We all tend to take toilets for granted. Although they’re among the most important items in our homes, we don’t really spend that much time thinking about them. Luckily, for the most part, they’re reliable and low-maintenance. Sure, we’ll have to use the plunger or flush twice now and again. These are minor problems.
But what do you do when you push the lever to flush, and nothing happens? It’s bad enough when it happens at home. It’s even worse when you’re a visitor in someone else’s home. Then you panic and push the lever several times, hoping for a miracle.
Maybe you remove the lid from the tank, but you’re not quite sure what you should be looking for. That’s what you’ll learn from reading this article.
Problems with the Lift Chain
Inside the toilet tank, the flushing mechanism is connected to the flushing handle by a chain called a lift chain. If your toilet isn’t flushing properly or not at all, it could be because of problems with this chain. It’s also connected to a disk at the bottom of the tank called a flapper. The lift chain pulls up the flapper whenever you press the flush lever, letting the water pour from the tank into the bowl.
It’s possible the chain is broken, too loose or it’s simply no longer attached to the flapper. The last option is the easiest to fix.
If the chain is no longer attached to the flapper, flushing won’t be possible. You can press the flush lever, but nothing happens. To fix it, you can open the lid of the tank and look inside. The flapper is right at the bottom. See if the chain is still connected to both sides. If not, you can simply reattach it.
If it’s broken, it will need to be replaced. We mentioned that it’s possible this happens to you while you’re at someone else’s home, which means you can’t replace the chain, and you need a quick fix. If that’s the case, lift the flapper manually to let the toilet flush and then put it back in its place so that the tank can fill again.
If you don’t put it back, the toilet will run continuously unless you shut off the water supply from the shut off valve. The shut off valve is usually located somewhere behind or next to the bottom of the tank. It’s connected to a line called the water supply run that goes from the wall into the tank. You’ll need to turn the shut off valve clockwise.
Some older toilets don’t have a shutoff valve, and that means you either have to cut off the main water supply or prop up the float lever that normally rises with the water level.
If you need to replace the chain at home, you’ll also have to shut off the water supply and empty the tank by flushing. You can use pliers to remove the defective chain from both sides. Then you have to unbend the last link on the new chain, hook it to the flapper and bend it back. The next step is to reattach the chain to the flush lever. Turn the water back on, wait for the tank to fill and then flush.
Note that if the chain is too loose, it will also have to be replaced. When you push the flush lever, it won’t lift the flapper properly, so not enough water can get from the tank to the bowl. A loose chain can also get caught under the flapper, causing your toilet to run continuously and waste a lot of water.
Lift chains are quite cheap. You can find them at any hardware store and, as you’ve seen, changing them is not difficult.
Problems with the Flush Lever
When you flush, you may be triggering the process through a button, chain or lever, depending on the model of toilet you have in your home.
This button, chain or lever is connected to the flapper at the bottom of the tank through a chain – as we explain in the previous section – but it also has a plastic or metal arm. It’s through this arm that it connects to the chain that connects to the flapper.
Any of these parts can get damaged, which will result in your toilet not flushing properly.
It may be that these parts are just stuck because of dirt or grime build-up. Then you only have to take them out, clean them and put them back. However, they might actually be broken and need to be replaced.
To find out, you will need to lift the lid of the tank and investigate. Taking them out and replacing them only takes a few minutes. The new parts will have instructions on the packaging.
The instructions can vary depending on the type of mechanism, but, generally speaking, you start by unhooking the chain from the plastic or metal arm we mentioned above. The arm will usually be connected to the lever with a screw that you have to loosen to remove it.
The next step is to remove the nut inside the tank that keeps the handle in place. You can then remove the old flush handle.
Insert the new flush lever and do these steps in reverse, according to the instructions on the packaging.
Problems with the Flapper
We already explained that when you trigger the flushing mechanism, a disk at the bottom of the tank called a flapper is lifted, which allows the water in the tank to pour into the bowl. The flapper can also get damaged with time.
This probably won’t cause the toilet to not flush at all, but a warped, bent or broken flapper won’t seal the main drain properly, resulting in a leak and weak flush.
To see if the problem is related to the flapper, you will have to shut off the water supply to the tank the way we described in the first section of this article and flush to remove the water in the tank. Then you can inspect the flapper. If it looks damaged, the only thing you can do is replace it.
But no worries! Flappers are very inexpensive, and you can buy them at any hardware store. They’re also very easy to change, so you can do it by yourself. There are instructions on the packaging, but if you’re not sure how it’s done, you can look for a video tutorial.
It’s really not a complicated process, but it differs depending on what kind of flushing mechanism you have.
Not Enough Water in the Toilet Tank
Another reason why your toilet isn’t flushing properly is that there isn’t enough water in the tank. The water level needs to be 1 inch (2,5 cm) below the top line of the overflow tube, or it won’t function correctly. There won’t be enough water and force to flush all the waste down the drain. It will swirl, and you’ll have to flush several times.
The first thing you want to do is remove the lid of the tank and look inside. Some parents discover that their kids put things like their toys inside the tank, which prevent the flapper from being lifted or take up volume so there won’t be enough water for a proper flush. If they’ve seen you lift the lid before, they may have learned how to do it, and kids love moving things around the house and leaving them in strange places. It’s one of the many ways they express their creativity.
If there’s no object in the tank that doesn’t belong there, you’ll want to check if the water supply valve is on. If it’s off, you can turn it back on, wait for the tank to fill and flush to see if everything is working as it should.
If it’s not that either, it might be that the flushing valve or other misaligned components in the tank are preventing proper flushes. You can twist the flushing valve to see if that solves the problem.
If that doesn’t work, check the float ball. If it’s not properly adjusted and it sinks too low in the tank, it will cause the mechanism to stop allowing water to get into the tank before it’s full, so you get weak flushes. You can raise the float ball by bending the handle it’s attached to upwards. If the tank has an intake assembly, you can raise its metal clip.
In some cases, the cause might be problems with water pressure or pipe leaks, and it’s best to call a plumber.
If your toilet isn’t flushing properly, not because there isn’t enough water coming from the tank, but because the water inside the bowl isn’t draining properly, it might mean that it’s clogged.
Toilets have their limits when it comes to the type and quantity of waste they can handle. If those limits are exceeded, they’ll get clogged. Maybe you use too much toilet paper, or you’re throwing the wrong type of waste in the toilet.
Once again, if you have small kids, they may have flushed something they shouldn’t down the toilet.
It’s also possible that someone else in your household flushed wet wipes or sanitary products.
The most common reason is too much toilet paper. If you use too much toilet paper, consider switching to a thinner product or flushing more often.
When the toilet is clogged, people sometimes try to flush it several times, which is not a good idea because it can overflow. If you see that the water doesn’t drain, don’t try to flush it anymore, so you don’t risk spreading wastewater with bacteria all around your bathroom. There are products specially designed for unclogging a toilet with waste in it, and the instructions will be written on the packaging.
You usually unclog a toilet with a plunger. We recommend the type with the extension flange at the end. They perform better. In the beginning, you don’t want to plunge too vigorously, so water doesn’t splash out of the bowl. The slow and gentle approach is safer. Once some of the water drains, you can use more force.
You’ll have to be patient because it can take up to 20 plunges for the toilet to unclog.
Partial clogs can also form in the pipes. The toilet will still drain but slowly and less effectively. For that, you can use a plunger as well, but a toilet auger does a better job.
A toilet auger works similarly to a drain snake – it has a cable and a handle you spin. However, it’s specifically designed for toilets. It has a rubber sleeve to protect the bowl from scratches.
You’ll need to insert the cable in the toilet bowl and crank the handle slowly – this is another process that requires patience. The cable will move through the drain, and if it reaches a clog, you will feel some resistance. You may have to reverse the direction of the cranking motion a few times to get the cable to reach its full extension. It can be a bit tricky, so you may want to watch a few video tutorials to get a sense of what to expect.
Once you feel that the clog is gone, you can rotate the crank back and then remove the auger from the toilet. Flush the toilet to see if it worked. You may have to repeat the process two or three times. Once you’re done, clean the auger and put it away. Note that you should always wear gloves when you’re unclogging a toilet.
This solution will not work if the clog is further away than the length of the auger’s cable. In that situation, you should call a plumber.
You might have more serious issues with the pipes, so it’s best to have them inspected by a professional. It may be a clog that’s a little further away, and they have the tools to remove it. However, it’s also possible that the drain line was not properly installed or it’s damaged and it’s leaking.
There are many reasons a toilet won’t flush. This isn’t a complete list. Sometimes the problem will be easy to fix, and you can learn to do it by yourself, but sometimes you might cause more damage, and it’s better to get help from an experienced professional.