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Toilet Repair: How To Fix A Leaking Or Running Toilet

Updated on April 5, 2016
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Dan has been a homeowner for some 40 years, and has nearly always done his own repair and improvement tasks. He is a licensed electrician.

Fixing and Repairing Running Toilets

Sooner or later every homeowner will find they have a leaky or running toilet that needs fixed. Rubber gaskets harden and no longer seal, plastic pieces finally crack and leak, floats develop a hole and fill with water; there are a myriad of reasons that a toilet might leak and run constantly.

This is not an emergency, but a running toilet does need fixed; water bills can escalate into the stratosphere or electric bills can rise if you are on a private well and pump your own water. Don't put it off longer than necessary.

Toilet repair is a simple task, and does not require plumbers with their high bills. Almost no tools are necessary and it should not take over ½ hour at the most. In almost all cases installation of a simple repair kit is all that is necessary.

Ancient public Roman toilets.  You probably won't be fixing one of these!
Ancient public Roman toilets. You probably won't be fixing one of these!

Finding The Right Toilet Repair Kit

The most common items that need replacement are the valve assembly and/or the flapper valve. In rare cases the plumbing where the flapper sits might be bad, but this is unusual.

Some repair kits are specific to the brand, model or size of the toilet tank, but most are generic and will fit nearly any toilet. If at all possible, find one that is a "fit anything" kit - they truly do fit very nearly every toilet out there and you don't have to worry about tank size or special fittings.

While you may need nothing but a flapper valve, it is probably wise to replace the valve assembly at the same time. Most toilet repair kits contain both the valve and flapper and carry a minimal cost - if you have to go into the toilet just go ahead and replace all you can with new parts. If your toilet is old enough to have worn out one piece, the rest are probably not far behind.

Repairing That Running Toilet

Parts from the new kit.  They don't match the old parts at all and it doesn't have a float ball, but it works fine.
Parts from the new kit. They don't match the old parts at all and it doesn't have a float ball, but it works fine.
Old water valve assembly.
Old water valve assembly.
Location of the water valve and hose to the toilet tank.  This hose is braided metal; a good idea as it is not likely to ever burst.
Location of the water valve and hose to the toilet tank. This hose is braided metal; a good idea as it is not likely to ever burst.
Inside the tank, showing the original water valve.
Inside the tank, showing the original water valve.
The old valve is removed, giving a good view of the flapper in the center of the tank.
The old valve is removed, giving a good view of the flapper in the center of the tank.
The new valve assembly installed, requiring only the water tubing to be added.
The new valve assembly installed, requiring only the water tubing to be added.
The water tube from the valve to the overflow tube has been installed.
The water tube from the valve to the overflow tube has been installed.

Installing the Toilet Repair Kit

Before buying a kit, check the inside of the toilet tank for obvious problems. If the toilet is running constantly it could something as simple as a foreign obstruction keeping the flapper valve from closing. The rod holding the float might have gotten bent. The chain between the flush lever and the flapper valve could be tangled, holding the flapper open. If none of these are found then it's time to replace some parts.

  • Under the toilet there will be a hose or pipe going from the water valve at the wall or floor up to the tank. Shut the valve off and flush the toilet. Place a bowl or pan under the hose fitting and unscrew the hose from the tank. There will be some water in the tank that still drains out; it could be sponged up while still in the tank to prevent almost any leakage. The hose fitting may need a pair of pliers to turn, but is not usually on extremely tight.
  • Remove the tank lid and pull the small tubing from the overflow pipe. This is just a small piece of tubing that goes from the valve arrangement into the open end of the overflow pipe near the center of the tank.
  • Unscrew the large nut on the bottom of the tank that holds the valve assembly in and remove the valve from inside the tank.
  • Following the instructions that came with your particular replacement valve, set the new valve into place and screw on a new nut under the tank. Pliers will facilitate the final bit of tightening, but don't over tighten this nut: they are usually just plastic or nylon and can be broken if tightened too much.
  • Fasten the water supply hose back onto the valve fitting where it protrudes under the toilet tank.
  • Remove the old flapper valve by either working it off of the supporting overflow tube or simply cutting it off (it will cut easily with scissors) and replace it with a new one. Some new flappers come with a chain attached, while others will use the old chain. Either way, the chain between the flush lever and the flapper needs to be loose enough it will not keep the flapper raised, but tight enough that pressing the flush handle will raise the flapper.
  • Adjust the water level in the tank per instructions in your kit. Kits with a float ball generally requiring bending the rod that connects the float ball to the valve, while kits without that ball generally require raising or lowering the top of the valve assembly. Your instructions will tell you just how to do that in either case. Generally, the water level should be just under the top of the overflow tube, but if you are uncertain every toilet tank in use will plainly show the water level with a "ring around the tank".
  • Replace the tank lid, and you're done!

Fixing a toilet is a very easy task that can be accomplished by any homeowner. Even if you have to buy a new pair of pliers, they can become the beginnings of your own homeowners tool kit and it will still be far cheaper than bringing a plumber in. This task is so cheap and easy, in fact, that it probably isn't worth bringing in a landlord; just go ahead and do it yourself. If you're still a little shaky about repairing your own running toilet, maybe it's time to learn to do your own repair jobs. Fixing a leaky toilet would be a great place to start.

© 2011 Dan Harmon

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    • pmarinov profile image

      Blogger at Best 3 years ago from Detroit MI

      I just did change my toilet repair kit and I must say it feels like a rock feel of my heart. That annoying running water noise was just killing me everyday. I did change the kit and I no longer have the ball in the toilet bowl but I am recently experiencing the chain getting stuck under the drain and makes the water still leaking, and I have to tap the paddle a little and it fixes the issue do you have any idea on how I can fix this issue? Thanks in advance

    • wilderness profile image
      Author

      Dan Harmon 3 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      Can you shorten the chain just a bit and still have it long enough to work? Just cut off a few links or leave the extra at the top where it fits onto the handle? That usually fixes that problem.

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