How to fix simple toilet problems

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If your toilet goes wrong, it needn’t cost a small fortune to fix. Before you call in the plumber, there are some quick fixes you can do yourself, with certain types of toilet, that can save you paying those call-out fees.

There are many different types and shapes of toilets and flush mechanisms. We’ve limited ourselves to simple fixes that you can attempt in this article, and these fixes apply in different types of toilet.


How to fix simple toilet problems

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If your toilet goes wrong, it needn’t cost a small fortune to fix. Before you call in the plumber, there are some quick fixes you can do yourself, with certain types of toilet, that can save you paying those call-out fees.

There are many different types and shapes of toilets and flush mechanisms. We’ve limited ourselves to simple fixes that you can attempt in this article, and these fixes apply in different types of toilet.


Toilet that won’t flush. If your toilet won't flush, it could be a number of issues. Here's the simplest thing to look at:


Check the flapper valve: The rubbery flapper valve is the valve right at the bottom of the tank in more modern toilets, which lifts open to let the water through into the toilet bowl in more modern toilets. Pull it up and if water flows out you’ll know the problem is with the connection from the handle to this flapper valve. It’s quite likely that the connection between the lift arm and lift chain is broken and needs to be adjusted or replaced. If the valve won't budge, then you need to call in a plumber.


Loose flush handle. A loose toilet handle is usually down to one of two things. Either the handle has worked its way loose from the flush lever inside or the lever itself is broken. Try tightening the lever first. Look inside the cistern for the nut corresponding to the flush lever and try tightening this. Bear in mind that this is a reverse thread nut so turn it anti-clockwise. Not working? OK, it could be that the lever arm has broken. Have a look inside the cistern to see. If you need to replace the lever arm you can buy new handles and arms from most DIY outlets. To replace, flush the toilet and remove the support nut attached to the lever. Unclip the chain connecting the float ball to the rubber stopper and slide the lever and arm out of the hole in the porcelain. Now feed the new arm and lever through the hole into the tank. Tighten the support nut and reattach the clip to the float ball.


A blocked toilet. If your toilet water is very slow going down the pan or it doesn't empty at all, you will have a blockage in the toilet or U-bend. You can fix this with a trusty plunger. If that doesn’t shift the blockage a toilet auger will do the job: just feed the wire into the pan and wind the handle when the wire meets the blockage. Chemical unblockers can be useful for dissolving too much toilet paper or less serious blockages but do read the instructions and always wear gloves and remember to flush several times to remove the chemical.


A toilet overflow that keeps running. The most likely problem is that the ballcock float is damaged or not set at the right height. First inspect the float for any holes and unscrew it to see if it’s holding water. If it is it will need replacing, happily they cost pence not pounds. If the ball valve float seems in good order the valve itself or ball cock could need adjusting. Some ballcock valves have screws to adjust the water level so try adjusting this. Alternatively, bend the arm on the ballcock valve a little until the water stops rising over the level of the overflow.


Leaking soil pipes. A leaking soil pipe inside your property is not good news. You’ll usually notice bad smells or a pool of water appearing behind the toilet. Because of the unpleasant nature of the contents of a soil pipe, you are better off calling in a professional plumber. If you decide to investigate further you need to take safety precautions with protective gloves, glasses and clothing. The leak could be due to cracked cement in older toilets or a loose connector. There is a chance you can make a temporary fix for this problem: to stem a leak while you’re waiting for a plumber to arrive, you can use a generous amount of what is called Plumbers Mait. Knead the putty until it is soft then press it into the gap between the toilet and the soil pipe, around where you think the leak is. In some, smaller, leaks, this can solve the problem entirely!


A wobbly toilet. If the toilet isn’t securely fixed it will cause movement in the connecting pipes which could lead to leaks. If it’s the floorboards beneath that are unstable we’d suggest replacing the boards, or at least trying to screw them down securely to the joists underneath. For a temporary fix simply insert rubber or plastic shims between the toilet and floorboard, to stop the wobble. In many older toilets, you can see the screws holding the toilet into the floor, and it could be they have just come loose. In this case, you just need to give them a good tighten, or replace them with newer screws... you can buy nice screws with caps to give a lovely finish, for just such a job.


A broken seat. Life’s too short to repair a broken toilet seat so nip down to your local DIY store and buy a replacement. Toilet seats come in round, elongated and D-shape so make sure you buy the right shape for your bowl. Replacing a toilet seat is not difficult but if the bolts have rusted you’ll need to lubricate with WD-40 or penetrating oil, before trying to loosen them.


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