What to Do When Your Toilet Won’t Flush

UPDATED: July 9, 2017

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

There are several troublesome areas, which could lead to a clogged toilet. 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 learning how to unclog a toilet. Afterward, it will be easy for you keep it running and flushing freely.

Important Parts of a Toilet Bowl

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 begin.

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. This is when the water begins to shoot out of the jet at a high velocity. The power of this jet of water is what begins the siphonic action.

Problem: These rim holes 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. On top of that, the self-cleaning process is greatly compromised. This can be one of the huge reasons why your toilet won’t flush.

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

Bowl & trap: Vitreous China is used for plumbing and for the most glazed part. There are several reasons for this. However, the two most important reasons when it comes to toilets is that glazing creates a non-porous surface. Therefore, it is a natural anti-microbial. In other words, it’s smooth enough for things not to get hung up or caught up on the surface.

Problem: If the glazing of the bowl or trap is compromised from extended use or abrasive cleaners, it can cause solids to stick. This image alone could be another reason your toilet won’t flush.

The Tank

Fill valve or ballcock: This is the part of the toilet that controls the water coming into the tank. The valve 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 tank 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. However, it’s just a lot less cumbersome inside a tank.

Fill Valve

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 your water bills can also 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. In other cases, the float could be set too high, so the water never gets high enough to close off the valve. As a result, the toilet keeps running endlessly.

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 the rod and attached chain and flapper. This move allows the water to rush into the tank. Once the tank is evacuated, the flapper falls back down sealing the opening to the tank. Afterward, the tank will receive a new wave of water.

Problem: My toilet won’t flush even though I depress the handle? The linkage pipes are most likely broken. The function of these elements is to attach the handle to the flapper. If those two things aren’t connected anymore, your toilet won’t flush unless you take the lid off and lift the flapper manually.

So my toilet won’t flush, what can be the problem?

Believe me, even though I went to college, I remember 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. If my toilet won’t flush, two things can lead to this.

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

How to Fix a Toilet That Won’t Flush

So what else you can do to fix a broken toilet flush system? If your pipes are frozen, you may be experiencing problems with the main line. Flush the toilet to keep it filled. On top of that, you should 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 on how to fix a toilet that won’t flush. Another popular toilet that may need extra attention is a Thetford. This toilet has a taller seat height for more comfort, it’s lightweight and easy to install anywhere, like upstairs or in your basement. 

Now that you know how your toilet works, you are equipped with the necessary knowledge to fix the broken parts easily. However, what happens when the cause of your problem is external? Here are more common issues and their corresponding solutions.

How to Unclog a Toilet without a Plunger?

#1 One of the plumbing tools you’ll be needing is 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 by buying a 3ft version. Otherwise, your purchase will end up being a disappointment. I’m telling you now.

Properly place the end of the auger in the trap and turn the handle clockwise. Slowly push the handle down while turning. When you meet resistance, you either hit the blockage or reach a bend. Keep turning until you work the auger through.

Around 8 out of 10 times, you’ll remove the blockage after some tries. However, there are times when all the auger does is push the blockage along. In cases such as these, calling a plumber to come in and rod for real is the wisest choice. There are other methods on how to unclog a toilet without you needing a plunger, but here are the most straightforward.

picture of a ridgid closet auger

Perfect View of a Closet Auger in Action

#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. However, it’s fairly expensive. The only situation where you are at an advantage is in case you are a plumber and work with it weekly.

#3 I’m pretty sure this isn’t the answer you’re looking for when typing in your Google search “How to unclog toilet.” However, it is a valid way to unclog your toilet without a plunger.

All you have to is to 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 could try again after the toilet is removed. As 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

There are two basic types of plungers available. The first one is the cup type plunger which is most often used on kitchen sinks, bathtubs, and lavatories. The second one is 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 as the pushing power is unfocused. You have to position the plunger over the trap perfectly to get any pressure. Sometimes, due to 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. Therefore, when you’re ready to start, insert the flange into the trap and press down with two hands in a firm downward motion. Continue until the blockage gives in, then test to make sure it flushes again.

How to Fix a Running Toilet

On the other hand, there are a few steps you can take before going that route. The first one 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. All you have to do is drain the tank and clean off the scale, and you’re all set.

Final Word

As stated in the above, 99% of the issues that cause a perpetually running toilet are from the ballcock/ fill valve or the flush valve. Therefore, if you replace those two things, you’re usually good to go. Whenever your toilet won’t flush, simply consult this guide, identify the cause of the problem, and apply the solution. Hopefully, this article will serve you at the worst of times in your household. As always, thanks for reading and please feel free to ask questions or leave comments.

Sean Kavanaugh


  1. This is a great troubleshooting guide. It’s pretty scary when you try to flush and nothing happens. Luckily there is probably a simple solution out there. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Great article on common commode flushing problems. Very informative and broken down nicely. Great way for homeowners to save a little money on a service call. I’m going to start sending this link to some of my customers.

    1. Hello Kaitlin, thanks for finding us. I appreciate you reaching out but I’m a little confused. You say the flapper opens up but no water goes through? I have to ask the obvious question. Is there water in the tank? If so and no water enters the bowl you have something obstructing the flow of water. Do you have young children? They are notorious for lifting the tank lid and dropping toys in to see them float. Another common reason for obstruction is the use of toilet bowl cleaners that sit inside your tank. If they become dislodged they can end up stuck inside the pathway between the tank and bowl. I hope that helps.

      Sean K

  3. Great advice and thank you. My issue is a little different. After using the toilet the water in the bowl rose all the way up.”Pause,” and within a minute or so gurgled and went all the way down and never came back into the bowl. Bowl has no water that returned…(tank does have water) i am afraid if i flush it will really over flow the rim as no water is in the bowl…. Would this be the case?

  4. Addendum:
    I have 2 toilets in my home. One upstairs and one downstairs. Literally last week the one downstairs was clogged. Clog downstairs was fixed. Now the one upstairs did this odd thing which i just described above. Can the 2 be related??

  5. Addendum 2:
    There are no children in the home. No toys dropped in toilet. The clog upstairs was odd in that after flushing the bowl water rose, stopped at rim, gurgled and then went completely down with no water returning to bowl but there is water in the tank…

    1. OK so there is certainly a clog somewhere in the waste piping that serves the toilet. The reason a toilet’s water level would rise really high and then flush is because pressure is being built up behind the blockage. When enough pressure builds sometimes the blockage is pushed away. All of the water from the tank is used to fill the bowl making the water level rise. The bowl flushes and there is no more water to fill the bowl. You have to flush it again to fill the bowl. Is the toilet still flushing slowly? If so you have some partial blockage somewhere. I would take the toilet off and make sure there is nothing stuck in the trap. There maybe no kids in the house but something may have dropped in the toilet. A comb, a small bottle. It happens all the time.

      If nothing is in the toilet then you know it’s in the waste line. You can try using a closet auger if you have one. If not have a plumber come out and rod the line.

  6. I have “back to back” bathrooms, I just replace the leaking wax ring on one toilet and solved the water seepage problem. Now, when the other toilet is flushed the repaired toilet “gurgles” and water rises in it. Also, the toilet won’t flush.
    Any help would be appreciated.
    Thank you.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *