Without fail, toilet troubles always happen at the worst possible time. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when things start overflowing...is there anything more upsetting than a shituation (if this isn’t already in Urban Dictionary, I’m coining it)? I blame the Fearsome Flush Ghostbusters toy I had as a child for any residual anxiety surrounding toilets going rogue. The good news is the toilet has a relatively simple design, and most repairs are not too daunting...unless it’s a fancy Japanese toilet, in which case, congrats, you’ve already achieved my greatest dreams in life. But if you’ve got a regular ol’ toilet of the people, this post is for you. Shit’s about to go down (literally)!
How a Toilet Works
The mechanics of the porcelain throne are not too complicated. There are two major parts; the bowl that connects to the floor and the tank. The bowl is just a solid piece of porcelain that doesn’t have any moving parts; there aren’t many repairs that involve the bowl, unless there’s a crack or it comes loose from the base, both of which are jobs for a professional plumber. That means that most things that can go wrong usually happen in the tank.
The toilet tank's job is to hold a supply of water until you flush, at which point the water in the tank rushes down through an opening in the bottom of the tank and into the bowl, forcing waste out of the bowl and into the home's drain and sewer lines. There are two major parts inside the tank that you should know about; the flush valve, and the fill valve (or ballcock, which is infinitely more fun to say). The fill valve is the mechanism that fills the tank with water. It is also known as a "ballcock" or a "refill valve." The fill valve is usually located to the left side of the tank as you look down from above with the tank lid removed. Unsure of how this all works? Just take the tank lid off and flush to see the miracle that is modern plumbing in action! The water inside the tank is clean...I know, there’s something that feels intrinsically wrong about sticking a hand anywhere in a toilet, but the water inside the tank is nothing to fear.
Houston, We Have a Cloglem (clog problem)...
Toilet clogs are apparent right after a flush. Quickly turn off the water supply valve — located at the base of the wall behind the toilet — to keep the bowl from overflowing.
A plunger can force out clogs in the toilet trap and other clogs that aren't too deep in the drain. A toilet plunger — which has a funnel or cone extending from the bottom of the cup to fit into the drain opening — will be more effective than a sink plunger.
If standing water isn't already present, add 2 to 3 inches with water from the sink, but be careful to keep it from overflowing. As you use the plunger, the water helps force the obstruction out of the way.
Cover the drain hole with the plunger cup and work the handle up and down repeatedly. After 15 to 30 seconds, see if the water drains from the bowl properly. Try again if the toilet is still blocked.
After you clear the clog, turn the supply valve back on. Flush the toilet to wash away any remnants of the obstruction.
When a Handle Gets Out of Hand-le...
No, the toilet is not “broken”, the handle mechanism has just become loose or disconnected from the rest of the tank. It usually requires one of two solutions:
Reconnect the lift chain that connects the lift arm from the flapper. This chain may rust, loosen or even fall off. A paperclip can be a handy tool to rig everything back together in an emergency.
Adjust the handle mounting nut inside the tank; it has reverse threads that require counterclockwise rotation to tighten.
Is Your Toilet Running? Better Go and Catch It…
When a toilet runs constantly (water is constantly flowing into the thank through the fill valve), it wastes water and costs money. The problem is usually in the fill tank. If the water level in the tank keeps dropping:
Check the flapper. If it's not sealing the flush valve opening, water from the tank will continually leak into the bowl and the toilet will run constantly to keep the tank filled. Replace the flapper as needed. Make sure you check the make and model of the toilet, these parts aren’t always universal.
If the flapper appears to be in good shape or if replacing it doesn't solve the problem, you may need to replace the entire flush valve assembly.