Three Common Toilet Problems

The most common annoyances people experience with their toilets can usually be dealt with on a do-it-yourself basis, but if yours is giving you a lot of trouble, you might want to consider replacement.


The Running Toilet
Unless it’s in a hurry to meet your refrigerator at the pub, a running toilet usually means something needs a simple adjustment; most likely the float is too high. This means the water winds up going down the overflow before the water level can shut off the valve. Most toilets have a nylon screw assembly for adjusting this. You want to adjust the float low enough so that it reaches its shutoff point just before the water reaches the overflow level. Some older toilets still have the old float-arm design; if it won’t adjust to a workable height, you can compensate by gently bending the metal arm downward.


The Phantom Flush
If your idle toilet tank suddenly starts to fill in the middle of the night as though it had been flushed, you probably have a slow leak at the flapper. You can verify this by putting a few drops of food colouring in the full tank and waiting ten or fifteen minutes to see if the colour appears in the bowl.

Most toilet flappers are made of rubber that slowly degrades underwater. This deterioration occurs faster with high chlorine levels and movement of the part. Given its limited lifespan, you might wonder why rubber is used, and the answer is that it’s inexpensive and works very well, due to its soft, supple quality. More expensive flappers of neoprene and plastic are also available; these do last longer but must be perfectly shaped and stored flat or they may leak right off the bat, being less flexible and forgiving than rubber. Although the rubber ones rarely last longer than one or two years, they are inexpensive enough to alway have a spare on hand. Your mileage may vary with the pricier, more durable alternatives.


The Clog
You might be surprised how many people really have no idea how to use a plunger effectively. A simple cup plunger is not much use for clearing a toilet; they’re designed for use in sinks and tubs where the drain lies in a flat surface. Most household plungers you find at home supply stores are hybrid cup-and-flange plungers, and many people buy them without realizing there’s a flange that folds out of the cup to convert the plunger for toilet use.

left, cup plunger; right, flange plunger


Because air is so compressible, your plunger is most effective if you can minimize the amount of air under it. The cup should be filled mainly with water, and make sure the water level covers the plunger head. Don’t use so much force that the plunger head turns inside out– it’s not necessary. The goal is not to apply brute force to the clog, but to gently move the column of water above the clog up and down. This motion will promote the breakup of water-soluble material in the clog, just take your time.

Also, as we’ve mentioned before, never, ever use a chemical drain cleaner to try and clear a toilet. The heat those products generate can cause the porcelain to crack and leak. That’s one of many things you should never, ever flush.

We haven’t discussed foreign objects like children’s toys getting stuck in the toilet; if your tools are limited to a flange plunger, you will probably need to call a plumber in such cases. You should also consult with a plumber if your toilet clogs frequently, or if it’s a chronically weak flush. These could be symptomatic of a more serious problem, like pipe failure further down the line.


Replacement? More Affordable Than You Might Think
If you’re working with a twenty or thirty-year-old toilet, give some serious thought to having it replaced. The design of these things has come a long way in that time; today’s toilets flush better using much less water. Yes, there are “builder grade” options as cheap as $300, but we don’t recommend those. At that price point the quality just isn’t there; they plug often, or the porcelain will be short lived. A decent toilet replacement in white will start at about $415 installed. Give us a call and we can discuss what’s available to you.

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George Pinel
George Pinel

These blog posts are brought to you from George Pinel & the Instant Plumbing team.

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