Toilet problems are often summed up by comments like "it runs all the time," "it only runs in the middle of the night," "it takes forever to refill my toilet," or "lately I have to flush it at least twice!" In the past it was quite simple to "tune the toilet" and in most instances, it still is! The basic parts have not changed that much over the years. The descriptions provided on the following pages should help to guide you through the basics.
For information on toilet parts see toilet maintenance page.
"It runs all the time"
Even a silent toilet leak (that’s one you normally can’t hear) will waste from 30 to 500 gallons of water per day! The ones you can hear will waste much, much more. Such wastage can normally be attributed to a faulty water level adjustment or to a leaky flapper.
For information on how to adjust the water level see toilet maintenance page.
Most people will say their toilet does not leak. There is one sure way to find out. Put some food dye in the tank and then leave for 15 minutes. When you return, look into your bowl to see if there is now dye color in the water spot. If there is color, or if you already can hear and or see water running in your bowl, it’s time for a new flapper!
The best bet is to remove your old flapper and take it with you to the hardware store. Removing the old flapper is easy but can be messy if it is partially disintegrated. A pair of cheap latex gloves and a small container to hold the old flapper will make your job less of a hardship.
When removing your old flapper, you will first need to turn the water off at the shut-off/supply valve. Next, disconnect the chain or tail from the trip lever arm and then slip the ears of the flapper off of the trunion ears. You will need to select a new flapper that, as near as possible, matches your old one. If your flapper is one of the hard-to-find ones, you may even need to contact the manufacturer of your toilet for a recommendation, so if you only have one toilet, it’s a good idea to keep the old flapper handy until you’ve found a suitable replacement.
While the flapper is out, take your finger and move it over the seating surface of the Douglas flush valve. If the surface is rough, get some 400 grit wet or dry sandpaper and lightly go over the entire surface. Repeat the process until the surface is smooth. For toilets with a flat seal type of flapper, simply slip it off the piston or other holding device and replace it with a new one.
After installing the new flapper, run the dye test again to assure you have no leak. If the leak persists (and every now and then it will), you are probably going to have to replace the entire flush valve. To do this, you will need to turn your water off and disconnect the supply line. Then loosen the bolts that hold the tank to the bowl, remove the tank to bowl seal and remove the flange nut on the bottom side of the tank which holds the flush valve in place. Next purchase a replacement valve assembly from your hardware store, but be sure that the new assembly has an overflow tube at least as tall as the old one. If the new one is taller, then note the correct height from the old one, mark that height on the new one and, using a hack saw, cut it to the proper length. Using new seals, reassemble in the reverse order as used in removing the old valve.
Many toilets really do run only at night; that’s because people use much less water during those hours and in many municipal water systems, the water pressure rises considerably during this time. It is not uncommon for system water pressure to rise by 15 to 20 pounds per square inch (psi), and by as much as 30 psi in some situations. This rise in pressure could cause “water creep” inside your gravity-fed tank by one-half of an inch or more. That is why the manufacturers of toilets normally suggest that the water level to be set at approximately one inch below the top of the overflow tube.
Water level in the tank
Fill valve (ballcock) leaking
The replacement of the fill valve is relatively simple. Turn the water off at the shut-off/supply valve, re-move the supply line from the ballcock, remove the fill valve flange nut on the underside of the tank, disconnect the refill tube and pull out the old valve. This is another situation that requires taking the old valve to the hardware store to find out which valve will be the best replacement choice. Replacement units are available that are great improvements over the outdated models. Install your new model following the manufacturer’s instructions. Remember that a new fill valve is a small investment to pay for the water you will save and for a sound night’s sleep!
Douglas valve replacement
Next, you will need to get a new Douglas valve assembly from your hardware store. Be sure the new assembly has an over-flow tube at least as tall as the old one. If the new one is taller, note the correct height from the old one, mark that height on the new one and using a hacksaw, cut to the proper length. Using new seals, reassemble in the reverse order as used in removing the old valve.
If it is taking a long time for the water in your toilet tank to refill, chances are your supply line or the fill valve is partially blocked. First turn the water off at the shut-off/supply valve. Disconnect the supply line and check it for blockage. If blocked, clean it out or replace it. If the problem is not the line, then it may be the fill valve mechanism.
Some mechanisms have strainers in their inlets and if you are that fortunate, your job is probably simple: remove and clean the strainer. If there is no strainer, then remove the fill valve from the toilet, disassemble and clean it.
If after all this you still have a slow filling problem, then replace your fill valve. See procedure for replacing the fill valve (earlier in this document).
If, in the past, your toilet has only required double-flushing in rare circumstances, and now you have to double (or triple) flush it quite often, you may be experiencing one of two problems. The first is a low water level inside the tank and the second is a partially clogged waste line.
Low water level inside the tank
Clogged waste line
Shut off the water at the shut-off/supply valve. Flush the toilet to remove as much water as possible. Remove the flex line from the fill valve. Remove the caps covering the "T" bolts that secure your toilet to the closet ring. Remove the nuts and washers from the "T" bolts and then remove the toilet from the closet ring. If you are doing this by yourself, you may want to separate the tank from the bowl, as the whole assembly is quite heavy.
Clean the wax off the outlet on the underside of the base of your toilet. Look into the toilet outlet (ugh!) to see if you can observe any blockage that your toilet bowl snake might have missed. If all looks clear in the bowl outlet, it is now time to "snake out" your waste line.
Snaking out your waste line is hard, dirty work. You will now be looking down at your closet ring (the bomb-sight!), the round flange at floor level with the four-inch hole in its center. It will have two "T" bolts, threaded-end up and a bunch more wax all around it. Play it safe and remove the "T" bolts before they drop down the waste line. In fact, chuck them out along with the nuts and washers you removed to free the toilet from the flange. Now use a putty knife and some paper towels to remove all of the remaining old wax.
Now you are ready for the fun part. This is where the towels (or even a sheet of plastic) are handy. Run your snake down the waste line until you clear the obstruction. If your snake is not long enough or, the obstruction won’t clear, it’s probably time (no, its definitely time) to call out the professionals! Once you, or they, have finished the dirty work, its time to reinstall your toilet.
As the first part of your resetting project, make a trip to your hardware store and buy the best wax ring and solid brass billy bolt set that you can find. The best will only cost slightly more and the trouble you will save yourself is well worth it.
First install the new "T" bolts in the slots on the closet ring and be careful to position them across from each and parallel to your back wall. Next place the oval shaped brass washer with the round hole in the center over the "T" bolts and positioning slots in the flange. Now use the brass "jam" nuts or thin spring steel fastener to secure the "T" bolts and oval washers in place. Take extra care to center the new wax ring over the closet ring flange opening or alternatively, over the outlet on the underside of the bowl.
Next, install the bowl (or the whole toilet, if you have left the bowl and tank assembled together). Be sure to get the bowl relatively level before tightening anything down. Use a two foot long "carpenters" level placed over the center of the bowl to see if it is level. If leveling is required, then pick up some plastic shims from your local hardware or building supply store. Taking care not to disturb the wax ring, insert shim material until you reach the required height. Once this is accomplished place the plastic “cap” washers (lip up!) over the "T" bolts taking care to cover as much of the oblong holes provided in the base of the toilet as possible.
Next, place one round brass washer on top of the plastic washer and then use the “dome” nuts to snug down the bowl. Next, see if your new plastic caps will snap in place over the "T" bolt assemblies. If you hear the "snap," all is well and you are done. If not, take your trusty hack-saw and cut off the excess thread-end of the "T" bolt protruding from the dome nut and now snap your caps in place. The rest of your project will now be simple (and a lot less messy!). In completing the job, remember to caulk around the base of your toilet where it meets the floor. If you are not too tired, take a moment to admire your handiwork and pat yourself on the back! You have just accomplished a big job that would otherwise have cost you big bucks!
For more excellent information on toilet repair, visit Toiletology 101.