Quick Fixes for a Running Toilet

A toilet that won’t stop running may not be dangerous, but it can be annoying. It’s also a huge waste of water and money—a waste that’s sure to be reflected on your monthly water bill. The good news is, in most cases, a running toilet can be fixed without the help of a plumber. These quick fixes are easy enough for even non-handy homeowners to master.

The toilet flush process

Even as plumbing technology evolves, the basic mechanism of a toilet flush hasn’t changed much over the years. This relatively simple process involves a few key parts.

  1. When you push down on the toilet handle, a chain lifts the flapper up and away from the flush valve opening. This allows the water in the tank to flow into the bowl. When the tank empties, the flapper drops and closes the opening.
  2. As water empties out of the tank, the plastic float drops. The float is connected to a float valve. The float valve opens when the float is down, and closes when the float is up, indicating that the tank is full.
  3. If the water level in the tank gets too high, an overflow tube located in the center of the tank drains excess water into the bowl. The float valve also sends water through the overflow tube and into the bowl during the refill cycle.

The most common causes (and fixes) for a running toilet

Now that you know how a toilet flushes, you can apply that knowledge to fixing a running toilet. All it takes is a quick look in the tank to diagnose the most common causes of a running toilet and start working on a solution. The most common causes of a running toilet include:

  • Faulty flapper or flapper chain
  • High water level in tank
  • Broken fill valve

Faulty flapper or flapper chain

When a toilet continues to run after a flush, a flapper is usually to blame. The flapper drains water from the tank and into the bowl with each flush. Flappers are usually black or red, making them easy to spot, and consist of a hinged flap valve connected to a chain that hangs down from the flush handle level. Problems with the chain can result in a toilet that won’t stop running. Common problems with the chain include:

  • If the chain is too long, it can get stuck under the edge of the flapper, preventing it from closing.
  • If the chain is too short, or becomes tangled, the flapper won’t be able to close, causing the water to keep running.
  • If the chain is unhooked from the flapper, it won’t be able to form a seal.

If you notice any of the above, try adjusting or trimming the chain so it’s a proper length and see if the flapper can close.

If adjusting the chain doesn’t work, you may need to replace the flapper—fortunately, these can be found at any hardware store. However, with so many options, it may be difficult to find an exact match. Be sure and note the specific brand and model information of your current flapper before you buy a new one. Or, you can look for a flapper with a “universal” label that’s designed to work in the majority of toilets.

High water level in tank

When a flapper’s not the culprit of a running toilet, the next suspect is the water level. Ideally, the water level should be ½ inch to 1 inch below the overflow pipe. If the water level in the tank is too high, water will constantly drain into the overflow tube. When the water’s running, look into the overflow tube. This open tube is easy to spot—it’s located in the middle of the tank, connecting the tank and the toilet bowl. If water continuously drains into the tube, you’ll need to adjust the water level by lowering the float.

The float looks like a big plastic balloon. If the float is too high, the toilet will fill beyond the overflow tube, causing it to run continuously. The simple fix for this is to bend the arm that connects to the float until it’s low enough to signal the water to turn off sooner. You may have to flush your toilet and test a few float positions before you find the right one.

Alternately, if the float is too low, the toilet won’t have enough water to flush properly. This problem could be due to the float hitting the sides of the tank. In this case, the solution is to bend the float arm slightly, until the float is away from the tank walls.

Broken fill valve

The fill valve runs between the fill valve to the overflow tube. Its job is to send enough water through the overflow tube to refill the bowl between flushes. A broken fill valve can fail to shut off, leading to a non-stop refill cycle. A broken fill valve can also shut off inconsistently, causing refill cycles to happen when they shouldn’t. If you look in the tank and see that the fill valve is submerged completely, it’s likely broken. Replacing a fill valve is easy, and inexpensive. But, when in doubt, you can always contact a plumber to replace it for you. Start by removing the tank cover and then follow the steps below:

  1. Shut off the water by turning the shutoff valve clockwise
  2. Try and drain as much water out of the tank as possible by flushing the toilet
  3. Disconnect the supply hose from the fill valve
  4. Unscrew the lock nut that holds the fill valve in the tank
  5. Remove the old fill valve
  6. Put the new fill valve in the old one’s place, and secure it with the locking nut
  7. Re-attach the supply hose to the new fill valve and tighten it with pliers
  8. Turn the water back on, and let the tank refill

Have plumbing questions? We have answers

Whether it’s a running toilet, a nagging leak, or a sudden plumbing emergency, you can trust the experts at Chas Roberts to make things right. Contact us for all your plumbing needs.