Common Toilet Troubles and How to Address Them

Updated on April 10, 2019
Ashley Doyle profile image

Ashley represents an independent and locally owned professional plumbing team.

The modern toilet is sometimes considered one of the essential parts of healthy living, but the system itself, thankfully, is not that complex. When a toilet stumbles, for whatever reason, there are generally steps homeowners can take to quickly remedy the situation. Below are just a few examples of common problems and how to troubleshoot them.

How a Toilet Works

In order to troubleshoot the toilet, it is important to understand how it works. Fortunately, the process is fairly simple and most of the components are easily accessible.

If all is well, when the lid of the tank is removed, water will be present. This is what fills the bowl when the handle is pressed. The chain or lift arm that is attached to the handle lifts the flush valve and the water from the tank moves towards the bowl. The water moving down the valve activates the siphon, which sucks the used water down the drain so the new water can now fill the bowl through the rim opening.

In the meantime, the float, usually taking the form of either a rubber ball or a weight, falls with the water level in the tank and turns on the refill valve. This begins to fill the tank with water once more for the next use. As the water level rises again, so does the float, which shuts off the refill valve at a certain point. This mechanism comes with a fail-safe built in as an overflow tube to prevent flooding in case the valve does not shut off as intended.

As long as all of these pieces work as intended, the toilet should be as it was before and ready for its next use. However, if there are any snags in the process, the solutions are generally easy to address.

The Common Clogging Toilet

Clogs, usually indicated by an overflow, are one of the most common problems with toilets. There are many potential causes for a clog—from foreign objects to an overuse of toilet paper—but the solution for it is generally straightforward. This is why a plunger is standard in almost all bathrooms. If unfamiliar with its use, or if having trouble, check the video here for the proper technique and tips.

On rare occasions, however, this may not correct the problem. If the obstruction does not release, you may consider utilizing either an enzyme waste removal product or a homemade drain cleaner. Enzyme waste removers are generally found in either hardware departments or with cleaning products and provide specific directions for use. For the home remedy, pour one cup baking soda and two cups vinegar into the toilet, followed by a half gallon of hot water. Let the mixture sit overnight and, by the morning, the water should have drained.

For fully clogged toilets, a chemical drain cleaner may be required, though it is generally less advised. A plumbing snake can also be used to remove the clog. Various types of snakes can be purchased or rented, though local plumbers should have the tool and the expertise readily available to complete the task if needed.

Phantom Flushes

When a toilet periodically starts to spontaneously refill on its own, it is a waste of water and a drain on finances. Often referred to as "phantom flushes" by plumbers, the culprit is is generally a bad or dirty flapper or flapper seat. Check to make sure there are no damages to the piece and replace it if needed. If it appears in tact, clean both it and the seat as well to ensure it closes completely. Additionally, for flappers attached with a chain, make sure that it is not so loose that it catches under the flapper.

If this does not appear to correct the problem, check the tank bolts and water connection for leaks. Observe the tank gasket for cracks as well. If any of these have occurred, reach out to a plumbing professional for assistance.

Toilets That Do Not Flush

If the handle does not initiate the process, remove the lid and check the tank. First, ensure that there is water in the tank. If there is no water, check the water supply valve. This is usually located behind the toilet and on the wall. Turning this on will fill the tank with water and, once complete, should allow the system to flush correctly. Ensure that the float has not caught on anything as well so the refill valve can turn on.

Any persisting problems with a full tank may be the result of a broken or loose attachment to the flapper on the flush valve. Check the integrity of the plastic arm or chain attached to the flapper and the handle. If needed, most of these can be easily replaced with universal parts available at any hardware store. If the problem persists with these corrections, reach out to a local plumbing expert.

Water on the Floor From a Leaky Toilet

If water is found on the floor around the toilet, clean up the water before searching for the source. Not only will this prevent any further damage but it may help in finding the cause of the leak. From there, check all connections, including the tank bolts.

In an instance where water dripping from the side of the tank in warm or humid weather, it may be condensation. This is caused because the water entering is colder than the room temperature. Proper ventilation can correct this. A toilet tank liner kit, a foam panel placed inside the tank, is another option as well. If the tank itself is leaking, however, it will need to be replaced.

If the problem persists, it may be a cracked toilet base or a wax ring that no longer seals. A broken base is indicated by a constant leak while a problem with the wax ring occurs during flushing. Both of these will require replacement and both will require removing the toilet itself, so it may be best to reach out to a plumbing professional depending on confidence level.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


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    • profile image 

      3 years ago

      A eye of round bone fell accidentally into my toilet and is stuck right at opening of toilet. How can I get it out


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