Simple DIY toilet-tank repairs

Most toilet problems are in-tank. Fixing them is easier than you might expect.

Key tips to remember

  • A toilet tank has a lid, a few bolts and two valves
  • One valve controls the fill
  • One valve controls the flush
  • Leaks can be fixed with new washers
  • If you have a basic tool set and a little patience, you can do this
DIY, Maintenance and Repairs

If you have any DIY aspirations whatsoever for mastering the basics of home maintenance and repairs, why not start with the essentials? If your toilet isn’t functioning properly, you’ve got a real problem, and it won’t be long before you hear about it from everyone in your home — whether they’ve ever learned how to repair a toilet themselves or not. The good news is that common toilet problems are not catastrophic, and just about anyone can learn basic toilet repair skills. If you’re wondering how to fix a toilet, before you start Googling “how does a toilet work,” start with the basics we’ve prepared right here.

The two main parts of a toilet are the tank and the bowl, and the toilet tank is where most of the repair action is going to happen. Designs can vary, so it’s a great idea to familiarize yourself with the make and model of the toilet you plan to work on before rolling up your sleeves. Most toilet-tank repair involves fixing one of two inside valves or the handle. Check under the tank cover for the make and model number, and then you can look up your toilet online for more detailed repair information. Tools and supplies you might need to replace toilet-tank parts include screwdrivers, wrenches, a small wire brush, sponges, dry rags or towels to mop up, installation and supply kits, vinegar for spot-stain removal, gaskets, seals, a new spud washer, and a bucket to catch extra water. If you have a pair, knee pads can help too.

How a toilet tank works

The tank is basically there just to hold enough water to complete a flush when you need one. The two valves that make it possible for the water in the tank to flush the bowl are the fill valve and the flush valve. You can usually spot the fill valve, sometimes called a ball cock or refill valve, on the left side of the tank after you’ve removed the lid. Fill valves are usually one of four types: brass plungers, brass or plastic diaphragms, plastic float cups or floatless. Regardless of the type, the fill valve’s job is to let in the water to fill the tank and then turn off when enough water has been let in for a flush. 

The flush valve, usually found near the center inside the tank and also made of plastic or brass, contains either a float ball or a rubber or neoprene flapper, which keeps water in the tank until the handle is turned for a flush. A chain typically lifts this flapper to allow water into the bowl and falls back down afterward to refill. If you have a loose flush handle, just make sure the chain is still connected to the flapper in the tank and that the handle mounts are tight on the inside of the tank to hold the handle in place.

Replacing toilet-tank valves

If your toilet won’t stop running, you probably have an unseated flapper in the flush valve or too much water in the tank above the overflow tube, so take a look at the flush valve. Fixing toilet flush valves is simple. To replace the floating ball-cock part of your fill valve, start by bending the float arm to heighten or lower the point at which the ball cock will shut off the water. This way, you can keep the water at manageable levels. If this method fails, you might need a new ball cock. We suggest replacing yours with a float-cup-designed fill valve, a more reliable and modern version of the ball-cock mechanism. 

To fix toilet flush mechanisms, specifically by replacing your flush valve, first determine whether you have a plunger, flapper, disc or Douglas flush valve. Look for the vertical overflow tube, which should extend into the tank from the flush valve and is designed to prevent overflow. Inside the tank, insert a smaller refill tube into the extended overflow tube to allow a trickle of water into the bowl as the tank refills. This should refill the correct amount of water into the bowl and maintain the seal.

Leaky tanks

You can begin fixing toilet leaks in your tank by replacing the old spud washer and the rubber gaskets around the tank bolts. Both tend to break down over time. First, make sure you have your bucket handy, then turn off the water using the shutoff valve outside and below the tank, turning it clockwise to close the valve. Then flush the tank and drain it completely, soaking up any leftover water with the sponges. Use a wrench to grab a tank-bolt nut and hold it in place as you unscrew the tank bolts with the screwdriver. Remove the tank and set it aside. Take out the old spud washer, using the wire brush if you need extra help to dislodge it, and then tighten the new one over the spud nut. After cleaning the contact points with the wire brush, place new gaskets onto each bolt and reinstall the nuts, tightening them by hand until you can replace the tank. Tighten by alternating among the bolts with two adjustable wrenches. Be careful not to crack the tank by overtightening these bolts.

Whether you’re wondering whether home warranties cover toilets, or you’re in a real jam trying to unclog your toilet without a plunger, we’ve got all sorts of helpful articles, including a toilet maintenance checklist and a look at common plumbing mistakes you might be making. Thanks for stopping by! We hope you’ll find plenty worth reading.


The information in this article is intended to provide guidance on the proper maintenance and care of systems and appliances in the home. Not all of the topics mentioned are covered by our home warranty or maintenance plans. Please review your home warranty contract carefully to understand your coverage.
 

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