Try Not To Panic If Your Toilet Won’t Flush

UPDATED: July 9, 2017

I know it’s easier for me to say don’t panic if your toilet won’t flush when I’m not there right? The truth is although there are quite a few parts and processes in a normal household two-piece or single piece toilet, once you know how everything works you’ll see it’s pretty simple. Stop asking why your toilet won’t flush and read this for help and tips!

There are several problem areas, which could cause a clogged toilet and I think it’s easier to recognize the causes if you completely understand the basic anatomy of a toilet first.

The Bowl

Understanding what goes on inside a toilet bowl is a key component to understanding how to unclog a toiletToilet won t flush and keep it running and flushing freely.

IMPORTANT PARTS OF A TOILET

RIM HOLES AND JET– These are the little perforation holes located under the rim of the toilet. These holes or jets serve two purposes; one is to scour the bowl. I’m pretty sure I don’t have to explain the scouring process or what material is being scoured right? The second function is to fill the bowl with water in order for siphonic action to being.

The jet hole is located at the very bottom of the bowl right at the point where the trap begins. When you depress the flush handle a portion of water is diverted from the tank and begins to shoot out of the jet at a high velocity. This jet of water begins siphonic action.

PROBLEM: These rim homes can become clogged with hard minerals over time especially in homes with private wells. If they do become clogged water enters the bowl more slowly, the self-cleaning process is greatly compromised and it can be a huge reason your toilet won’t flush.

Similarly, if the flow from the jet is diminished because of similar build up your toilet will flush slowly or you’ll end up with a clogged toilet and it won’t flush at all.

BOWL & TRAP: Vitreous China used for plumbing and is for the most part glazed. There are several reasons for this but the two most important reasons when it comes to toilets is that glazing creates a non-porous surface so it is naturally anti-microbial and it’s smooth so things don’t get hung up or caught up on the surface.

PROBLEM: If the glazing in the bowl or trap is compromised from extended use or abrasive cleaners it can cause solids to stick, which could be another reason toilet won’t flush.

The Tank

Toilet won t flushFILL VALVE OR BALLCOCK: This is the part of the toilet that controls the water coming into the tank. An old style fill valve will consist of a valve, which is controlled by a rod with a float ball screwed onto the end of the rod. When the water rises pushing up the float to a predetermined level the incoming water to the take shuts off. In a new style fill valve the float is fashioned around the vertical part of the valve body itself and is attached by an arm. The valve works the same way it’s just a lot less cumbersome inside a tank.

PROBLEM: Is your toilet running? That is one of the main byproducts of a malfunctioning fill valve. The toilet keeps running and running. Not only is it annoying but also your water bills can be astronomical because of a simple faulty ballcock. There are a few things that could be causing the continuous running toilet. The washer under the lever attaching the float could be deteriorated or crimped or the float could be set too high so the water never gets high enough to close off the valve so the toilet keeps running.

FLUSH VALVE: The flush valve is the mechanism, which allows the water stored in the tank into the bowl. It consists of three basic parts, the handle, the flapper and the overflow tube. The handle is connected to the flapper by linkage made of some metal attached to the end of the handle assembly rod. When you press down on the handle it lifts rod and attached chain and flapper allowing the water to rush into the tank. Once the tank is evacuated the flapper falls back down sealing the opening to the tank and the water fills it once again.

PROBLEM: My toilet won’t flush when I depress the handle? The linkage pipes are most likely broken that attach the handle to the flapper. If those two things aren’t connected your toilet won’t flush unless you take the lid off and lift the flapper manually. Believe me, I went to college, I think we lived for three months in our apartment before we fixed the handle. We just kept the tank lid off for convenience. Your toilet keeps running. Yes, having a problem with the flush valve can also lead to a perpetually running toilet. Two things can lead to this.

  • Your flapper has deteriorated and is allowing water to flow into the bowl even when it is seated. In this case, you need a new flapper.
  • Your over flow tub is cracked and it’s allowing water to flow into it so the tank is perpetually filling. In this case, you need a new overflow tube.

If your pipes are frozen you may be experiencing problems with the main line. Flush the toilet to keep it filled, and isolate the toilet line from the other water lines to know which pipe is frozen.

If you are dealing with an automatic toilet, you may have to take a different approach to fixing your broken toilet. Another popular toilet that may need extra attention is a Thetford toilet. This toilet has a taller seat height for more comfort, it’s lightweight and easy to install anywhere, like upstairs or in your basement.   

TIPS AND TRICKS:

How to Unclog a Toilet Without a Plunger?

#1 Buy yourself a 6ft closet auger. You can get 80% of all local clogs removed with this handy tool. Please don’t try to save the $20 or $30 dollars by buying a 3ft version it will break your heart. I’m telling you now. Properly place the

Toilet won t flush

Perfect View of a Closet Auger in Action

end of the auger in the trap and turn the handle clockwise and slowly push the handle down while turning. When you meet resistance you either hit the blockage or reached a bend. Keep turning until you work the auger through and 8 out of 10 times you’ll remove the blockage. There are times when all the auger does is push the blockage along. Is cases such as these calling a plumber to come in and rod for real is the wisest choice.

#2 If you have a plumber friend that has invested in a Kinetic Water Ram you can have them come over and blast the clog out of the line. The water ram uses a slug of compressed air to unclog toilet and kitchen sinks, lavatory sinks, etc. This is a great little tool but it’s fairly expensive.

#3 I’m pretty sure this isn’t the answer you’re looking for when typing in your Google search “How to unclog toilet” but it is a valid way to unclog your toilet without a plunger. Remove the toilet from the closet collar and extricate whatever is stuck in the trap. Usually, if the blockage is in the toilet and can be removed with a closet auger it’s something other than waste or hygiene products. Most likely you have young children and one of them launched a toy in the toilet. There are several drawbacks to this method, the first is obvious, you have to reinstall the toilet. If you aren’t comfortable with resetting the toilet this isn’t the greatest of options. The second drawback is that if you haven’t determined where the blockage is and it isn’t in the toilet you may have removed the toilet for no reason. If you used a closet auger to no avail you can try again after the toilet is removed. Because the auger doesn’t have to travel through the toilet and trap you have a 2ft or so to try and reach the blockage.

How to Plunge a Toilet

Toilet won t flushThere are two basic types of plungers available the cup type plunger which is most often used on kitchen sinks, bathtubs and lavatories and the flange type plunger. The flange type plunger is designed to work on toilets. The head is tapered to fit inside the trap opening in the toilet to focus all pushing power into the trap. Using a cup type plunger for this application is super inefficient because the pushing power is so unfocused. You have to position the plunger over the trap perfectly to get any pressure and sometimes because of the bowl design you can’t use it at all.

When using the flange type plunger you may have to remove access water if the water level is too high in the bowl. If you don’t remove some of the water you may end up with a huge mess on the floor from all the water moving around during plunging.Toilet won't flush

So when you’re ready to start insert the flange into the trap and press down with two hands in a firm downward motion and continue until blockage is removed, then test to make sure it flushes again.

 

How to Fix a Running Toilet

As stated in the above 99% of the issues that cause a perpetually running toilet are from the Ball Cock/Fill valve or the Flush valve so if you replace those two things you’re usually good to go. There are a few things you can do before going that route and the first is to check the float. If the float isn’t rising enough you may have to adjust the water level in the tank so it isn’t low. If you have an old style float ball you can bend the float rod to adjust the water level. Another issue you can readily fix is the flapper. Sometimes you can get scale build-up on the seating surface and all you have to do is drain the tank and clean off the scale and you’re all set.

As always thanks for reading and please feel free to ask questions or leave comments.

 

Sean Kavanaugh

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