How to Repair a Toilet

What You'll Need
Adjustable wrench
Pipe wrench
Channel-locking pliers
Refill valve
Ballcock parts
Riser tube
Penetrating oil
Masking tape
Wiping cloths
Locking plier/wrench
Flush valve
Flush ball
Hand cleaner

A single leaky toilet can waste 60,000 gallons or more of water each year. For the sake of the environment and your bank account, you should occasionally inspect the commodes in your home. These steps will help keep water waste from flushing down the toilet.

Step 1 - Check for Leaks

Blue dye in the toilet tank

The tank contains two valves: a flush valve and a refill valve. When the flush valve opens to release water, the refill valve replenishes that water. If the flush valve is not in the proper position, the resulting leak causes the refill valve to pump in unnecessary water. On the other hand, if the refill valve leaks, the tank overfills and causes a flood.

To check the valves, add a few drops of food dye into the toilet tank when the tank is fully refilled after a flush. Don't flush the tank again until you have inspected the toilet bowl 10 minutes later for signs of color. If the bowl water becomes tinted, there's definitely a leak.

Close the water supply and note the water level. If the water gradually lowers from its original position, you can conclude that the flush valve is not functioning properly. Otherwise, inspect the refill valve.

Step 2 - Make Simple Adjustments

Traditional block-style refill valves can be corrected by manipulating the arm. When making an adjustment, make sure the water level isn't set too low. The rule of thumb is to set the water level ¾ inches below the top of the overflow pipe.

If the float rubs on other parts, then you must adjust the float arm sideways. Detach it and make sure it has not filled with water. Both a waterlogged float and a damaged float arm should be replaced if needed.

For tanks that adjust with a hand nut, turn the nut clockwise to raise it counterclockwise to lower the water level. The tank may also have a sliding pinch clamp on an adjustment rod.

Step 3 - Inspect Flush Ball Toilets

Flush ball in toilet tank

Replacements for a flush ball and its actuating mechanism are available, but it may be possible to stop a leak with minor adjustments and save yourself the supply cost.

Check that the guide arm is centered to drop the flush ball directly into its seat. If the flush ball is not seating properly, make an adjustment.

The guide arm should allow the flush ball to rise high enough that the toilet can completely flush. If not, raise the arm slightly. Also inspect the lift wire and adjust as needed.

Step 4 - Observe the Lifting Hardware

The lifting hardware may also be the cause of a flushing problem. When functioning properly, the hardware will act to raise the flapper, thus beginning a flush. Without a tight seal, the flapper will leak so make adjustments to the components as necessary.

Step 5 - Look at the Refill Tube

Your toilet's refill tube should be pointed directly toward the overflow pipe. When properly aligned, the refill tube will not rest below the water level. When the tube is below the water level, it will pull tank water away.

If you think that may be the case, listen carefully after a flush. If the refill tube is out of place, then you will hear water splashing while the tank refills.

Occasionally, you may need to replace, rather than adjust, the refill tube. Simply place one end of the plastic tube over the serrated plastic lug on the body of the valve, and place the plastic holder in the top of the overflow pipe.

Step 6 - Fix the Flush Valve

The most common culprit of a malfunctioning toilet is a flawed flush valve. There are three methods of correcting a faulty flush valve. If the flush bulb or flapper have formed a crusty deposit accumulation you may be able to scrub it away. If the hardware is really old, you may have to replace it by following these steps.

1. Disconnect Trip Arm

To replace the flapper, disconnect everything from the trip arm, then slide the flapper off the pipe and install the new flapper.

If the trip handle needs to be adjusted, tighten the nut that holds it in place. If the trip handle is old or damaged, you should replace it along with the flapper.

2. Glue-In Repair Kit

For ease of installation, some new style flush valves are simply glued on top of old valve seats. These kits are fast and simple. Just follow the instructions on the packaging and have a sales representative at your local home improvement store help you select the best kit for your toilet.

3. Install a New Flush Valve

To install a new flush valve, you will need to remove the tank from the bowl. First, shut off the water supply. Then drain the commode by holding the trip level in the flushing position. Soak up any remaining water with a sponge. You can now disconnect the tank from the water supply. Remove the rubber gasket bolts from the flush valve. Be careful not to force the bolts. Mishandling them may damage the tank. If light force won't remove them, use a hacksaw to cut them off and use new nuts on the replacements. Set the tank aside and remove the flush valve with pliers and oil. Clamp the flush valve so that it doesn't rotate inside the tank.

Follow the manufacturer's instructions to install the replacement valve. Upgrade to brass bolts which are easier to work with in the future. Apply the bolts using just enough pressure to keep the unit in place and prevent leaks. Now put everything back together and restore the flow of water.

Step 7 - Repair or Replace the Refill Valve

If your refill valve is malfunctioning, disassemble it by removing the screws. Inspect the condition of the rubber washer on the plunger. If the washer is deteriorated, remove it with pliers and install a new one. Then put the valve back together and test the tank to see if it still overflows.

If the entire valve must be replaced, follow the above steps to remove the tank and then remove not only the nut, but also the tube from the refill valve underneath the tank.

Clamp the refill valve and install the replacement unit according to the manufacturer's instructions.