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How to Fix a Toilet

You can do this! And we’re here to help.

We talk about toilets a lot at Fixer. In the very first week of our training program, we teach our trainees how to fix a running toilet, how to unclog a toilet, how to replace a toilet wax ring on a leaking toilet base, and how to replace a toilet entirely. They’re an important part of your home! They need to work well in order to keep your home… regular. Sorry. Last one, promise.

The truth of the matter is, most plumbers will charge a minimum of near $100 to walk in the door, but most of the parts of a toilet cost under $20, and half of the time they don’t even need to be replaced! If you’re willing to roll up your sleeves, you can save yourself a good deal of money.

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How to Fix a Running Toilet

Don’t worry — a running toilet is rarely cause to replace the whole thing. There are a few common causes, and DIY repairs are inexpensive. Most pros can fix a toilet within 10-30 minutes, so if you’re hiring a plumber make sure to consider their hourly rate along with minimums or service fees.

Step 1: How to Replace the Toilet Flapper

Let’s start with the toilet flapper. This is the first step in how to fix a running toilet, or sometimes it can be the answer to how to fix a toilet that won’t flush. This is also where you turn if the toilet won’t flush unless you hold the handle down.

The toilet flapper basically keeps the tank water in the tank, until it’s time to flush. When you turn the handle, it opens the flapper, creating the pressure needed to empty the contents of the toilet bowl and replace it with fresh tank water. To inspect and replace a toilet flapper, first turn off the water supply line, where the water comes in from the wall. Then remove the tank lid and flush the toilet. See that rubber puck-like mouth that opens up? That’s the piece you’re after — unhook it from both sides where it connects to the flush valve, and disconnect the chain from the trip lever.

Sometimes it can be enough to clean the bottom part of the toilet flapper so that it creates a better seal when it closes. Other times, the chain needs a little more length to allow the weight of the tank water to close the flapper fully. If you see any cracks or warping that would prohibit a tight seal, replace the toilet flapper with a new one. They cost a few bucks and come in standard sizes, and if you bring your old one to a hardware store you can pick one just like it.

When you’re done, turn the toilet water supply line back on and flush several times. If the toilet is running in between flushes, you need to adjust the toilet flapper or fix the toilet chain, to keep that seal between the tank and the bowl tight.

Step 2: How to Replace a Toilet Fill Valve

Now let’s look at how to adjust a toilet float, and how to replace a toilet fill valve. This is only slightly more involved than the flapper. The fill valve calls for water from the supply line when you flush, and stops the tank from filling when it’s full. The toilet float is what tells the fill valve when the tank is full because, well, it floats on top of the water. Check your fill valve if:

  • You’ve replaced the flapper but the toilet won’t stop running
  • Your toilet hisses when filling
  • You want to know how to adjust the water level in the toilet bowl

There are several different styles of fill valve, but they all serve the same purpose. Before taking anything apart, check that the refill tube (a flexible tube going from the fill valve on the left into the overflow tube in the center) is clipped above the overflow tube instead of sitting deep inside of it. Also make sure that the tank water level is about an inch below the top of that overflow tube in the center. Lastly, if any parts of the fill valve appear obviously broken, it’s usually easiest to replace the toilet fill valve and costs under $20 (which would adjust the toilet bowl water level). Check out the video for instructions on how to replace a toilet fill valve.

How to Unclog a Toilet Without a Plunger

You may know how to unclog a toilet using a plunger, but what about how to unclog a toilet when nothing works? Or what if you don’t have a plunger handy and you want to know how to unclog a toilet with dish soap? How to unclog a toilet with baking soda? There are lots of things you can try to fix a clogged toilet.

If you can, a plunger is always your best bet. It uses the force of air to push the contents through the trap and down the sewage line, at which point they’re history. If that’s not an option start searching your cabinets!

How to unclog a toilet with dish soap: Pour a good cup or two of dish soap into the bowl and let it sink in for at least half an hour. Some recommend pouring a little warm water in to activate it too. This lubricates the trap and makes it easier for the contents to flush.

How to unclog a toilet with baking soda: Mix equal parts vinegar and hot water. Pour about a cup of baking soda into the bowl, and then add your hot vinegar concoction. You’ll get the science-fair-volcano effect, so you may want some towels handy for any spillage, but it should loosen the contents and allow them to flush after about half an hour.

If you’re looking for how to unclog a toilet that’s backing up into the tub, or if none of the above solutions work, you may want to consider calling a plumber. Depending on how your pipes are connected they may need auger further than your typical tools (and patience!) will reach.

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How to Fix a Leaky Toilet

If water is leaking from the tank

If you can see water dripping from the bottom of your toilet’s tank, your problem is usually going to be the gaskets that sit between the tank and the base of the toilet. They can corrode over time, and are easy to replace.

Start by turning off the water at the supply line. Flush the toilet, and empty the tank with a cup, bucket, and sponge. You’ll want to disconnect the supply line and unscrew the bolts holding the tank to the base. Once you’ve done that, you can inspect the gaskets between all the pieces and determine if they need replacing — bring them with you to your local hardware store so you’re sure to get the right sizes, and then put everything back together in the opposite sequence you took them apart.

If water is leaking from the base

If your toilet is leaking from the base, it’s a good indication that your wax ring has failed. See our instructions for How to Replace a Toilet Wax Ring.

How to Replace a Toilet Wax Ring

If your toilet is leaking from the base, it’s a good indication that your wax ring has failed. This repair can be intimidating, but it’s not too difficult and a new wax ring is only about $5. You will need to lift the toilet straight up and lower it into place again, so make sure to use safe lifting practices.

Incidentally, this is also a big part of how to replace a toilet! So if you’re looking to upgrade the look of your toilet, this is a good opportunity, so you don’t have to lift that thing more than you need to. Did you know the average toilet weighs 88 pounds?

First, gather all of your materials. You’ll want some rags and contractor bags handy because you’ll need to place the toilet somewhere while you replace the wax ring, and you don’t want to get the old wax all over your bathroom floor. Start by emptying all water from the toilet; turn off the water supply and flush, then scoop everything you can out of the tank and the bowl. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but water adds weight so you’re doing yourself a favor by being thorough!

Next, remove the caps over the toilet bolts and unscrew the nuts holding it down. These are connected to the flange, so you’ll need to lift the toilet straight up over them. Remember to keep the weight close to your body and to lift with your legs; place your toilet on the contractor bag you’ve set out — it may wobble a little if the old wax ring is stuck to it, so make sure it doesn’t topple over!

Using gloves and a putty knife, scrape the old wax off of the flange where your toilet used to sit, being careful not to let it drop down the pipe. Do the same for the bottom of the toilet you removed, to make sure your new wax ring can seal properly.

Pick your wax ring: The standard wax ring works well under most circumstances, and set properly lasts for years before needing replacement. There are also green foam rings that help if you have a larger gap to fill, and set properly these will last until you choose to replace your toilet. There are dozens of other kinds too but either of these work great in most cases.

Set your ring centered on the hole at the bottom of the toilet and when you’re ready, lift the toilet back over the bolts and let it squish the wax or foam ring to create a seal.

Psst: If you’re looking for how to fix a wobbly toilet, this part’s for you!

At this point, you want to make sure you’re securing the toilet to the flange and floor using those bolts, and doing so evenly and securely without cracking the porcelain. Sit backward on the toilet and wiggle slightly to make sure that the ring has squished all the way down. Take the nuts you removed from the bolts previously and tighten them in an equal fashion so that neither side is tighter than the other. Tighten by hand as much as you can, and then just a few small turns with a wrench so you don’t crack the area around the bolts.

Sometimes that’s not enough, usually if your floor isn’t level. You want to make sure you fix a rocking toilet because it will compromise the seal of the wax ring and you’ll have to go back to the section about how to fix a toilet that is leaking from the base. If your toilet is rocking, wobbling, or doing a jig, and you’ve tightened the bolts appropriately, add some toilet shims under the areas that need more support.

Be prepared for your next fix! Get a new lesson in your inbox weekly:

How to Install a Toilet

First, gather all of your materials. If you’re replacing an existing toilet you’ll want some rags and contractor bags handy because you’ll need to place the toilet somewhere when you remove it, and you don’t want to get water and old wax all over your bathroom floor. Start by emptying all water from the toilet; turn off the water supply and flush, then scoop everything you can out of the tank and the bowl. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but water adds weight so you’re doing yourself a favor by being thorough!

Next, remove the caps over the toilet bolts and unscrew the nuts holding it down. These are connected to the flange, so you’ll need to lift the toilet straight up over them. Remember to keep the weight close to your body and to lift with your legs; place your toilet on the contractor bag you’ve set out — it may wobble a little if the old wax ring is stuck to it, so make sure it doesn’t topple over!

Using gloves and a putty knife, scrape the old wax off of the flange where your toilet used to sit, being careful not to let it drop down the pipe. Do the same for the bottom of the toilet you removed, to make sure your new wax ring can seal properly.

Pick your wax ring: The standard wax ring works well under most circumstances, and set properly lasts for years before needing replacement. There are also green foam rings that help if you have a larger gap to fill, and set properly these will last until you choose to replace your toilet. There are dozens of other kinds too but either of these work great in most cases.

Set your ring centered on the hole at the bottom of the toilet and when you’re ready, lift the new toilet over the bolts and let it squish the wax or foam ring to create a seal.

At this point, you want to make sure you’re securing the toilet to the flange and floor using those bolts, and doing so evenly and securely without cracking the porcelain. Sit backward on the toilet and wiggle slightly to make sure that the ring has squished all the way down. Screw in the nuts on either side of the toilet to secure it to the floor and tighten them in an equal fashion so that neither side is tighter than the other. Tighten by hand as much as you can, and then just a few small turns with a wrench so you don’t crack the area around the bolts.

Sometimes that’s not enough, usually if your floor isn’t level. You want to make sure you fix a rocking toilet because it will compromise the seal of the wax ring and you’ll have to go back to the section about how to fix a toilet that is leaking from the base. If your toilet is rocking, wobbling, or doing a jig, and you’ve tightened the bolts appropriately, add some toilet shims under the areas that need more support.

How to Replace a Toilet Seat

Your new seat should come with instructions on how to insert and tighten the bolts that hold the seat in place using the holes towards the back of the bowl. 

To remove an old toilet seat first, pry up the plastic covers at the back of the seat. These are covering bolts, which you’ll unscrew. You may need to hold the nut on the underside of the holes. Once you have those out, lift the old seat off and give the bowl and the area around the bolts a good cleaning. 

How to Fix a Loose Toilet Handle

If your toilet handle has come loose, it’s an easy repair. The trick is that the threads are reverse-threaded (so that they don’t unscrew every time you flush). With that in mind, just turn the nut holding the handle in place counterclockwise to tighten it.

If you need to replace the toilet handle, disconnect the chain first, unscrew the nut holding the old handle in place (clockwise) and then install the new handle in reverse order.

That’s it!

Congratulations! Now you know how to replace a toilet, how to install a toilet, how to fix a leaky toilet, and more! If that’s not your cup of tea and you’d rather know the cost to replace a toilet, here’s the breakdown:

  • Cost of the new toilet: $100 & up, based on your preferences
  • Cost of a plumber’s time: 1-2 hours, hourly rates can vary $50-$200/hr
  • Also check for haul-away fees, minimum charges, travel or service fees

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