Toilet tuneup: repairing your toilet without calling a plumber
A toilet consumes the most water of all household appliances. Replacing a valve is easy and costs less than $20. Tips on installation and maintenance are provided.
Repairing your toilet without calling a plumber!
What uses the most water in your house? The washing machine? The diswasher? A teenager? It's none of these.
In fact, it's your toilet. And if your toilet has worn or leaky parts, it can be an even bigger water waster.
But before you grab the phone and call a plumber, you should know that replacing worn or leaky toilet parts is a job you can easily handle, regardless of how little plumbing experience you've had.
The replacement parts are available at hardware stores and home centers, and they're inexpensive: A complete toilet tank repair kit, which consists of a fill valve and a flapper and lift chain, sells for under $20.
As for tools and supplies, you'll need an adjustable wrench, a sponge, a bucket, plenty of rags, heavy-duty paper towels, plumber's putty, a 16-oz. bottle of lime remover and a metal clothes hanger.
The tank's job is very simple: It holds the water that's needed to flush the bowl clean. And if any of the parts are worn or leaking, the tank won't work the way it was designed.
The opening photo gives you a clear view of the parts inside the toilet tank. Of those parts, three can be replaced. They are the fill valve (including a large float ball on older toilets); the flapper (often a smaller rubber ball on older toilets); and the handle (trip lever).
The fill valve is the most difficult part to replace. So if you can handle this repair, the others will seem rather simple.
If your fill valve is bad, water will continue running into the tank even when the tank is full.
This won't cause your tank to overflow, because the excess water runs into the overflow pipe. But it will waste a lot of water. When you see a dribble of water running continuously into the overflow pipe or through the bowl refill tube, you should first try to adjust the float so that less water is used to fill the tank. If that doesn't stop the constant dribble, you need to replace the fill valve.
Older-style fill valves, like the one in the opening photo, usually have a float ball and metal rod. Many of the new replacement fill valves won't have a ball.
Here's how to install a new fill valve:
Shut off the water supply to the toilet. Many homes have a shut-off valve for the toilet located on the wall just below the toilet. If you don't have a toilet shut-off valve in the bathroom, you'll need to shut off the water where the main water line enters your home.
With the water supply shut off, drain the water out of the tank by flushing the toilet. Then soak up any remaining water in the tank with a sponge.
Use an adjustable wrench to loosen the locknut that secures the valve to the tank and the coupling nut that secures the water supply line to the threaded end of the valve, which protrudes through the bottom of the tank.
Remove the old fill valve and float ball .
Adjust the new fill valve to fit your toilet tank. The top of the valve should be about 1 in. below the top edge of the tank. The valve's height is easily adjusted by twisting the valve body.
Mount the new fill valve the same way as the old. A new rubber shank washer and locknut come with the new fill valve.
Reconnect the water supply line to the threaded end of the fill valve.
Before making final adjustments, clear any debris that may have gotten into the water supply line by removing the fill valve's top cap, holding a cup upside down over the valve and turning on the water supply for a short spurt (Photo 4).
Finally, connect the bowl refill tube to the overflow pipe and adjust the water level float. The water level should be about 1 in. below the top of the overflow pipe (Photo 5).
A leaky flapper is the culprit when the toilet continues to run, but no water is leaving the tank via the overflow pipe. The flapper is made of rubber and will eventually wear out, since it's constantly submerged in water.
After a while, the flapper's shape gets distorted, too, which prevents the flapper from seating properly on the flush valve assembly. The only option now is to install a new flapper.
Replacing a flapper is quite easy:
Again, shut off the water supply to the toilet, flush the toilet to get rid of the water in the tank and soak up any remaining water.
Remove the flapper from the overflow pipe "ears" (Photo 6).
A flapper is attached to the overflow pipe in one of two ways: either hooked over a set of ears, which are part of the overflow pipe; or attached to ears on a retaining ring that's slipped over the overflow pipe.
A handle (trip lever) or lift arm that's broken or sticky will affect other parts in the tank, such as the flapper valve and lift chain.
To replace the handle and lift arm:
Remove the retaining nut that secures the handle to the tank (Photo 7). The nut is located inside the tank and often has a reverse thread.
Disconnect the lift chain's hook loop from the hole in the end of the lift arm.
Work the lift arm out through the handle hole in the tank.
Install the new handle and lift arm.
You may need to adjust the lift chain's length (Photo 8). Excess slack in the chain could cause the chain to catch under the flapper when it closes after flushing. If there's not enough chain length, the flapper won't seat properly on the flush valve and the water will continue to run.
Flush the toilet several times to check the action.
The toilet bowl may not have any moving parts, but it does have two areas that can become clogged. One is the row of rinse holes under the rim, and the other is the priming jet hole in the bottom of the bowl.
Mineral deposits can build up in these holes, restricting water flow and reducing the flushing efficiency of the toilet.
Cleaning the rinse holes is not difficult, but it does require that the toilet not be used for up to 24 hours. So before you begin, make sure everyone in the house knows not to use that toilet.
Here's what to do:
Turn off the water to the toilet either at the shut-off valve or main valve, flush the toilet and soak up any remaining water in the tank.
Next, wet some heavy-duty paper towels, roll them up into tubes and place them on the underside of the rim, so that they block the rinse holes.
Form a "snake" of plumber's putty and press it firmly against the paper towels to hold them in place (Fig. A).
Lift the flapper and pour a 16-oz. bottle of lime remover into the hole of the flush valve (Fig. B). Be sure to wear rubber gloves and eye protection.
Let the lime remover work for 24 hours, if you can keep the toilet out of use that long. If you can't, let it work for at least eight hours.
Now, again wearing rubber gloves, remove the plumber's putty and paper towels. Put the towels and putty in the trash. Don't flush them down the toilet--they'll clog it.
Turn the water back on and your toilet is ready to use again.
Finally, clean the priming jet hole at the bottom of the bowl. The best way to remove the mineral buildup is with a metal clothes hanger.
Straighten the clothes hanger and gently scrape away any mineral deposits (Fig. C). Be careful so you don't scratch or chip the bowl's porcelain finish. If you do, you'll eventually ruin the toilet. It's best to clean the priming jet hole last, so the lime remover has a chance to loosen the mineral buildup. Again, wear those rubber gloves.