Knowing how a toilet works can go a long way towards understanding what problems it is experiencing. Toilet technology has undergone a major evolution over the past thirty years and continues to reshape how people interact with this very important household appliance. The following discusses how a toilet works and some common issues.

This is an overview of how a toilet works. First, let’s go over the different parts of the toilet :
The handle, tank, bowl, fill valve, flush valve, overflow tube, flapper/seal. When the handle is pushed, it pulls up on a chain connected to a flapper or seal. The flapper lifts and releases the tank water down the flush valve into the bowl. The water then goes through the trap and into the main drain.

Once the tank is empty, the flapper closes, forming a seal in the tank until the next time the handle is pushed. The fill valve turns on and brings water into the tank. Water will flow through the base of the valve and through the refill tube to the overflow tube – this is the rim wash for the toilet. As the water rises in the tank, the internal float rises and stops the water from entering the tank

Common Toilet Problem & Solution

1. Weak Flusher
You could have a first generation 1.6 gallon flush toilet that is destined to failure. Look inside the tank for a manufacture date stamped in the clay. If it was made during the time period from January 1, 1994 to mid-1997, this could be the problem. No matter what you do, it will not flush right.

If the toilet was made before 1994, hard water deposits in the syphon jet hole or the angled bowl rim swirl holes may be the source of your frustration. You can try to clean them out with wood sticks and oversized toothpicks, but a muriatic acid wash will really do the job. Mix one part acid to 10 parts water. Using a funnel, carefully pour one half of this solution down the overflow tube in the toilet tank. You should immediately hear fizzing and such. BE CAREFUL of the fumes! Run the bath fan, open a window. DO NOT splash this solution on you, in your eyes, on your clothes, on the carpet, etc. It will not hurt the toilet at all. If you have a septic system, do not do this! The only way you can clean your toilet is to disassemble it and do this process outdoors.

Let the acid work for about 30 minutes. Pour the remainder of the solution down the overflow tube. After an additional 30 minutes, flush the toilet. You should see an improvement.

2. Strong but Partial Flush
The flapper valve may be waterlogged and dropping too fast. Observe the flapper valve during a flush. It should stay up until about 80 percent or more of the water has drained from the tank. If it drops sooner, install a new flapper.

3. Phantom Flusher
This is really a phantom filler, as the toilet tank fills with water as if it was just flushed. It simply means that the tank is leaking water. The food coloring dye test will confirm this. Add food dye to the tank after all water has stopped running into the tank. After 5 or 10 minutes, look at the bowl water to see if it is colored. If it is, the flapper is not sealing completely. Time for a new one!

4. Bowl Water Level Drops
You flush the toilet and all is well. After a period of time, a significant amount of water has left the bowl. Two things may be wrong. Water could be slowly siphoned from the bowl by a partial clog of toilet paper up in the colon of the bowl. You can demonstrate this phenomenon by filling a small soup bowl with water and putting it in the center of a cooking jelly pan. Drape a strip of paper towel from the bottom of the bowl, over the bowl edge and into the jelly pan. Watch what gravity and capillary attraction does in several hours. The bowl will be nearly empty. To see if your toilet has a rag, toilet paper, or something else causing the drainage, empty the bowl of water and then use a flashlight and a mirror to look up inside the colon of the toilet.

In rare cases, the bowl may actually have a crack in the interior colon or piping of the bowl. This problem can only be solved by installing a new bowl.

5. Double Flusher
The water level in the tank may be set too high. Lower the level and look for improvement.

6. Whistling Tank Fill
You must have an old technology ball cock valve with a ball float on the end of a rod. As the ball floats higher it begins to slowly close the water fill valve. This can cause vibrations and all sorts of noise. Toilet tank fill valves that stay wide open until the tank is filled have been around for over 20 years. They are wonderful and they are inexpensive. Duell Plumbing and Heating use the Fluidmaster valve. Get the best one, not the economy model.

7. Slow Tank Fill
This problem may be a partially closed shut off valve under the tank. A previous owner or a plumber may have restricted the flow of water into the tank for some reason.

8. Dripping and Tank Filling
After the tank has filled, you hear dripping. Then several minutes later, the tank partially fills with water and the dripping starts again. Then the tank fills and so on and so forth. This problem can be a syphon problem caused by someone who installed a new tank fill valve. There is a small flexible tube that runs from the bottom of the valve to the top of the toilet overflow tube.
As the tank fills, water is also sent through this tube. It is used to refill the toilet bowl since it lost its water during the flush. If this tube drops down inside the overflow tube, it can, in some instances, syphon water from the tank. New toilet fill valves often have a clip that attaches to the top of the overflow tube and points the water flow down into the tube without actually having the tube enter the tube. Pretty slick? It works too! Use the clip!

9. Sluggish Flush
The toilet could have a partial clog or the actual clog could be downstream from the toilet. Fill a 5 gallon bucket of water and dump it into the toilet as fast as possible with minimum splashing. If the flush is more vigorous, then it is probably not a clog. If water backs up into the bowl and drains slowly, it is a clog.

10. Suction Sounds in the Tub and Sink
You flush the toilet and gurgling sounds come from your tub and/or bath sink. This means the toilet vent pipe is clogged or partially clogged. A tennis ball, dead bird or twigs thrown by a mischievous son might have dropped down into the rooftop vent pipe may be the problem. Drop a small flashlight that is SECURELY attached to a strong string or wire down the pipe. Look for a clog. Run garden hose water down the rooftop vent pipe to help clear the clog. Be sure you have spotters inside the house who are looking for leaks. You may have to call a professional to solve this problem.

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