Toilet Repair, Adjustment and Troubleshooting Q&A
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I need some help and couldn't find the answer in your site. Our
does not have enough water in it! Yup, a daily mess because it doesn't
flush completely most of the time. Please help us!!
If you have a typical residential
toilet, there is a flexible rubber or plastic tube that is attached to
the inlet valve. It runs to a long, vertical tube in the center of the
toilet called the overflow tube. That's it… right over the flapper.
When you flush the toilet, this tube redirects some water into a
vertical pipe to which the rubber flapper is attached. This additional
water is what controls the level of the water in the bowl. If this
tube is not supplying water... either because of a defect in the tube
such as a kink, defect in the inlet valve itself, or if it has been
disconnected or moved... the bowl will have too low a water level for
an efficient and thorough flush.
If the tube is kinked, try to unkink it or replace it. These tubes
occasionally become very stiff and even brittle when the homeowner has
used bleach-containing toilet cleaning products in the tank. If you
find that there is no water flowing through the tube, even though it
is not kinked or blocked, your intake valve probably needs to be
If you have an unusual low flow toilet or some of the older odd
brands, this won't be of much help BUT the concept is the same…
water must somehow get into the bowl as the tank fills so that there
is enough water for a proper flush. Many plumbing supply stores are
happy to help you troubleshoot unusual toilets as long as you can
supply some basic information. Aside from the brand name, useful
information is often times stamped onto the inside of the toilet tank
You might also want to check the water level in the tank. Is the level of
water up to the "water line" mark? If you can't see a mark, use the
overflow tube as a guide. The water level should be about an inch below
the top of the overflow tube. If not, adjust the inlet valve to raise the
To conserve water, people often install "displacement" devices in the tank...
water dams, water bags, etc.... for water conservation. The strength of
the flush is affected by these, so if your flush is still balks, remove them.
Do you know of a way to repair a broken toilet base? When
reseating the toilet I broke the flat portion of the base around the
bolthole. Will a heavy duty epoxy work?
GJ from Hurst,TX
I can usually come up with a repair or at least offer some hope,
but in your case I'm hesitant. Toilets are made from clay, baked
and glazed to a smooth finish. Though they appear to be very tough, an
abused toilet will break just like a ceramic plate! Sometimes a
"temporary" emergency repair can be made to a cracked bowl
or tank (neither of which I recommend). The break you describe is at a
high-stress area of the toilet. There is no adhesive that exists today
that I would trust to make this repair. Should it re-break when the
toilet is being used, severe leakage around the wax seal under the
toilet could occur with dire consequences!
The break probably occurred because you overtightened the mounting
nut, causing the ceramic to crack. Another possibility is that the
base already had a slight stress crack that finally gave way during
reinstallation. Old toilets are particularly prone to this sort of
breakage. Also, if the floor is uneven, the toilet might
rock and appear to be loose even though you've completely tightened
Breakage during installation is the most common toilet installation
problem and even happens occasionally to pros. Why? Because the
mounting nut never really feels tight, making it too easy to
accidentally overtighten it! For future reference, the tightness of
toilet mounting nuts is judged by the stability of the toilet, not the
apparent tightness of the nut! If the toilet easily turns or
"wiggles" under pressure (either by hand or by actually
sitting on it), then it requires a little more tightening.
There is one exception. If the floor is slightly uneven (which
should be obvious by looking under the base of the toilet) breakage is
even more likely since the entire base may not be tightly against the
floor! Careful tightening followed by caulking around the toilet base
will give sufficient support and stability. Remember, tighten the nuts
firmly… just not too aggressively!
IF YOU ARE DETERMINED TO TRY AN ADHESIVE... my choice would be polyurethane
glue. This form of glue is very strong and sticks to almost anything! If anything will work in this circumstance, polyurethane glue is it!
Polyurethane glue expands as it dries, so you don't need to slather it on...
a thin coat on one side is plenty. The surfaces should be slightly damp. Because of the expansion, it is important to clamp the broken part in place. This might be tricky but without clamping the expanding glue will move the part
and create a bad joint! Once dry, the excess glue can be scraped or sanded
After replacing all parts in my toilet tank, I continue to have a
minor leak into the bowl. I've installed five new and different style
flappers and two new flush valves without success. The water fill
valve is new and seems to work fine. Moving the flappers around to
possibly find a better seal has not worked. The leak is only a small
drop of water. I would appreciate any suggestions you could give me on
DM from Lantana, Florida
So what you are telling me is you have replaced every part in the
toilet multiple times and you still have a leak? Seems
impossible, right? Well, it is. What you may have is an
"apparent" leak that isn't a leak at all!
Instead of the toilet draining completely after a flush, an accumulation of
slime, grit, remnants of in-the-tank cleaning tablets, etc., has partially
blocked one or more of the holes underneath the rim of the bowl. These
holes cause the swirling action typical of vintage toilets (modern low-flow
toilets have a different flush style).
A slight blockage in these holes will cause an accumulation of water within
the rim of the toilet. Not a lot... it could be as little as 1/4 cup. But, drop by drop, 1/4 cup of water can drip for quite a while.
Rather than try replacing more parts, check the toilet first thing in the
morning after it has sat undisturbed for many hours. Hopefully, you will
find that there is not really a leak... just a "slowdown"!
I am a maintenance man for a property management company. One thing you missed
in your section on repair of slow flushing toilets is the little holes under the
toilet bowl rim. If these get plugged with calcite or "crud", you can
clear the blockage by using a compass point, paper clip, or other solid, pointed
object. Simply insert it into the holes, one by one, to open them up. Be aware
that they are at a slight slant, but if you get them open, this simple fix may
cure slow flushing problems.
Thanks for your input. Yes, you're absolutely right! Blockage in the angled
inlet holes around the underside of the toilet rim will indeed cause poor
flushing. And for two reasons... 1) the speed at which the water enters the tank
is reduced, decreasing the siphoning effect that pulls the doodoo down, and 2)
there is a decrease in the swirling of the water, which gets everything floating
and churning for a more thorough flush.
Your repair recommendation is also on the mark. Poking and prodding the holes
will free up the crud and accumulated mineral deposits. I have one especially
sad experience with this type of blockage. A woman had her toilet tank lined (by
some other guy, I might add) with do-it-yourself Styrofoam panels. Apparently,
she was also a big believer in the large chlorine-based tablets reputed to keep
your bowl looking clean (but, of course, those of us in the business know what
chlorine can do to rubber and plastics). The chlorine, however, had another
agenda... it broke down the Styrofoam and little, ball bearing sized pieces
filled up the inner rim of the toilet. Prognosis... dead toilet!
We appreciate the comments of people like you to keep us on track and to be
as thorough as we can.
Our 3 year old hillside home has the lower floor built on a slab. The toilet
in the lower part of the home does not flush very nicely. Even if there is no
waste in the bowl, it seems to flush "up" (complete with a large air bubble) and
then out. This toilet backs up constantly and has overflowed at least 10 times
since we have lived here. Seems like only a very minimum amount of waste can be
flushed. Do we need a new toilet or extensive pipe repair??
JT from Madison, Alabama
The first step would be the most conservative. Turn off the water to the
toilet, drain the bowl and tank, and unbolt it from the floor. Turn it over and
look for obstructions either within the bends of the toilet itself or
immediately under it in the drain. Sometimes objects can lodge within these
areas, and removing them can solve what appeared to have been a major plumbing
blockage. These types of blockages can be deceptive, allowing water to pass by
without a whimper, but causing a clog as soon as any paper or other stuff is
flushed by them!
If the toilet itself is perfectly clear , you will need to have the pipes
snaked out. My advise, if your budget can stand it, its to et a pro handle this
one. They are experienced in doing both a thorough and as neat a job as
possible. The added benefit to you is that they may also notice other problems
that you as an amateur might miss. I have been doing this sort of thing for over
20 years, and I would never auger a main drain pipe myself... one has to know
I had one client who had a toilet backup and asked me to take a look. When I
realized that the blockage was between the toilet and the city sewer, I referred
her to a great local plumber. When the plumber began to investigate the blockage
though one of the main cleanouts, he noticed that the pipe connecting the house
to the sewer was partially disconnected just outside the foundation. A
do-it-yourselfer would have most likely missed this (though, admittedly, many
plumbers may have, too). Eventually, the leaking sewage waste would have made
its way into the basement and caused a major calamity. Not that the total repair
was inexpensive… my client had to have the front of the house excavated to
expose and correct the problem. And then re-landscaped to boot! But at least the
ramifications of this sewage leak were limited to the outside.
I notice that my second floor guest bathroom toilet bowl will
become empty after sitting unused. I also have a water spot on the
ceiling directly below the bathroom. There is no evidence of water
on the floor in the bathroom, though. Can the water in the bowl
water leak around the seal under the toilet without showing on the
EN from Loveland, OH
Leakage around the toilet flange seal, or "wax ring",
and the water draining from your bowl have no obvious connection
to each other. The water in the bowl cannot escape any more easily
than water in a coffee mug (unless you're a klutz and knock it
over). This leads me to believe your toilet bowl may have a small
crack in it.
Since you have evidence of a leak via the water spot on the
ceiling below, I would take action immediately. This would consist
of draining the toilet of all water, disconnecting it from the
supply line, unbolting it from the floor flange and turning it
over for a "look-see". It should be fairly obvious if
the toilet has a crack because water leaks generally leave
telltale signs such as discoloration or mineral deposits.
The wax ring can also develop a leak but that would not account
for the water disappearing from the bowl. The only water that
passes by the wax ring is the water leaving during a flush. The
water that remains in the bowl is there precisely because it is
below the level of the toilet's built-in trap. Of course, you
could have both problems. Removing the toilet will allow you to
You could also have a leak in the drain pipe, but I would err
on the conservative side and leave that issue out of the repair
equation... for now. Once you are sure that toilet is not broken
(or you get a replacement) AND a new wax ring is properly
installed, you should then be concerned if the water stain on the
ceiling becomes larger. Before repainting the ceiling, give it at
least a few weeks to thoroughly dry out.
If the leak still exists, the next step would require cutting
open the ceiling beneath the toilet... not a conservative effort
to say the least but in some cases necessary!
Can a toilet leak with no obvious evidence? The answer is an
unqualified yes! Fact is, most slow toilet leaks are NOT
detectable because they develop slowly. This has to do with the
design of a toilet drain. The drain flange, the top part of the
toilet drain to which the toilet is attached, comes through a hole
in the floor. Most small leaks will not appear around the base of
the toilet but instead either travel down the drain pipe OR creep
under the flooring material since the flange is at the same level
or slightly beneath the level of the finished floor. This is true
regardless of the flooring material... tile, vinyl sheet, vinyl
tile or one of the newer plastic laminate floorings.
This stealth-type of leak is the most damaging because it can
go undetected for many months or even years until the ceiling
below becomes stained and moldy or, worst case, the plywood
subfloor under the toilet begins to weaken, rot or warp. Vinyl
flooring can cause the worst subfloor rot because it is nonporous;
the trapped water cannot easily evaporate. Tile is a close second
since it is also nonporous. Unfortunately, a wobbly toilet is
often the first symptom of serious deterioration in the floor.
About 5 years ago, a client needed a toilet removed for a vinyl
flooring installation. When I lifted the toilet, the floor
underneath was soaking wet, the dampness extended for a few feet
on every side of the toilet under the old vinyl flooring. The wood
was thoroughly soaked and quite rotten in spots.
As if that wasn't bad enough, within minutes the room was
flooded with carpenter ants! They had detected the soft, rotten
subfloor and made a substantial nest... right between the layers
of plywood! All in all, a four-foot square section of floor had to
be replaced before the new flooring could be installed. The
customer afterwards commented that they had an ant problem for
years, but spraying never seemed to help... now we know why! Who
would have thought that the ants were nesting under a second floor
I have a flapper that seems to have formed a vacuum seal. I
have to put all my weight on the handle to get it to flush or lift
the tank lid and pull the chain manually. Do you know the cause
and a fast, inexpensive way to correct? I now have a metal flush
arm in the tank because I kept breaking the plastic ones and got
tired of replacing them.
VF from Katy, TX
Though rare, I have seen this problem on a couple of
occasions... usually after the customer has replaced the flapper
with a new one. In my experience, toilets can be unbelievably
finicky when it comes to the flappers they will consort with! So
changing the style of the flapper may help. If your current
flapper is made totally from flexible rubber, try replacing it
with a Fluidmaster plastic-framed flapper. Or visa-versa. Even
changing to another brand of the same general style can make a
Also, try cleaning the flapper seat with alcohol. I often do
this myself when replacing an old, deteriorating flapper. You will
have to turn off the water and drain the toilet tank first, of
course. Sometimes the rubbery residue from a deteriorated previous
flapper can be slightly tacky. As an added benefit you will get an
I found your website through Yahoo while trying to find out how to stop my
toilet from wobbling. It rocks front to back. I took it out to change the
flooring and it is still unsteady. I have taken it apart and replaced it twice
now! The top of the flange is ©" in. above the floor. I measured the
clearance inside the bottom of the bowl and it seems that it should reach the
floor but it doesn't. The front is about 1/4 in. too high (a wood shim at it's
thickest part goes under easily).
A high flange is unusual... usually the rim of the flange rests on the floor.
There are a number of possible reasons why the flange would have moved, but my
speculating wouldn't be helpful to you right now.
One suggestion would be to hire a plumber to lower the flange. This would
require either opening up the floor OR the ceiling below... not a cheap job!
Another option for a do-it-yourselfer would be to build up the floor under the
In the case of minor wobbles, I have suggested using a mildew-proof latex
bathroom caulk to basically "glue" the toilet in place. However, if
the toilet is actually off the floor a little, you should probably add a
custom-sized spacer under the bowl.
This is easier than it sounds. First mark the profile of the toilet on the
floor. Then remove the toilet and place it on a piece of plywood of the proper
thickness... in your case 1/2" thick would probably do the job. Trace the
shape of the toilet onto the plywood. Cut the plywood to match the profile.
Then, cut a hole in the center of the plywood for the flange, using the line
you drew on the floor as a guide OR use measurements from the bottom of the
toilet... your choice! The hole doesn't have to be absolutely precise... it just
has to allow the plywood to sit flat on the floor around the flange, matching
the line you drew around the toilet bowl.
Once you have completed the cuts, place the plywood on the floor over the
flange and reinstall the toilet. If you prefer (I would), waterproof the plywood
with a sealer such as Thompson's Waterseal. Wait a few days before installing
the sealed wood. Then after a week or so, you could put some caulk around the
exposed plywood edge to further protect it from moisture when you wash the
floor. Now it's your turn!
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Written by Jerry Alonzy
Jerry Alonzy, a.k.a. the Natural Handyman, has been an active handyman for over 30 years with experience in most areas of home repair and renovation.
As a do-it-yourself author and web developer since 1995, he has been featured in USA Today, the Today Show and on radio shows, magazines, newspapers and websites. His material appears widely on the web, but primarily on his website... The Natural Handyman. You can also find him on Google+ and Facebook.