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Toilet Repair Instructions for 10 Common Problems

Ten Common Toilet Problems and the Solutions

Weak Flusher

You could have a first generation 1.6 gallon flush toilet that is destined to failure. Look inside the tank for a manufacture date stamped in the clay. If it was made during the time period from January 1, 1994 to mid-1997, this could be the problem. No matter what you do, it will not flush right.

If the toilet was made before 1994, hard water deposits in the syphon jet hole or the angled bowl rim swirl holes may be the source of your frustration. You can try to clean them out with wood sticks and oversized toothpicks, but a muriatic acid wash will really do the job. Mix one part acid to 10 parts water. Using a funnel, carefully pour one half of this solution down the overflow tube in the toilet tank. You should immediately hear fizzing and such. BE CAREFUL of the fumes! Run the bath fan, open a window. DO NOT splash this solution on you, in your eyes, on your clothes, on the carpet, etc. It will not hurt the toilet at all. If you have a septic system, do not do this! The only way you can clean your toilet is to disassemble it and do this process outdoors.

Let the acid work for about 30 minutes. Pour the remainder of the solution down the overflow tube. After an additional 30 minutes, flush the toilet. You should see an improvement.

Strong but Partial Flush

The flapper valve may be waterlogged and dropping too fast. Observe the flapper valve during a flush. It should stay up until about 80 percent or more of the water has drained from the tank. If it drops sooner, install a new flapper.

Phantom Flusher

This is really a phantom filler, as the toilet tank fills with water as if it was just flushed. It simply means that the tank is leaking water. The food coloring dye test will confirm this. Add food dye to the tank after all water has stopped running into the tank. After 5 or 10 minutes, look at the bowl water to see if it is colored. If it is, the flapper is not sealing completely. Time for a new one!

Bowl Water Level Drops

You flush the toilet and all is well. After a period of time, a significant amount of water has left the bowl. Two things may be wrong. Water could be slowly siphoned from the bowl by a partial clog of toilet paper up in the colon of the bowl. You can demonstrate this phenomenon by filling a small soup bowl with water and putting it in the center of a cooking jelly pan. Drape a strip of paper towel from the bottom of the bowl, over the bowl edge and into the jelly pan. Watch what gravity and capillary attraction does in several hours. The bowl will be nearly empty. To see if your toilet has a rag, toilet paper, or something else causing the drainage, empty the bowl of water and then use a flashlight and a mirror to look up inside the colon of the toilet.

In rare cases, the bowl may actually have a crack in the interior colon or piping of the bowl. This problem can only be solved by installing a new bowl.

Double Flusher

The water level in the tank may be set too high. Lower the level and look for improvement.

Whistling Tank Fill

You must have an old technology ball cock valve with a ball float on the end of a rod. As the ball floats higher it begins to slowly close the water fill valve. This can cause vibrations and all sorts of noise. Toilet tank fill valves that stay wide open until the tank is filled have been around for over 20 years. They are wonderful and they are inexpensive. I use the Fluidmaster valve. Get the best one, not the economy model.

Slow Tank Fill

This problem may be a partially closed shut off valve under the tank. A previous owner or a plumber may have restricted the flow of water into the tank for some reason.

Dripping and Tank Filling

After the tank has filled, you hear dripping. Then several minutes later, the tank partially fills with water and the dripping starts again. Then the tank fills and so on and so forth. This problem can be a syphon problem caused by someone who installed a new tank fill valve. There is a small flexible tube that runs from the bottom of the valve to the top of the toilet overflow tube. As the tank fills, water is also sent through this tube. It is used to refill the toilet bowl since it lost its water during the flush. If this tube drops down inside the overflow tube, it can, in some instances, syphon water from the tank. New toilet fill valves often have a clip that attaches to the top of the overflow tube and points the water flow down into the tube without actually having the tube enter the tube. Pretty slick? It works too! Use the clip!

Sluggish Flush

The toilet could have a partial clog or the actual clog could be downstream from the toilet. Fill a 5 gallon bucket of water and dump it into the toilet as fast as possible with minimum splashing. If the flush is more vigorous, then it is probably not a clog. If water backs up into the bowl and drains slowly, it is a clog.

Suction Sounds in the Tub and Sink

You flush the toilet and gurgling sounds come from your tub and/or bath sink. This means the toilet vent pipe is clogged or partially clogged. A tennis ball, dead bird or twigs thrown by a mischievous son might have dropped down into the rooftop vent pipe may be the problem. Drop a small flashlight that is SECURELY attached to a strong string or wire down the pipe. Look for a clog. Run garden hose water down the rooftop vent pipe to help clear the clog. Be sure you have spotters inside the house who are looking for leaks. You may have to call a professional to solve this problem.

Column B332

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33 Responses to Toilet Repair Instructions for 10 Common Problems

  1. how do i adjust the water level in the toilet bowl? The toilet is a Gerber flushometer toilet - no tank. The water level is too high - one gets wet when they sit down - This toilet was installed within the last year and a half and is a higher than standard height toilet.

    Thank you for taking the time to answer. This is for my elderly parents and I would love to help them.

  2. I have lived in this house since 1999. Initially there was no problem with the toilet, then a few years ago it stopped flushing properly. Most often the solid contents remained in the bowl and I would have to plunge in order to drain. One of my close neighbours (2 doors over) mentioned that he had the same problem; he also kept a plunger handy.
    Houses in my area were built with downspouts feeding into the storm sewer system. The city offered a free disconnect for anyone interested. When they checked my situation, they said they could disconnect the one in the rear but not the one at the side (there was no place to divert the water). After the disconnect, for several months I did not have a problem flushing. Now I do again. *sigh*
    I will try your suggestion as I have suspected that the holes are plugged.
    On another note, recent news says that so-called flushable wipes are plugging up the system. There was an article talking about a mass the size of a bus found in the sewage system in a city in Britain. the mass contained wipes and discarded (vegetable) oil, etc. I have long thought that people dumped their used fry oil down the toilet. I still have a container of used oil from the 1 time I tried a deep fryer. We have an accessible, free drop off spot for hazardous waste so I will take the oil with me when I bring in used batteries.
    Just looking for your comments or suggestions.

  3. Our toilet is 18 years old and the flapper starting sticking and then leaking. We bought a new one and it seems to be doing the same thing. Not seating properly. Any suggestions?

  4. When flushing the toilet the bowl fills to the top the water will slowly run all the way down and flush and there will be very little water in the bowl after the flush.

    What is the problem?

    Thank you.

  5. When I flush my toto toilet it takes somewhere around 15 minutes at least for the tank to refill to the point where you can flush the toilet again. You can barely hear the tank refilling at all.

  6. When I flush my toilet it takes between 2-5 seconds for the flush to prime. Once it flushes, it is a full flush and drains properly. The delay in flushing seems to be taking longer each time.

    • Did you break the seal between the tank and the bowl by pushing against it? Maybe one of those rubber seals is not tight. Is the water coming from the water line feeding the toilet. Do some detective work. Look for the highest point where you see water.

  7. I live in an apt building and there is a constant hum coming from my toilet area. I do not have a tank. It does not stop when I flush. Ihave seen the water level low a couple of times. But other times its normal. Also you have to hold the lever down for some time to get all the waste down. Or flush a second time.

  8. Hi there,

    Swell article but i m not sure it addresses my issue. Toilet flushes fine with liquid and most solid waste. Any toilet paper at all though and it stops flushing immediately and I have to plunge. Works fine again after one plunge. Tried a snake - no change really. Any ideas?

    • Look inside the tank for a manufacture date. Is it from the 1990's when they started the low-flush toilets? If it's a first generation low-flush, that could be the issue. Also, some CHEAPER toilets have a HARD 90-bend right where the colon exits the bowl at the toiled flange in the floor. This hard 90 causes all sorts of blockages. Remember it's all about getting water into the bowl FAST. You can also try this. Have paper and solid waste in the toilet and instead of flushing it, pour a 5-gallon bucket of water into the bowl as FAST as you can without splashing. If you get a great flush, then water is not getting from the tank into the bowl fast enough.

  9. My 1.6 gal toilet takes a little longer then normal for the tank to fully fill up then when the fill valve stops I see the water in the bowl start dropping. Is that a clog in the colon? Toilet flushes OK with solids. If its a clog how do I unclog it?

    • I doubt it's a clog. You can test for clogs by filling a five-gallon bucket with water and pour it into the bowl as fast as you can without creating a huge mess. If the toilet takes all the water without filling up the bowl, and you get a massive suction sound as the last water leaves the bowl, you're clog free.

      Plungers work great if you know how to use one. Most people don't.

  10. When the toilet is flushed, water slowly goes through the flapper. It takes over a minute for the water to exit the tank. It appears that there is somekind of blockage. Meanwhile, the bowl barely receives any flow. I have cleaned the jets out, and this hasn't helped. What may be the problem, and how do I fix this? Thanks.

    • Take the tank lid off. Flush the toilet by pulling up on the chain attached to the flapper valve. Get the flapper up vertically. What happens now? How good is the flush? If it's great, you need to take some slack out of the flapper valve chain.

  11. Toilet has worked fine for years (at least 10). I have replaced flapper and valve stem periodically. I clean the filter of small stones when needed. New problem: toilet flushes fine for a while, then flushes "deeply" with a pronounced "gurgle" at the end of a flush, whereupon bowl only partially fills with water. Tank seems to be working fine. Plunging 2 to 3 times seems to fix it, but only for a few flushes. Tried a cleanser product called "Zep Commercial Toilet Care TuneUp" unsuccessfully.

    • Sounds like an improperly adjusted flapper valve to me. You test this by taking the tank lid off and initiating MANUAL FLUSHES where you pull up the chain of the flapper valve and HOLD THE VALVE UP COMPLETELY until all water is out of the tank. If you get the robust flush you want, then this tells you the flapper is closing too fast or not opening up all the way soon enough.

      • Good thought. But I've since discovered the problem was something else. I had thoughtlessly placed the little hose to the overflow drain in the tank on the wrong side! So the water that was supposed to be going into the overflow tube and then to the toilet bowl was being diverted to the tank. The tank was filling very quickly due to the excess flow. Turning the little hose to the overflow tube solved the problem.

  12. My toilets keep clogging. It starts with my daughter's bathroom. Flushing becomes slow and then sewage will start coming from the base of the toilet in the master bathroom followed by the showers. Plumbers keep coming out, snaking the pipe, and then claiming that we are flushing too much toilet paper. The problem has been reoccurring every other day since November 17th. The first time the plumber came out, his snake auger caught fire, so they've been using a smaller one since. My daughters (2 and 5) are now afraid to use toilet paper and flush the toilet. I know we're not flushing too much paper, but the plumber and landlord won't figure out what the main problem is. The last time it flooded while the dishwasher was running. The time before that we had leaves and food come up. Can you help shine some light on our situation?

    • Leaves come out? There's your answer. The sewer line to the street is CLOGGED. This is not rocket science. Hire a drain cleaning company that can put a CAMERA down the building drain so you can see the entire drain line from the base of a stack all the way out to the sewer tap at the street.

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