how toilet works

Toilet Tips

Last week, I shared with you my deep, dark secret on how I accidentally killed off my garbage disposal.  You guys can all stop laughing at me now, by the way.  This week, I want to share with you something that not a lot of people want to talk about, and when they do, there’s usually a disgusting story to go with it.  I’m talking about your toilet (what did you guys think I was talking about?!), and what to do to stop it from running (no, you don’t need to go catch it).  True story, we had a customer contact us concerned that she had a leak somewhere in her home because her water bill had doubled.  When we investigated the issue, we found that her toilet had been running as the result of a bad flapper.  When she got her new bill, it was back to normal and all was well!  When your toilet is running, you’re potentially wasting gallons of water per day as our poor customer discovered via her water bill.  Don’t despair though!  Most often, the repair is simple and doesn’t require tools or a plumber.

To begin, you need to understand how your toilet works as well as identify the parts to your toilet.  The first thing to understand is that toilets work on gravity.  When you push down on the flush lever (handle), it lifts a rubber flapper that allows water to run from the tank into the bowl.  Once the water runs out of the tank, the flapper closes which allows the tank to fill again.  The water in the tank slowly rises until a float closes off the intake.  Now that you have a basic understanding of what the parts in your toilet tank do, let’s identify them.

A. Toilet Flush Lever (Handle)

B. Rubber flapper – this blocks the tank water from going into the bowl.  As you can see, it’s attached to the flush lever (handle) via a chain.

C. Pump that refills the tank after it empties.

D. Float that raises and lowers with the water level to tell the pump when to go and stop.

E. Overflow tube – this sets the high water level in the tank.

Not pictured:  The water shut off valve.  This is the knob that is at the wall behind your toilet.  Before you get started on making any adjustments to the parts in your toilet, we recommend you shut the water off to your toilet by tightening the knob.  Remember, lefty loosy and righty tighty!

***Note:  The water that is in the tank is clean, and it’s okay to stick your hands into the tank to pull out or adjust parts.  As you would with any home repair, be sure to wash your hands when you’re done.***

Issue #1:  Problems with the Chain

Start off by checking the connection between the flush lever (handle) and the rubber flapper that it’s attached to.  Do this by jiggling the handle and watching the chain that’s between it and the flapper.  If the chain is too short, you’ll notice that it pulls on the flapper even when the handle is at rest.  If you have extra length on the chain, it’s simple to move the clip down.  If there’s not extra length, you can add length by adding an additional aluminum ball chain or simply replacing it with a new chain. If it’s too long, you’ll notice that it may interfere with the flapper when it’s closing.  If your chain is too long, simply adjust the chain to the length that is appropriate. Note:  Some chains have floats attached to them.  If your chain is one of those, make sure the float is loosely floating on the surface or else it may also be pulling the flapper up.  If it’s causing the flapper to move up, simply move the float up on the chain or remove it.


Issue #2:  Broken, Dirty, or Warped Flapper

As time progresses, the flapper in your toilet can warp or break at the hinge and may cause a leak to occur.  Check on the flapper by, first, flushing your toilet to drain the water from the tank.  Once water has drained, unhook the flapper from the base of the tank and pull it to the surface to inspect it closer.  Inspect the flapper by turning it over to check for any discoloration (discoloration can be a sign that the flapper is warped), mineral deposits, warping, or breaks in the plastic or rubber.  If you see mineral deposits or what appears to be discoloration, try cleaning it off first.  If you see an issue with the flapper such as warping or breaks, it’s time to replace it.  Luckily, flappers are cheap and easy to replace.  To replace it, disconnect the current flapper from the chain and simply attach the new one.  To finish, hook the flapper back over the drain.  Note:  When you buy a new flapper, make sure you get one that attaches to the chain in the thick center part and not the thin outer lip (this is where flappers are more likely to warp or break.)


Issue #3:  Float Position

When you flush your toilet, the tank should stop filling when the water is just above the overflow pipe.  To test this, flush the toilet a few times and gauge where the water stops.  If the water goes over the pipe and the tank is still filling, then the float for the pump is too high.  The easiest way to resolve this issue is to bend the rod connecting the float to the pump so the float is lower and will signal the pump to turn off sooner.  If the arm won’t bend, well, it may be time to break out the tools….or call us!

The next time your hear your toilet running, get in there and poke around a little.  Chances are that you’ll be able to identify the problem, make an easy fix, and save time and money by not having to call us.  However, if you do have to call us, we’ll be more than happy to help you in any way that we can!  You can reach us by phone at 972-562-4444 or via email at  We hope you enjoy the rest of your week, and if you’re on Spring Break, be safe and have fun!  Join us next week as we talk about the warning signs of a clog in your home.

Leave a Reply