Cross-section of toilet tank.

How a Toilet Works

To better understand how your toilet works, take the lid off of your tank and flush the toilet a few times. Here's what happens:

  1. When you push the handle, the chain lifts the flapper valve (also called the stopper or tank ball)
  2. Water in the tank flows through the flush valve opening into the toilet bowl.
  3. The water from the tank forces waste water in the toilet bowl through the trap and into the main drain.
  4. Once the tank is empty, the flapper valve closes and the fill valve/ballcock refills the tank.
  5. When the tank is full, the float ball shuts off the fill valve/ballcock.

Water on the Floor Around the Toilet

If you have water on the floor around your toilet, fix the problem right away so moisture does not damage your subfloor.

Start by checking all connections - the tank bolts, the fill valve/ballcock mounting nut and supply tube coupling nut. Is everything tight? If so, you may need to replace the washers.

If water is dripping from the side of the tank during warm humid weather, it may be condensation.  Water entering the tank is usually colder than the room's temperature. Use proper ventilation to help reduce condensation. Another solution is a toilet liner kit, a foam panel placed inside the tank.

Is the toilet tank cracked? If so, you need to buy a new tank.

Water around the base of a toilet could be caused by a wax ring that no longer seals or by a cracked toilet base. If the toilet leaks constantly, the toilet base is cracked and must be replaced. If leaking occurs during or after a flush, replace the wax ring.

Toilet Won't Flush

  • Check the flush handle, flush lever/lift arm, chain, flapper valve and the connections between each of the parts to make sure all are functioning.
  • The handle may be too loose or tight.
  • The lift arm may be bent or broken.
  • The connection between the lift arm and lift chain may be broken or out of adjustment, so it does not raise the flapper valve far enough.

Toilet Won't Flush All the Way

There are three main things to check for;

  1. Too much slack in the lift chain.  
  2. Low water level in the tank.  
  3. Make sure the flapper is installed properly and it's the correct model for your toilet.

Watch the Video

Slow-Filling Toilet

Make sure the water supply is open and the valve parts are clean and operating correctly. 

Watch the Video.

Leaky Toilet

A toilet that won't stop running wastes water and costs money. The problem is usually in the fill tank. Do some simple tests before resorting to installing a new toilet.

Watch the Video

Noisy Toilet

  • Make sure the water supply line is turned completely open. Some fill valves/ballcocks can be easily disassembled and cleaned (see valve instructions or valve manufacturer's website for details).
  • If possible, replace the fill valve diaphragm seal. Replacement seals are available for several fill valves/ballcocks.
  • Replace the fill valve/ballcock. It's easier than it may sound. Replacement fill valves/ballcocks are reasonably priced and can be installed simply by following the manufacturer's instructions.

Stuck or Loose Toilet Handle

  • Remove the tank cover and clean the mounting nut (located on the inside behind the handle) so the handle operates smoothly.
  • If there is a buildup of lime around the mounting nut, clean it with a brush dipped in vinegar.

Watch our DIY Basics video: How Do I Unclog My Toilet?