"Jiggle the handle!" It's a common phrase in many homes—even plumbers'. It seems like the toilet bowl flushing mechanism is one of the most common fix-it problems. Why else would there be rows of toilet fix-it parts at most hardware stores? So how can you take care of these and other toilet plumbing problems? Keep reading.
A toilet is a bathroom fixture that usually consists of a water-flushed bowl and seat. Two mechanisms operate simultaneously when a toilet is flushed: a flush valve and a fill (ball cock) valve. Tripping the flush handle raises the flush valve, releasing water from the tank into the bowl. The rushing water creates a siphoning action in the bowl that forces wastewater down the drain. As the tank empties, the lowering water level lowers a float that's connected to the ball cock. As the float falls, it operates the fill valve inside the ball cock. Meanwhile, the flush valve closes itself after the water drains from the tank. With the fill valve open and the flush valve closed, the tank fills and the rising water lifts the float. When it reaches a preset level, the float closes the fill valve in the ball cock. At that point, the tank should be full and ready to flush again.
There are various versions of this mechanism, sometimes with their own brand name. However, essentially they all work about the same.
Unclog a toilet using a plunger:
If the bowl is full or overflowing, put on rubber gloves and use a plastic container to bail out half the water. If the bowl is empty, add water to half full.
Place the plunger firmly over the larger drain opening and move it up and down rapidly several times. If the water goes down the drain, you probably removed the blockage.
Use the plunger again to be sure the water is running freely. Then pour in a pail of water and plunge one more time before flushing the toilet to refill the bowl.
If the blockage remains after plunging, use an auger (see below).
Unclog a toilet using an auger:
Determine the direction in which to guide the auger. Some toilets are rear draining and others are front draining.
Feed the curved tip of the auger into the drain opening. Crank clockwise and push with moderate pressure until the auger tightens up, then crank in the other direction. When the auger tightens again, reverse the direction until the auger is as far in the drain as it will go.
Pull the handle up and out to remove the auger. If it jams, push gently, then pull again. You may have to turn the handle as you pull up.
Augering may either push the blockage through or pull gunk up into the bowl. After augering, remove any large pieces, wearing rubber gloves. Finish with a plunger to ensure that the drain runs freely.
Adjust or replace a flush handle:
Remove the cover from the toilet tank (the higher part at the back of the toilet). If the handle is loose, tighten the locknut with a wrench. If the nut won't budge, apply penetrating oil and let it set before removing.
Unhook the chain from the trip lever and slide the trip lever, with the handle attached, through the hole in the tank.
Soak the handle threads in vinegar for an hour or so to remove mineral deposits, then scrub clean with an old toothbrush.
Reinstall the assembly, tighten the locknut and adjust the lift chain (see below).
Adjust the lift chain:
If the handle must be held down while the toilet is flushing, the chain may be too long. Shorten it by hooking the upper end through a different trip lever, or use long-nose pliers to open and remove some chain links. Alternately, replace the chain with a new one.
Some flush assemblies have a lift wire instead of a chain. If the wire binds against its guide, flushing is impaired. Loosen the guide with a screwdriver, then adjust it so that the flush valve falls freely onto its seat.
Replace the flush mechanism:
Shut off the water supply and flush the toilet. Remove the tank cover and place a container on the floor beneath the tank to catch water runoff. Wearing rubber gloves, sponge up any water remaining in the tank.
With an adjustable wrench or adjustable pliers, unscrew the nut and disconnect the supply line where it enters the tank.
Attach locking pliers to the nut at the base of the ball cock and loosen the locknut under the ball cock with an adjustable wrench or adjustable pliers. Unscrew the nut, and lift the ball cock up from the tank.
Use a bristle brush or a nylon scrubbing pad to clean the opening in the tank where the ball cock was. Position the assembly in the tank with the cone-shaped washer of the new ball cock centered over the hole, and tighten the locknut snugly; do not overtighten, or it may crack.
Place the refill tube into the overflow pipe, reconnect the supply tube, and slowly turn on the water. Tighten the locknut slightly if the new hardware leaks.