🕑 8 minutes read

Simple DIY tips to fix toilets

Minor plumbing problems can happen at any time, mostly when unexpected. Usually, you can fix minor plumbing problems yourself, if you’re a keen DIY-er? Thus avoiding the services of a professional plumber to fix your toilet or similar household plumbing repairs?

Hopefully, the DIY tips below will inspire and give you the courage to tackle some of the more common bathroom/WC/plumbing problems you may encounter. Serviceteam have some useful tips, supplied by our plumbing engineers, to make that DIY plumbing repair all the more doable.

Some of the more challenging repairs will of course, require professional help to fix a toilet that’s really broken and has seen better days! However, one of the most common plumbing calls we receive is to fix a blocked toilet.

The good news is that the most common toilet repairs are within the capabilities of a keen DIY-er. If you are willing to ‘have a go’, it only requires a few basic tools that are already in your tool box. Toilets, thankfully, are simple in design with a few basic parts and only a couple that move.

Usually, when a toilet malfunctions, it’s relatively simple to identify the problem and fix it. If you are reluctant or hesitant to perform a repair because you don’t know precisely how things operate, we will run through some of the more common toilet issues and explain how to manage a DIY toilet repair, without calling out a professional plumber.

Understanding the component parts of a toilet?

Most toilets works by gravity and a siphoning unit. The toilet bowl itself retains a level of water deep enough to prevent any obnoxious smells returning into the room. The cistern (above the WC) stores water for the next flush.

When the chain or flush handle is pulled or pushed, a flap at the bottom of the syphon lifts and pushes the water (in the cistern) up the syphon and down into the bowl. The fall of the water flushes the waste out of the bowl and into the soil pipe.

After flushing, the water, under mains pressure, simultaneously enters the cistern, raising the flap (flush valve seat) filling the cistern once more. The water stops flowing into the cistern once the float in the syphon has reached the preset adjustment.

If set incorrectly water will flow to the outside of the property via the overflow pipe. Not ideal if you have a water meter installed!

A quick run through of the different parts you will encounter when fixing a toilet.

  • Tank or cistern: This holds enough water to flush the contents of the bowl into the soil stack.
  • ‘S’ Trap: A curved part at the rear of the bowl that retains water until the toilet is flushed and prevent nasty smells returning to the property.
  • Flap, flapper or flush valve seat: Which rises when water (under pressure) pushes against it allowing the cistern to fill.
  • Float: A lightweight component that manages the level of the incoming water (preset) turning it off when the cistern is full. Also called a ‘ball cock’ or a ‘fill valve’.
  • Handle: A lever attached to the outside of the cistern, which when pushed raises the flap in the syphon allowing water to flow into the bowl and remove the waste.

Common toilet problems and easy DIY tips to fix toilets

  • The toilet overflowing
  • Toilet handle moves but does not flush
  • Water flows continually into the WC from the filled cistern
  • Water collects around the base of the toilet
  • Only a partial flush before the cistern refills

The toilet is overflowing

Recommended Fix: There is probably a block between the bowls ‘S’ trap and the soil pipe? Firstly fix the toilet block by removing the cause.

How to fix a clogged toilet

A clogged toilet will cause it to overflow onto the bathroom floor. The sight of a clogged toilet can be rather daunting but a task that has to be confronted and fixed immediately. Unclogging a toilet is quite simple, if you have a toilet plunger.

Remember to cover the floor with newspaper or towels (as there might be splash backs) wear rubber gloves and old clothing or overalls. Gently lower the plunger into the bowl pushing out the air. Remember it will be full of water containing waste! Press the plunger cap firmly against the bottom of the bowl to form a seal.

Then use a rhythmic push and pull pumping motion to create pressure to release the blockage, do not lift the plunger as it will break the seal. Depending on the nature of the blockages you may need to remain patient and perform the action more than once? Watch the water level in the bowl, if it begins to drop then it is working.

When the water drops to the correct level, and it’s safe to do so, flush the toilet once more, if the toilet refills to the normal level then you have successfully unclogged the toilet.

To keep your toilet free of blockages you will need to refrain from flushing the following objects down your WC:
– Cotton Balls/Swabs and Q-Tips, Paper Towels, Dental Floss, Facial Tissues, Wipes, Band-Aids, Nappies, Tablets, Cat Litter, Feminine hygiene products, Hair, Paint/Sealants/Thinners, Oils/Grease/Gee/Food/Coffee Grounds, Bandages, Pet Excrement, Condoms, Poisons/Hazardous Waste, Cigarette Buds

Toilet flush handle not activating the flush?

Recommended Fix: Check the connection link (usually an ‘S’ shape) between the flush lever and the syphon. If it’s broken or disconnected it will not flush or only give a partial flush. Reconnect or replace the ‘S’ link connection. This is probably one of the easiest to diagnose.

How to fix a loose toilet flush handle

Suppose the toilet handle doesn’t have enough resistance when you push it, probably because of the loose connection inside the cistern. Not all cistern interiors are exactly the same, but all have a lift arm (a thin metal or plastic rod) which usually connects to the lift arm by a link. This DIY method is for fixing the toilet handle and solves the problem quickly.

If the lifting arm slips, preventing the chain from lifting, the flapper (flush valve seat) it will not allow water to drain from the cistern due to the loose connection. Follow the simple four-step repair to fix the broken toilet flush handle.

  • Isolate the water supply by shutting off valve to the cistern.
  • Remove the cistern cover - find the link, attached to the flapper on the syphon, and pull it up. This raises the flapper allowing the water in the cistern to drain away. You may need to sponge put any excess remaining water so water so the interior is dry.
  • If the link is disconnected from the lift arm, reconnect it. If the connecting ‘S’ link is broken replace it. It doesn't cost much. Sometimes the nut securing the handle (in the cistern) has come loose causing the handle to be wobbly reducing its effectiveness. Just a simple retightening of the plastic nut on the inside of the cistern will stop it from wobbling around.
  • Refill the cistern by opening the isolation valve and test the handle’s action. Problem solved!

Water flows in the toilet bowl from the filled cistern.

Recommended Fix: Probably the syphon is letting by

How to fix a constantly running toilet

It could be a problem with the valve (ball or float) designed to control the flow of water into the cistern? It could also be a problem with the flush valve, allowing water to flow into the toilet bowl when not required?

Have you experienced water randomly running for a few seconds then stopping? It’s referred to as a ‘Phantom Flush’. Sound familiar? It’s related to a slow letting by of water due to flapper (flush valve) moving every so often.

This can be caused by a build up of limescale (in hard water areas) or a buildup of sediment. Sometimes left over residues from toilet cleaners the ones that colour the water, can cause a build of sediment, which can affect the function of the flapper/flush valve. Or it could be the seating of the flapper valve that’s the problem?

If you hear continuous water running in the toilet bowl, jiggle the handle, if the water stops flowing, the problem is with the flapper/flush valve.

Usually, a relatively new flapper/flush valve is flexible and will reset after each flush. However, over time things wear resulting water bypassing the flapper valve. So, if you have a constantly running toilet, please follow these steps:

  • Isolate the water supply and pull up the flapper/flush valve link to drain the cistern. Sponge out any remaining water.
  • Remove the old flapper unit, this really is the complete syphon. It’s recommended to replace the complete unit rather than trying a cheap repair.
  • Take the unit to the local plumbing supplies and purchase a like for like replacement. The cost of a syphon valve will differ considerably from supplier to supplier - shop around!
  • Install the new syphon by reversing the steps taken to remove it. Attach the handle link to the syphon and that should stop the ‘Phantom Flush’. Job done!

Water around the base of the toilet.

Recommended Fix: Replace the Doughnut Washer seal.

How to replace the doughnut washer

Water collecting around the base of the toilet always looks messy. Check first the water isn’t leaking from the cistern or bowl. Usually, the leak comes from where the cistern connects to the toilet bowl.

Mainly due to a worn or perished Doughnut washer, that sits between the cistern and the toilet pan. This washer has an impressive life expectancy but over time they will leak water.

Doughnut washers are standard toilet components that fit virtually every low flush toilet. Visit your plumbers merchant for a replacement. This is are also referred to a ‘close coupled toilet connector’. You will need to ask for a ‘Close Coupling Kit’, when at the suppliers.

The kit contains everything you need. Replacing the doughnut washer is a relatively simple DIY project. Follow these useful steps:

  • Isolate the water supply, flush and drain the cistern, remove the cistern cover, removing any remaining water with a sponge, a bucket nearby helps.
  • After every drop of water has been removed, you next need to disconnect the cistern from the water supply and the drain connections.
  • Now the feed and drain connections are uncoupled and out of the way, you need to locate two wing nuts that slot through either end of the toilet pan. Once located loosen then (together).
  • Next, remove the screws that secure the cistern to the back wall. The cistern should now be loose.
  • Finally, remove the wing nuts completely from the threaded bolts that secure the cistern to the pan.
  • Next step, separate the cistern form the toilet pan, by straddling the toilet pan and lifting up the cistern (carefully), which will separate it from the toilet pan, until the securing bolts are free from the slots in the pan.
  • Place the cistern on a flat surface, so you can access the doughnut washer, remove both bolts from their slots.
  • Uncouple the flush lever from the syphon.
  • Next step remove the large nylon nut at the base of the cistern that attaches to the syphon and the close coupling plate to the cistern.
  • Lever the securing plate away from the cistern with a screwdriver, it will probably be gummed up with Plumbers Mate or similar?
  • Once the plate has been removed there is a white rubber washer between the porcelain cistern and the coupling plate. Usually, this washer is not included in the kit so a replacement one will be required depending on its condition?
  • Now thoroughly clean the recess area where the rubber washer sits. Cleanliness cannot be overemphasised! If the washer does not seat properly due to left over debris it will prevent a watertight seal, which you will only notice once you have reassembled everything! Some try and compensate by over tightening the wing nuts, which can lead to cracking the porcelain pan. If that happens you will need a new pan!
  • Correctly position (so it can connect with the flush handle) the new syphon through the hole, at the base of the cistern. Make sure the rubber washer (supplied) sits on the inside of the cistern. A smear of silicon around the mating surfaces helps to make a watertight seal.
  • Place the coupling plate (with slots either side) over the plastic thread of the syphon and replace the new nylon nut and tighten. The coupling plate and slots must be perfectly aligned with the holes in the pan to allow the bolts to pass through unhindered. An equal distance between the edge of the coupling plate and the front edge of the cistern is needed to centralise the coupling plate, or misalignment will result and it will be difficult to slot the bolts into the bolt holes in the pan.
  • Once the nylon washer has been tightened push the rubber doughnut washer over the plastic thread so it seats snugly on the coupling plate.
  • Then insert the securing bolts (that fix the cistern to the pan) into the slots at either end of the coupling plate.
  • You can now offer the cistern up to the pan, ensuring the bolts cleanly pass through the holes on the toilet pan.
  • Place a nylon washer over the hanging bolts and then slide a steel washer to make contact with the nylon washer. Then replace the wing nuts to both bolts and tighten both at the same time (by hand) to achieve an even pressure. Once hand tight, take a wrench and give it a slight turn, a quarter turn or less. 
  • Connect the lever arm with the ‘S’ link to the syphon, position the flush lever so it’s in the correct position to make a full flush and tighten the grub screw on the lever arm securing it to the handle spindle.
  • Now it's time to reconnect the water feed and overflow pipes (pipefitters take is recommended to wrap around the threads) and turn on the water.
  • When the cistern is full, flush it and check for any leaks around the base of the cistern, where it connects to the toilet pan.
  • It should be leak free?
  • If there is any sign of a leak gradually, and carefully tighten the wing nuts (at the same time) until the leak stops. Do not overtighten them as you risk cracking the pan!

The toilet is partially flushed before refilling the tank.

Recommended Fix: Check and fix toilet fill valve

How to fix toilet fill valve

If the toilet starts to flush and suddenly stops, the link chain may be too loose (causing the flapper/fill valve to close prematurely). If not, the fill valve is not allowing enough water into the tank. If you have to hold the handle for a full flush, then you need to fix the toilet fill valve. The following DIY steps will help get your toilet properly flushing again.
  • Remove the cistern cover and flush the toilet. If the flapper/fill valve snaps back into place before the flush is complete, remove the slack in the ‘S’ link by moving it to the next highest hole on the lift bar. If the problem continues, follow the steps below.
  • Refill the tank and check the water level. If the water level is too far away from the drain valve, it means insufficient water to give a thorough flush. Inside the cistern there is usually a manufacturers mark indicating the preferred water level. The height of the water can be adjusted by a screw mechanism, on the fill valve syphon to allow more or less water into the cistern (whatever accommodates your needs). If the flush isn’t sufficient to remove the waste then adjust the fill valve screw to allow more water into the cistern. This adjustment might be a balance between an adequate flush and or saving water and money, if your water is metered?
These DIY tips are for minor toilet problems at home, but if a problem arises beyond your capabilities, contact a reputable plumber to fix your toilet.

A few final safety reminders from serviceteam:

  • Always wear protective clothing when working on equipment that comes into contact with human waste.
  • Alway place covers, parts and tools in a safe area when working.
  • Ensure you have the right tools (plunger, wrench, screwdriver, new parts etc.).
  • Always purchase like for like matching replacement part/s to make repairs easy.
  • If the project is a step too far then call the professionals.
You are probably feeling more confident to tackle the above DIY plumbing jobs than before? If you’re in doubt, seek assistance from a serviceteam plumber in London. We will be there in your time of need, be it the weekend, bank holidays or all times in between.

For all toilet repairs such as a leaking toilet, a clogged one, or one that won’t flush, serviceteam plumbers are here to support you. We can be at your home quickly to tackle your worst problems! With decades of experience in the industry, our expert plumbers know everything about toilet repairs.

You can rely on us for a professional repair, part replacement or installation. Our plumbing engineers are available 24/7 to provide you with the best, most reliable service. For any plumbing/heating issues.

Call our help desk and book your service or get a quote today.