DIY: Common Plumbing Problems: Fixing Your Toilet

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If you have noticed that your toilet is just not working right, there are a few things that you can do yourself that will help you save money. A malfunctioning toilet can be extremely inconvenient and can also cause an increase in your water bill. The most common problems with a toilet can be found inside the tank. The inner workings of the toilet tank control how the toilet flushes, how it shuts off after each flush, and the water level. Following are a few of the most common causes for a toilet to malfunction and how to repair the related toilet plumbing. (My husband, a plumber for over 12 years, gave me this information.)


leaky toilet water waste

Determine whether or not flapper valve needs replacing


Put food coloring in toilet tank. Putting food coloring in the tank of your toilet probably sounds a bit weird; however, my plumber husband says that this is one of the easiest ways to determine whether or not your toilet is leaking. Simply put some food coloring in the tank only, but please do not use left over paint from previous painting projects. Do not flush. If the color shows up in the toilet bowl, the flapper valve needs to be replaced.

Replace flapper valve


The food coloring has shown you that your flapper valve is leaking, and now you must replace it. Turn off the water to your toilet and flush the toilet, which will empty the water from the tank. The flapper valve is the round rubber part at the bottom of the tank and usually a red color, though some are black. Most flapper valves have two little “wings” on either side from which you unhook the old flapper valve. (Some flapper valves may be connected by a circle of rubber on the top of the valve.) Take this to your local hardware or plumbing supply store. Replace the new flapper valve doing the opposite of how you removed it. (Note: All new flapper valves have both the little “wings” at the bottom and the circle of rubber at the top. If you do not need the circle of rubber at the top, just cut it off with a pair of scissors.)

Replace the ball cock

The ball cock, which may also sometimes be called the water inlet valve, is on a shaft inside your toilet tank. The ball cock slides down when the toilet is flushed. It then rises as the tank refills. At a certain point, the ball cock stops the water from rising, and then the water in the tank stops running. If the water in the tank continues to run – which can definitely cause an increase in your water bill – the ball cock needs to be replaced. To replace, turn off the water to your toilet and flush the toilet to empty the water from the tank. Use a sponge or a rag to remove the rest of the water from the tank. Loosen the nut on the water supply line on the outside and underneath the toilet tank. Then remove the nut to the ball cock, located in the same place. Lift the ball cock out of the tank. My husband recommends purchasing a Fluidmaster brand; however, you can take the worn ball cock to your local hardware or plumbing supply store to purchase a replacement part. The easiest way then to replace the ball cock is to follow the instructions included with your replacement parts. Finally adjust the ball cock to the proper water level.

Check the water supply line


After replacing your ball cock and before turning the water back on to your toilet, you should check your water supply line while you already have it loose from your toilet tank. If it looks old and worn, you may decide that you want to replace it, too. Simply take the water supply line loose from the other end, usually at the cut off valve to your toilet. Be sure to replace it with the same length of line.



If you feel that you require the services of a plumber, check with family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers for recommendations.



Some plumbing problems concerning your toilet, such as a cracked bowl or worn seal, may require more expertise than you possess. In such cases, it is probably wise that you check with a licensed and experienced plumber.