A running toilet is loud and obnoxious, making it a nuisance to live with. However, if left unattended, a running toilet can also lead to numerous other issues that require more serious repairs. A constantly running toilet can also sharply increase your water bill, hitting you in the pocketbook as well. Fortunately, a leaky toilet is a fairly simple fix that you can do yourself at home if you have a few handy skills and the right tools. Let our Bartlett plumbers explain how!
Diagnosing the Problem
The first step to fixing a running toilet is to figure out why it’s running. There are four common reasons why your toilet may start running unnecessarily: the flapper, the fill tube, the float, and the fill valve. You can find all of these items inside the tank above your toilet.
The flapper is a small rubber plug with a thin metal chain or string that’s connected to the lever on your handle. When you flush the toilet, the flapper lifts, allowing water to flow from the tank down to the bowl, washing everything in it away using nothing more than gravity to create water pressure. Over time, the flapper will grow old, wear out, and start to crack, slowly allowing water to leak down into the bowl below. When the water level gets low enough, the float will sink, triggering the tank to start re-filling itself, creating the running sound you hear.
The fill tube is a small piece of pipe that goes from the fill valve (the main assembly in your tank) to the overflow pipe (a small piece of pipe which drains excess water down to the bowl if your tank fills up too high). The fill tube is what’s used to re-fill the bowl in your toilet after flushing, so it plays a fairly important role. If the fill tube is underwater in your tank, however, your toilet will run.
The float, otherwise known as the ball float, is a hollow, lightweight plastic ball that floats on top of the water in your tank. It is connected to the main assembly via the float rod, and controls the water level in your tank by turning on or shutting off the fill valve. If the ball is set too high, it will never actually be able to shut off the fill valve, and your toilet will run endlessly.
The fill valve is the main mechanism in your tank that feeds cold, fresh water from your home into the toilet bowl and tank. Over time, these parts grow old and start leaking or developing other issues, which means you may need to replace it.
Fixing the Issue
Check for issues in the order the objects are listed above, starting with the flapper, as it is the most common source of toilet running issues. It’s also one of the easiest to fix.
To fix the flapper, start by shutting off the water valve to your toilet and then flushing it to drain your tank. Then simply disconnect the flapper unit from both the bottom of your tank (it’s probably held on by a small plastic hook) and the flush lever. Inspect it—is it old and cracked or failing to seal off the drain at the bottom of your tank? If so, bring the flapper to your local hardware store and purchase an identical replacement (which should only cost a few dollars), then install the new one by connecting the chain to the flush lever rod and securing it to the hooks. Turn the water back on and let it fill up again. If you don’t hear any leaks or running sounds, congratulations, you’re done!
Fixing the fill tube is extremely easy: if it’s under water, your toilet most likely isn’t filling up very high and it occasionally runs without use. Simply move the fill tube back into the drain pipe and cut it back a little bit if necessary to make sure it doesn’t wind up under water. This should resolve the problem and have your toilet working again.
This is also an extremely easy repair. The height of the water level in your tank pushes the float upward, eventually forcing it to shut off the fill valve. If the fill valve never shuts off, then water probably flows continuously down into the bowl from the drain pipe. To stop this, simply bend the float rod so that the float is angled downward slightly. This will cause the float to shut off the valve at a lower level. If your tank doesn’t get enough water or your flushes aren’t doing enough, consider bending the float upward slightly in order to allow the tank to fill to a higher level.
If none of these issues solves your problem, you may have a leak in your fill valve, resulting in water slowly leaking into the tank and a continual dripping, running noise. It’ll probably need to be replaced. To do this, shut off the water valve and flush the toilet to drain the tank and bowl. Then, using a crescent wrench, disconnect the valve from the main water line on the bottom of the outside of your tank by removing the lock nut. Take the valve to your local hardware store and purchase an identical replacement, then install the new one exactly how the old one came out, replacing the lock nut on the bottom to re-secure the main water line. Turning on the water should refill your toilet and the running should stop.