If you have a flush toilet in your home — and who doesn’t? — you’ve probably heard of running toilet syndrome, which can show in a variety of ways. The fill valve never shuts off in a toilet with a severe case, and the toilet runs continually, wasting water and increasing your water bill, but in relatively mild cases, the fill valve may cycle on and off. Plumbers refer to this form of intermittent running toilet issue as “phantom flushing,” because the fill valve cycles on at night when the house is silent, giving the impression that someone is flushing the toilet when no one is present.
You don’t need to contact a plumber to fix your running toilet because, if you’re like most homeowners, you’ll be able to handle it yourself and save the service cost. This do-it-yourself project rarely necessitates the use of any tools other than a screwdriver, and you might not even need that. If your pressure-assisted toilet continues to run after a flush, this signals a leak in the pressure tank, and replacing the tank isn’t as straightforward as repairing a standard flush-and-fill system.
Replace the Flush and Fill Valves.
Every toilet has a valve that allows water to enter the tank and another that allows water to exit the tank and into the bowl, and either of these valves can induce running toilet syndrome. The fill valve is offset to one side of the tank and located above the water supply line, while the flush valve is the wide opening in the bottom center of the tank covered by a flapper or canister that is chained to the flush handle.
The most typical reason of fill valve faults is an incorrectly adjusted float, which you can easily fix in under a minute. When the flush valve fails, the most common cause is a worn flapper or canister seal, which is also a simple fix but may require a trip to the hardware store. Sometimes the leak is caused by rust around the flush valve orifice, which is also repairable, but it takes a little more time and may require removing the toilet tank.
Adjust the Floats
The water level is controlled by the float on the fill valve. It could be a huge, air-filled plastic ball on the end of a plastic or metal armature, or it could be a sealed plastic cup that moves up and down the fill valve shaft. When the float is not properly adjusted, the water level in the bowl can rise above the opening of the overflow pipe, which is part of the flush valve.
You may modify the length of the armature on a ball float by screwing or unscrewing the float ball — make it longer to decrease the tank water level and shorter to raise the water level. Lowering the water level is also possible by twisting the float arm such that the bend in the middle is pointing up. Turn the screw on the adjustment rod of a cup-style float by hand or with a screwdriver to adjust it. Lower the water level by turning the screw counterclockwise, and raise it by turning it clockwise. Some floats are modified by squeezing a metal clip and moving it up and down a metal rod.
If the fill valve does not respond to float modifications, the valve sensitivity may need to be adjusted (for those that have this adjustment; many do not). To close the valve and make it more sensitive, locate the screw on the top of the valve and turn it clockwise with a screwdriver. This should cause it to switch off faster and lower the water level. If the fill valve does not respond to this adjustment, it is time to replace it.
Replace the Toilet Fill Valve
A replacement fill valve may be purchased for less than $20, and if you have a choice, go with a cup-style valve, commonly known as a Fluidmaster valve after the firm that first marketed it. The valve comes with installation instructions, but basically, you will do the following:
Remove the water supply line from the toilet’s base.
Using pliers, unscrew the locknut under the tank and remove the rubber washer.
Rotate the two halves of the valve shaft to adjust the length of the new fill valve to fit your tank. When the valve is mounted, the clearance between the top of the valve and the tank lid should be less than 1 inch.
Insert the valve’s threaded end through the tank hole, then slip on the washer from underneath, screw on the locknut, and tighten with pliers.
Reconnect the water source, turn on the water, and watch the level when the water runs out. As needed, adjust the float to raise or lower the level. It should be about 1 inch below the overflow tube opening towards the center of the tank.
Replace the Flapper
When water penetrates through the flapper or canister and empties the tank, the fill valve continues to operate in an attempt to replenish the tank, and if the leak is slow, the valve will cycle on and off periodically, which is the not-so-mysterious cause of phantom flushing. The water in the toilet bowl ripples as a result of the leak, albeit this agitation can be practically invisible if the leak is slow.
Fluidmaster suggests pulling down on the flapper to see whether the rippling stops, but if the leak is too slow to cause rippling, a better test is to put food coloring in the tank at night and watch if the bowl water has taken on the color in the morning. If the water in the bowl is discolored, this indicates that the flapper or flush valve is leaking. Flappers are affordable and simple to replace if you get the right size. Fluidmaster and Korky both provide universal flappers that fit the majority of toilets. It is simple to replace a flapper:
Disconnect the old flapper from the chain that connects it to the flush handle. This may necessitate the use of pliers.
Pull on the flapper’s ears to free it from the overflow tube.
Connect the chain to the new flapper and the ears on the overflow tube.
If your toilet has a canister rather than a flapper, you rarely need to replace the entire canister, only the bottom seal. Reading your owner’s manual will usually provide a simple procedure for removing the canister.
Other Problems With the Flush Valve
If a leaking flapper is the source of the running toilet, it could simply be that the flapper chain is too short, preventing the flapper from properly seated. Unhook the chain, stretch it by one or two links, then rejoin it to correct this. However, if the chain is too long, the flapper will not rise all the way when you push the flush lever, and the toilet will not flush properly.
When replacing the flapper and properly setting the flapper chain does not stop a leak, it is due to a loose or corroded fitting surrounding the flush valve orifice. Some flush valves include a plastic adapter that needs to be tightened with pliers, but if the valve is brass and the metal is pitted, you should replace the flush valve. To do this, you must first remove the toilet tank from the bowl in order to gain access to the locknut that secures the flush valve to the tank.
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