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How Do You Fix a Toilet That Keeps Running?

A toilet that is intermittently or even continuously running is a frustrating experience many homeowners face - but not only is this an annoying inconvenience, it can be an expensive one too as it runs up your utility bills. 

Fixing a toilet that keeps running is not too complicated but will require a couple of hours of your time, given you have the right tools for the job. Regardless, we recommend fixing the toilet as soon as possible so that the problem doesn’t get worse and so that it doesn’t continually drain your water and your money! Here at WM Buffington, we know a thing or two about fixing toilets with over 70 years of experience as a Harrisburg plumber. Read on for all you need to know about fixing that toilet in no time. 

Causes of a Running Toilet

A good indication that your toilet is running is if you hear a regular sound of running water even though no one in your home flushed a toilet. The first step, therefore, is to identify the root of the problem - in most situations, it’s either due to the overflow tube, flush valve, or fill valve. 

The first port of call is to check the water tank. If water is flowing into the overflow tube, it means the water level is too high or the overflow tube is too short for the toilet. In the first instance, simply adjust the water level so that less flows into the tank, but if the overflow tube is too short, it may require a complete replacement of the valve assembly. 

If the problem persists and it is not caused by one of the above, then it could be that the fill valve has an issue. However, if the water is filled correctly (to about one inch below the overflow tube), then you’ll need to focus your attention on the flush valve assembly. The chain, for example, might be too short, preventing the flapper from fully closing. The flapper itself could also be worn, off-kilter, warped, or coated in grime, causing water to flow through a gap that is normally plugged by the flapper.

By this point, you’ll have likely identified the cause of the running water and below we will detail the appropriate fixes, but if you are still struggling to identify the issue, consider contacting a Harrisburg plumber for help. 

Required Tools and Equipment

The toilet components you may have to work with includes: 

  • Flapper
  • Flush valve
  • Overflow valve
  • Fill valve
  • Flush valve chain
  • Float

The equipment you’ll need to fix these parts includes: 

  • New toilet components if any of the above are damaged
  • Screwdriver
  • Bucket
  • Towel, cloth, or sponge
  • Channel locks

Step 1 - Check Water Level

The first step will be to open the water tank lid and check the water level. While doing so, try flushing the toilet and check over each component to ensure each is operating properly. If the water is sitting below the water line after the filling process or is never able to reach the water line, check the fill valve to ensure the water is fully on. You can adjust this valve to fill the tank with more water. 

If the water is above the water line and in contact with the overflow valve, then decrease the amount of water so it returns to the water line. In this situation, overflowing water was the cause of your continually running toilet. This may simultaneously be caused by a float that is out of position. If you adjust the float so that it is lower in the tank, then water should not fill up as high. If the float is too high, it can cause water to rise and, in turn, travel through the overflow pipe into the toilet bowl. As a rule of thumb, the water should be about an inch lower than the overflow pipe. 

If the float is in any way damaged, such as being clogged with water or having a broken clip, it will need to be replaced. 

Step 2 - Check the Flush Valve Components

If the water level is below the water line and changing the fill valve or float height doesn’t help your problem, there is likely an issue with the flush valve. 

First, check the flapper. There’s a chance that the flapper is stuck open or not completely covering the valve. To fix this, simply reach into the water tank and close the flapper. While doing so, check the flapper for any signs of wear, tear, or other damage - if it is damaged, it could sit on the valve improperly and let water run through. In this case, it will need to be replaced. 

If the flapper seems to be in good condition, there’s a chance that there is something wrong with the chain. The chain attached to the flapper could be twisted or tangled, causing it to be too short and thereby preventing the flapper from closing properly. Simply adjust the chain with your hand so that it sits naturally again, and replace the flapper on top of the flush valve once more. If something is wrong with the chain (such as it being damaged), it will need to be replaced. 

Step 3 - Flush the Toilet Again

After completing the above steps, keep the water tank lid off and flush the toilet again. If the water fills properly and stops running, then you’ve fixed the problem! If not, then you will need to replace one of the components of the flush or fill assembly. 

To replace the flush valve, begin by purchasing a new flush valve assembly, ensuring that it fits the size of your toilet. Next, turn off the water supply and flush the toilet to drain all the remaining water - use a cloth, sponge, or towel to soak up anything that’s left. Disconnect the water supply using a set of channel locks. After removing the water supply, you’ll need to detach the water tank (removing bolts and carefully lifting and placing the tank nearby) and remove the old flush valve assembly in the toilet-to-bowl gasket area which can be placed in a bucket. Finally, install the new flush valve and reassemble the portions of the toilet in the reverse order you removed them. Turn the water back on, let the water fill the tank, and test your new assembly with a few flushes. 

To replace the fill valve, begin the same way by turning off the water supply and drying the tank and bowl as necessary. Remove the supply line with channel locks, then unscrew the nut at the bottom of the tank to loosen the fill valve assembly. Remove the old assembly (placing it nearby or in a bucket), and install the new one. Once the new one is installed with the locking nut at the bottom of the tank, check the height of the fill valve and float accordingly. Reattach the water supply and let the tank fill with water. At this point, you can make more adjustments to the float and water level. Finally, test your new assembly with a few flushes. 

WM Buffington: A Harrisburg Plumber When You Need Them

A DIY toilet fix is one way to save money, but you can also risk disappointment, injury, invalidating your warranty, and loss of time. To ensure you get the job done right, efficiently and effectively with no time required on your end, consider hiring a trained professional. 

WM Buffington is a Harrisburg plumber serving the Pennsylvania community for over 70 years. While this article serves as a guide, we cannot guarantee any outcome when you attempt it on your own. Give our friendly team of professionals a call today to get the fix you need as soon as possible! 

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