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Plumbing Problems 101: How to Stop a Running Toilet

November 27, 2023

Steps To Stop a Running Toilet

A running toilet is a situation in which a toilet continues to operate constantly in the background even when it’s not being used. Hence, why we call it a runny toilet; similar to a leaky faucet that drip-drops water subtly, a runny toilet, too, can waste thousands of litres of water per day. But besides increased water consumption and skyrocketing monthly utility bills, a running toilet can result in a sewage water backup and flood, resulting in costly and permanent water and moisture damage. Sooner to later, your walls and floors will showcase signs of mould and mildew growth as they rapidly deteriorate. This is atop, of course, being exposed to contaminated wastewater chock-full of bacteria, pathogens, and germs that you absolutely do not want to be made susceptible to.

Our expert Ontario plumbers from Hy-Pro Plumbing & Drain Cleaning have put together a 101 quick fix solution blog for all our clients who are keen on using some elbow grease. How to stop a running toilet has never been easier.

What Is A Runny Toilet & Why Is It Problematic?

To put it simply, a running toilet is when there is a very slow leak from the toilet’s tank into the bowl. Typically, a running toilet is the result of a broken toilet flapper or flush valve, overflow tube, or refill valve. For example, if the flush valve is badly damaged, it can cause a runny toilet as this component is responsible for plugging and holding water inside the toilet’s tank until you press down on the handle to flush the toilet bowl. Over time, the flush valve or flapper will get worn out, resulting in water trickling back into the bowl. On the other hand, it may be due to a faulty overflow tube. For example, if the water from the tank is running into the overflow tube, it may indicate the water levels in your toilet may be too high, or the tube itself may be too short in length for the toilet. Either way, you would need to ask a professional plumber for a toilet repair. It’s best not to outright ignore a runny toilet as it can also indicate a deeper underlying problem, such as a leak situated at the base of your toilet, which can result in critical water damage to your bathroom as the water leaks through the flooring. Here are some telltale signs you have a running toilet problem:

  • Odd bubbling or gurgling sounds when the toilet is not being used
  • Hairline cracks or fractures in the porcelain material
  • Frequent clogs
  • Random water puddles
  • Condensation on the tank due to excessive humidity levels
  • Connections under the tank are leaking
  • The wax sealing ring underneath the bowl has loosened
  • You have to jiggle and hold the handle down more to let the tank empty each time you flush any remnants

If you’ve noticed any of the above, you may need to rely on an expert and experienced plumber to perform an inspection and diagnose the runny toilet issue, as various components of the toilet itself may be broken.

How to Stop a Running Toilet: What Are Practical Methods For Preventing A Running Toilet?

Ballcock Or Refill Valve

The toilet’s refill valve or refill tube is a component that fills your tank with water whilst controlling its water level so there is a moderate amount of water. The minimum water level or threshold is known as the critical level mark, which must be one inch below the overflow pipe’s height. This can be adjusted through the float arm on the refill valve. Sometimes if the refill valve is misaligned or incorrectly installed, it can result in a runny toilet.

Quick Fix Solution

For starters, check your refill valve for any small holes and leaks while your toilet is running. Follow up by turning off the main water supply, flushing the toilet, and checking the fill valve for any clogs. Plus, securely fasten the lock nut on your tank’s exterior. Sometimes, despite having cleaned the refill tube, you have to replace it as it may no longer be as effective as it used to be. Here is how you can troubleshoot a faulty refill valve on a running toilet:

  • Moderate Adjustment: Firstly, the refill valve itself may need to be repositioned. You can do this by adjusting the spline on the refill valve. For reference, the refill valve is the tall vertical pipe on the very left side of your toilet’s tank, whereas the spline is the vertical piece that extends diagonally from the toilet’s handle and moves up and down as you press down on the handle. For example, if you pull the spine upwards and the water in the tank stops flowing, the refill valve is likely busted. Take a screwdriver and adjust the screw on the spline counterclockwise to decrease the refill valve’s instability.
  • Cut It Off: Next, you need to shut off the water supply and drain out the toilet’s tank. You can do this by turning off the valve that connects the toilet to the wall and draining your tank. If, after that, water stops pouring from the refill valve, the valve itself is glitchy and needs to be replaced.
  • Prep Is Best: If that is the case, place a bucket underneath the fill valve (the spot at which the water supply line feeds into the toilet’s tank) to ensure water does flood out your bathroom as you troubleshoot.
  • Stop The Water Works: Now you need to disconnect the water supply line. This is normally located outside of the toilet and attached directly to the tank, usually beneath the refill valve. You can use a wrench to unscrew the lock nut counterclockwise, which fastens the water line in place.
  • Remove And Set Aside: Now that the water supply line has been unattached, you’ll discover a safety lock nut that is attached to the refill valve on the outside of the tank. Remove the lock nut again using the wrench counterclockwise. After completely unscrewing its safety nut, remove the old and original refill valve from the toilet’s tank. Please note–don’t immediately trash the old refill valve as you will need to purchase a similar replacement from your local home hardware store, and you must get the correct size and style refill valve for your toilet.
  • Shiny And New: Next, install the new refill valve in the same place within the toilet’s tank. Carefully fit the valve in the hole in the tank where the water supply flows through. Finally, reconnect the water supply line and securely fasten the nut going clockwise to tighten it. Be careful not to overly tighten as you can accidentally damage or break the bottom of the refill valve. Just fasten enough so that the water supply line is airtight and free of any leakages.
  • Mount And Set: Reattach the refill tube (the rubber pipe extending horizontally from the refill valve) to the overflow valve, which is another vertical pipe adjacent to the refill valve. Ensure the refill tube is positioned so it drains inside of the overflow tube rather than outside of it and into the tank.
  • Just Floating Around: Finally, ensure that the float’s height for the refill valve is correct. The float must be adjusted so that the water level in the tank sits one inch below the overflow tube. For accuracy, you can use a measuring tape to measure from the bottom up of the tank and adjust the refill valve accordingly by adjusting the screw on the spline.

A useful tip: The trick is to ensure the refill tube is not fully submerged in water. You can check this once you turn the water supply back on and check the water level. If it looks off, keep adjusting the float height as needed.

Flapper Or Flush Valve

The toilet flapper or flush valve is usually a flexible red or black rubber seal that serves as the opening between the tank and the bowl. Each time the toilet is flushed, the rubber tank ball or flapper itself lifts automatically, and fresh water rushes into the bowl. The flush valve also curbs water flow by stopping water from draining from the tank and into the toilet’s bowl whilst allowing the tank to refill as necessary. Normally a damaged and old flapper is one of the biggest reasons why water leaks into the bowl and results in a running toilet, a phenomenon known as ghost flushing. In this case, the bowl must reach a specific water level before it can flush. And once you do flush, it may drain out way too much liquid per flush, leaving bare little water behind. This is terrible for your home’s energy efficiency as your water consumption will increase.

Quick Fix Solution

If you have a hard water problem, we recommend installing a water softener system from an accredited plumbing service provider. Hard water is one of the main culprits which contributes to a deteriorating flush valve. Here are some other troubleshooting tactics you can use on your flapper or flush valve if you have a running toilet:

  • All About Prep: Before you begin to play around and fix the flapper, we recommend turning off the water supply to the toilet by twisting the supply valve counterclockwise. This will completely flush the toilet with excess water.
  • Just Wiggling Around: First, try to jiggle the toilet’s handle to see if that prevents the water from running inside of it. Oftentimes, the water continues to run within the toilet because the chain that is attached to the toilet’s handle and flapper gets twisted and knotty and needs to be straightened out. By simply jiggling the handle, you can stop the water from running. But if the chain gets caught up more often than not, it may be the wrong length and need to be adjusted manually or replaced.
  • Chained Together: Next, adjust the chain that pulls that flapper upwards to the appropriate length because if it’s long or short, it can result in leaks and a running toilet. For example, if the chain is too long, it can get caught under the flapper or flush valve and prevent a seal from forming. But if the chain is too short, it will continue to tug on the flush valve even when it’s not in use, letting water drain continuously. Basically, the chain should outline a “J” shape when the tank’s lid is closed but still have some slack to be pulled taut when you press down on the toilet’s handle. You can adjust the chain’s length by removing the hook and moving the chain up or down a couple of links.
  • Inspector Gadget & Scrub: Sometimes, the flapper or flush valve itself is defective and needs to be checked for damage and debris, or it may be bent into a wayward shape. You can confirm this by removing the flapper from the bottom of the tank by unscrewing the pins and holding it fastened to the overflow tube. Carefully inspect the rubber flapper for accumulated mineral and sediment deposits, warping, discoloration, and other defects. Be sure to scrub it clean before reattaching it. For example, one of the best cleaning methods is to use a sponge or toothbrush and any antibacterial soap while rinsing it with water. You can even use vinegar to readily remove any lingering residue. But If you find that your flush valve is badly damaged and no longer salvageable, it may need to be replaced, especially if its texture has become brittle and is no longer sealing properly.
  • Nice And New: If you do need to replace your damaged and worn-out flapper or flush valve with a brand new one, make sure you purchase an identical replacement from your local hardware store, especially a flapper with the same style and dimensions. Installation is fairly easy, just attach the new flapper in place of the old one and attach the hooks to the pins on the overflow tube. Do a pilot test but turn the water supply back on to see if it’s functioning properly and the toilet is no longer running.

Flush Valve: Chain

The flush valve is responsible for getting rid of the remnants inside of the toilet bowl and transporting them into the sewer lateral through the drainage pipe. Sometimes the chain that’s attached to the flush valve has become too loose to too tight and needs to be adjusted. The correct length of the chain allows the toilet to flush more efficiently. Each time you press the toilet’s handle, it triggers a series of events, including lifting the flapper and raising the float.

Quick Fix Solution

If you need to adjust the chain, detach the clasp from the toilet handle and give more slack to the chain or pull it tighter as needed. Finally, reconnect the clasp back on the handle.

Float Ball

A float ball is responsible for regulating the water level within a tank. For example, depending on where a float ball is situated within a toilet’s tank, the water will rise to match it. So if the float ball is positioned too high, your toilet will likely overflow. At times a leaky toilet is due to a misaligned float ball. The float ball itself is attached to the lever and diverts water into the refill tube. If the float is somehow faulty, your toilet will become runny. As a homeowner, you must ensure that the float ball is at a neutral position–not too high or too low–within the tank.

Quick Fix Solution

The float ball itself is attached to the float rod, which connects to the toilet’s valve. You can adjust the ball float by unscrewing the valve clockwise to lower the ball or counterclockwise to raise the ball. Here are some steps you can follow to adjust the position of the float ball for a running toilet:

  • Toggle Refill Valve: For starters, you need to adjust the refill valve that is attached to the float ball. You will notice there is a screw that attaches the float arm to the refill valve. After you begin to turn the screw, it will automatically adjust the height of the float. Use a screwdriver to turn the screw counterclockwise to lower the float ball. Confirm if the adjusted height is appropriate by flushing the water and allowing the water in the tank to refill. If the water level sits at most 1.5 inches below the top part of the overflow tube, then you are good to go. If not, continue to adjust the screw until the water level is correct.
  • Snap And Pop: Sometimes, the refill tube which is attached to the refill valve has popped off and is no longer in the correct position. If you notice water does fill the tank after the toilet has been flushed, this may be the reason why. This refill tube must always sit above the water level and be securely attached to the overflow valve. Make sure the refill tube hasn’t popped off and is not hanging around haphazardly within the tank.

Frequently Asked Questions About A Running Toilet

What Are The Different Types Of Toilets Available?

One-Piece: This is an entry-level type of toilet as it comes with the tank and the bowl pre-assembled and both attached together as a single unit. It’s durable, compact, and easy to install. Overall, it’s easy to maintain and clean and attracts less debris and bacterial growth. But because it’s less prone to breakages, it’s more expensive than its counterparts.

Two-Piece: The tank and bowl are separate, and so this type of toilet needs to be assembled. Due to the individual pieces being detachable, this toilet is easier to repair, which is good because a two-piece unit tends to break down more often and needs frequent toilet repairs. Plus, it’s more lightweight and easier to maneuver within your bathroom, so you can customize it based on your preference for different heights.

Wall-Mounted: Less commonplace than its counterparts, this type of toilet is directly affixed onto the wall, and the tank is hidden behind the wall. So this toilet takes up less space and is a great option for smaller bathrooms, and is easy to clean given its minimalist design. A wall-mounted toilet is, however, more expensive to install as it takes more effort and labour.

Should I Be Worried About A Running Toilet?

Similar to a leaky faucet, it may not be a plumbing emergency, but a running toilet can waste thousands of gallons of water per day as your water consumption increases and your monthly utility bills soar. For example, your water bills can be inflated by nearly $200 per month. This is terrible both for your pocketbook and your eco-footprint. Besides this, if your toilet begins to overflow due to a busted component, it can result in permanent and costly water and moisture damage from a potential flood.

What Part Needs To Be Replaced If Your Toilet Is Constantly Running All Day?

A constantly running toilet is usually due to a problem with the flapper or flush valve assembly, so this is the first area you want to check. For example, assess if the attached chain is the correct length because if it’s too short, the flush valve itself won’t close properly. But if it’s too long, it may get caught up and trapped underneath the flapper’s opening, resulting in a leak.

Hy-Pro Plumbing Will Halt Your Toilet From Leaking–Call Us Today!

Based on this convenient survival guide for learning how to stop a running toilet courtesy of Hy-Pro Plumbing & Drain Cleaning, we are confident that you can restore your toilet to shipshape condition. If, however, you are not a handyman of sorts, we understand, and we recommend you hire a professional plumber for the job. Go ahead and reach out to one of our courteous customer service representatives at 1-877-554-9776 to schedule an appointment. We also serve nearby areas with a wide range of residential and commercial plumbing services, from clogged drains to drain cleaning and water heater repair. You deserve all the best of facilities and amenities, including a comfortable porcelain throne, so don’t hesitate to reach out!

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