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How To Make Simple Toilet Repairs

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld once said that the most helpless feeling in the world is flushing a toilet and watching the water go up instead of down. He's probably right. And though it might be funny to hear Jerry talk about it, a faulty toilet is no joke. Some toilet repairs may require professional help, but there are many simple repairs that even a novice do-it-yourselfer can easily handle.

toilet Parts of a Toilet
How A Toilet Works
The Toilet Handle Sticks or Is Loose
The Toilet Won't Flush At All
The Toilet Won't Flush Completely
The Toilet Is Clogged or Overflows
The Toilet Won't Stop Running
There's Water on the Floor Around the Toilet
I Hear Splashing Water in the Tank
My Toilet is Noisy

Parts of a Toilet

If you're going to make simple toilet repairs, you'll need to know the parts of the toilet.

toilet parts Here are words you need to know:

Ballcock— Water supply valve
Float ball— The ball that rides on the surface of the water in the tank. When the tank is full, the float ball shuts off the ballcock.
Flush valve— Connection that consists of the flapper and the flush valve seat.
Flush valve seat— Brass or plastic sealant ring located at the bottom of the tank.
Lift arm— Thin metal rod inside the tank that connects to the flush handle and raises the flapper valve.
Main drain— The slanting pipe in the basement or crawl space that carries wastes to a sewer or septic tank; also called building drain.
Main water valve— Located on the wall near the floor, this is a knob you twist to turn the water supply on and off.
Overflow pipe— Long, hollow tube, fastened to the bottom of the tank.
Flapper (also called stopper, tank-ball, seal or disk)— Rubbery plug attached to the lift chain.
Tank— Large, oblong ceramic container that's located behind the toilet bowl.
Trap— Where waste water goes as it leaves the toilet bowl.

How A Toilet Works

To better understand how your toilet works, take the lid off your tank and flush it a few times. Here's what you'll see.

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

The Toilet Handles Sticks or Is Loose

Remove the tank cover and clean the mounting nut (located on the inside behind the handle) so the handle will operate smoothly.

If there is a buildup of lime around the mounting nut, clean it with a brush dipped in vinegar.

Check the chain that connects the lift arm to the flapper valve. There should be about half an inch of slack in the chain. You can adjust the slack by hooking the chain in a different hole in the handle or by removing links with needlenose pliers. If the chain is broken, it must be replaced.

The Toilet Won't Flush At All

Check the handle, lift arm, chain, flapper valve and the connections between each one 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 doesn't raise the flapper valve far enough.

The Toilet Won't Flush Completely

You may need to remove excess slack in the lift chain.

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The Toilet Is Clogged or Overflows

You need a plunger.

Place the cup of the plunger over the drain opening and force the handle up and down rapidly. By doing so, you should produce enough suction to loosen the clog. When you believe you have removed the clog, slowly pour water into the bowl to flush debris.

If a plunger doesn't work, you'll need a closet auger or "snake" designed especially for this task. You'll need to insert the auger into the drain. When you hit the blockage, try to thread the auger through the clog. After snagging the source of the clog, continue to twist the auger as you pull it from the trap.

If the toilet overflows each time you use it, an object (such as a pen or a toy) may be lodged in the passageway that lets water pass. To remove a solid object, use the plumber's auger.

If more than one toilet or drain in your home is backing up, the line is likely blocked downstream from the point where the waste lines come together. Long augers are available for these situations, as are long metal tapes with pointed heads. (Both styles are commonly called "snakes.") These tapes are inserted into the drain line, pushed through the clog and then pulled/pushed back and forth to dislodge the clog. If your main drain line contains no clean-out access, these long snakes may need to be inserted directly through the toilet flange. This requires the temporary removal of the toilet.

The Toilet Won't Stop Running

Here are some things to try if your toilet won't stop running:

There's Water on the Floor Around the Toilet

If you have water on the floor around your toilet, you need to fix the problem right away so moisture doesn't damage your subfloor.

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

If moisture is dripping from the tank during humid weather, that's probably just condensation. You can fix this problem by installing a toilet liner kit—a foam panel placed inside the tank. To install a liner, you will need to cut off the water, drain and clean the inside of the tank. Cut the panels to fit your toilet and attach to the tank.

Is the toilet tank cracked? If so, you need to buy a new tank. In fact, unless your toilet is fairly new and direct replacement bowls are readily available, consider getting a whole new toilet. This will eliminate the potential problems associated with trying to find a tank that matches the old bowl.

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.

I Hear Splashing Water in the Tank

Adjust the refill line that runs into the overflow tube in the tank. You may need to replace the washers in the inlet valve.

My Toilet is Noisy

Replace the ballcock. It's easier than it may sound. Replacement ballcocks are reasonably priced and can be installed simply by following the manufacturer's instructions.

Source: Lowe's Home Safety Council founded by Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse. (Used with permission)

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