The toilet’s not working? Well shit.
We tend to take the humble toilet for granted; after all, variations on the flush toilet have been around since the latter half of the 18th century, and they’ve been refined and perfected to the point which they function almost without fail, flush after flush.
Except… when they don’t.
If you’ve got a backed up, overflowing, or leaking toilet in your home, you’re going to stop taking that humble hunk of porcelain for granted right quick. (Here’s a fun fact for you: most toilets aren’t porcelain at all, but are actually cast using a suspension called “slip!” But brah, you’ve got a toilet about to bubble over, enough with the digressions.)
When the toilet craps out on you (oi… sorry), you need to think fast. First, let’s assess the situation! Just please keep in mind that this is a primer for solving common and minor toilet troubles – before you go disconnecting pipes, call a plumber.
1. Is the toilet actively or imminently overflowing? Then skip below!
2. Looks like we’ve got a clog, ey?
3. When you flush, is the water going down but not the… um… the rest?
4. Is there water leaking from the back, bowl, or bottom of the toilet?
5. Did you break the goddamn handle off again, Paul?
6. Toilet running? That can cost you.
OK, first let’s deal with the emergency first!
1. If the toilet is about to overflow…
Then there’s little time to waste, men! (Get it? DAMN that’s a good one. Thanks, thanks very much.) Your first move is to get the top off the tank and grab that floating arm-thingy! That’s the ballcock (we didn’t name it…) and lift it up, thereby closing the valve letting the water flow down into that clogged toilet bowl of yours. Now find the valve on the line connecting your commode to its water source and turn the damn thing off.
OK, you’ve bought yourself the most precious gift of all: time. Now we can deal with the situation at, which is almost certainly caused by the fact that…
2. So the damn toilet is clogged, ey?
Well, what do you think is the logical first step? Plunging, right? Right. It’s plunging. Get a plunger (fancy bulbous, good ol’ red, whatever ya got) and get in there! Make sure there’s enough water in the bowl to form a seal, and don’t be afraid to pour in a cupful or two if need be. Plunge down about a half dozen times, then break the seal and listen for that gurgle! If you hear it, go ahead and try flushing, but be ready to reimplement Step 1.
Plunging failed? Go ahead and try some drain-clearing liquid, but don’t hold your breath: that stuff never works like on TV. Dump a bottle in, wait a bit, and prepare for likely disappointment. Or just move right to…
This clog is serious? Then it’s time for a snake attack! Or rather… a plumber’s auger, commonly referred to as a snake, is the best way to clear stubborn clogs. You can try a coat hanger if you like looking rather silly and want at best middling chances of success, or you can rent or purchase a snake for an affordable price – many are designed to use a common power drill as their source of torque! Anyway, use the snake as directed, and don’t force it too much: calling a professional plumber to clear your clog is a lot better than calling him to fix the pipes you broke.
3. Weak flush there, buddy?
If your toilet’s flush leaves something to be desired (AKA leaves something undesirable in the bowl), the solution might be as simple as readjusting the ballcock (the floaty thing in the tank) to allow for more water in the tank before each flush. You can extend the chain linking it to the flapper seal or you can try bending the ballcock arm. If neither of those fixes work, then you need to check for leaks (or call Mario).
And remember: if the toilet can’t muster enough flushing power from its tank, you can always pour water directly into the bowl to create the verisimilitude of a flush. Just get a pot or bucket that holds about as much water as a flush would contain (likely one gallon, thus the standard 1 GPF rating of many modern toilets, though some use more) and dump it in there all at once.
4. Dude, the toilet’s leaking
A leaking toilet can be an easy fix… or it can be an unsolvable problem requiring replacement. The first step is to make sure everything that should be screwed in tightly is indeed screwed in tightly. Look at the base, under the tank, in the tank, etc. If everything is all screwed up, so to speak, then next check the washers for damage (or absence). Finally, you need to look for cracks. If your toilet is cracked, you might need a new toilet. Sorry.
5. Paul, did you break this handle again?
What the hell, dude? Are you angry at the toilet? Get your ass to Home Depot.
6. Don’t let the toilet run!
Try turning on your sink’s faucet and then just walking away. Good for you, buddy: you’re wasting money and one of our planet’s most precious resources. Of course we’re kidding with you, you would never just leave a sink running! But if you hear a constant hiss of water emerging from the commode and you leave it untended, you’re every bit as guilty. For… shame…
Anyway, some solutions: pop the top off the tank and make sure the ballcock floaty thing isn’t being inhibited from rising by another piece of hardware, by rubbing on the tank’s wall, and so forth. Also make sure the float itself is in working order, and not taking on water that would prevent its proper buoyancy. Next check the flapper seal and make sure it’s in good shape and not torn or punctured and not covered in gunk that could block a seal. Finally consider replacing the entire ballcock and flappy thing assembly or…
…just call a damn plumber.