Toilet Troubleshooting: 6 Problems You Can Diagnose & Fix!

Toilet troubleshooting isn’t as difficult as you might think, especially with these six helpful hints for solving the most common toilet problems.

Most toilet problems happen inside the tank, where all the mechanical parts are located. On the other hand, only seldom do problems develop outside the tank. However, our sixth hint is a bonus for a problem that occurs outside the tank, at the bottom of the toilet where it attaches to the floor.

Understanding How Toilets Work

Toilet tank diagram for toilet handle
The inside of a typical tank — not all work exactly like this one (for example, this common version uses a float ball) — is so much simpler than it might look.

Lift the top off a toilet tank and you’ll find an assortment of balls, tubes, and levers. It can look like a jumbled mess but it all works using simple principles, like gravity for instance.

Using the toilet handle sets in motion a chain of events that releases water to the toilet bowl, then automatically refills the tank and the bowl. Ready to be used once again, over and over.

Today, there are many types of toilets, though the one you’re most familiar with probably uses a float ball (see diagram below). The handle activates a trip lever that lifts a flapper at the bottom of the tank. Water then rushes through the hole and into the toilet bowl.

Flushing also triggers the refill cycle. The float ball moves down with the water level and opens an inlet valve. This brings fresh water into the tank through a refill tube and sends water to the bowl through a second refill tube that empties into an overflow tube.

As water rises in the tank, so does the float. When it reaches a point about 3/4″ below the top of the overflow, the float will shut off the inlet valve, stopping the flow of water to both the tank and the bowl.

Toilet Troubleshooting: 6 Problems & Solutions

Use the six common toilet repair problems below to troubleshoot and solve your particular issue.

1. Water Runs, but Tank Won’t Fill Properly

Check the handle, trip lever, guide arm, float ball, and their connections to make sure all are in place, aligned, and working as they should. Look for these kind of problems:

  • Is the toilet handle (or any other part) too loose?
  • Does the trip lever or guide arm appear bent or broken?
  • Is the connection between trip lever and guide arm solid and allowing the float ball to rise high enough (about 3/4″ below the top of the overflow)?

Detailed Solutions:
How to Replace a Toilet Handle

New Toilet Handle to Replace Broken Toilet Handle
No need to fear it. It’s just a toilet handle. And troubleshooting it is easy. Make sure to check if it’s too loose or wiggly. Also check the parts directly connected to it.

2. Water Runs Constantly After Tank is Filled

The handle and trip assembly may be malfunctioning. Check the flapper to make sure it is seated properly. Check the seat (the area the flapper rests on) to make sure it’s not corroded. If so, you’ll need to clean it or replace it as the corrosion will not allow the flapper to seat properly. Also, make sure the float itself does not have water inside of it.

Detailed Solutions:
Leaking Toilet Flapper? Here’s How to Fix it!
Why is My Toilet Running? Stop a Toilet from Constantly/Intermittently Refilling (video)

Leaky toilet Flapper - replace flapper
The red part near the hand is the flapper. It needs to be seated properly for a watertight seal. Check if it’s in bad shape, not seating properly, or if the seat is fits into is somehow corroded.

3. Water Level is Too High or Too Low

You may have to adjust the float ball downward. check to make sure it’s not damaged; it could be full of water for example. The inlet valve washers also may be leaking and need replacement. Check to see that the flapper is seating properly. And finally, check the seat for the flapper for corrosion.

Detailed Solutions:
Adjust the Water Level in Your Toilet Bowl (It’s So Easy!)

Adjust water level in toilet bowl - water level is too low
It’s fairly obvious that the water level in this toilet bowl is too low (though keep in mind that modern toilets can fool you as they use much less water).

4. Toilet Won’t Flush Properly

Gently bend the float arm (attached to the float ball) downward to lower the water level otherwise bend it upward to raise the water level. Moreover, use the adjustment screw on top of the inlet valve to set the float arm. Again, the water level inside the tank should be 3/4″ below the top of the overflow tube.

Detailed Solutions:
How to Adjust a Ball Float in Your Commode (video)

Toilet troubleshooting - bend float arm
The float ball arm should be easy to bend upward or downward, depending on if you need to lower or raise the water level in your toilet bowl. Be firm but gentle while doing so…or you will find yourself needing to replace the entire mechanism.

5. Tank Leaks at the Bottom

Adjust the refill tube that runs into the overflow tube. You may need to replace the washers in the inlet valve. Tighten all nuts at the bottom of the tank. In the event that this doesn’t work, replace the washers.

Detailed Solutions:
Adjust/Attach a Refill Tube (go to Step #5)

troubleshooting toilets - adjust refill tube
Notice how the refill tube connects to the overflow tube. Make sure this tube is connected correctly and water is flowing from the refill tube into the overflow tube.

6. BONUS: Toilet Leaks Where Seated

The above are all common problems you can find within the toilet tank. This bonus for troubleshooting toilets is found below, where the bottom edge of your toilet meets the floor.

Detailed Solutions:
How to Replace a Toilet Wax Ring

How to replace a toilet wax ring - place seal into flange
Diagnosing and replacing a toilet wax ring can be easy or more complex, depending on what you find. Either way, the fix is within a DIYers reach.

Conclusion: Troubleshooting Toilets

In conclusion, it seems that toilets alone cause enough problems to keep many plumbers in business. All in all, our goal is to give you the information you need to fix many of these problems yourself. But first you need to know toilet troubleshooting; how to diagnose the issues that come up.

The above are just six common problems that we believe you can diagnose and repair yourself. However, if you need more help, click on the resources we’ve provided. They’ll give you step-by-step instructions. Overall, if that doesn’t do the trick, you can always call a trusted local plumber.

Call 1-Tom-Plumber

Don’t hesitate to contact or call us at 1-Tom-Plumber (1-866-758-6237) for any of your toilet repair or installation needs, including toilet troubleshooting if you’re not sure of the problem.

We will immediately handle any emergency plumbingdrain cleaning and drain clearing, and water damage problem, including excavation of underground water lines and sewer main lines.

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