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My Toilet Keeps Running: What’s Wrong?

a toilet in a bathroom

The only time toilets should make noise is when you flush them. If you hear it running continuously, it indicates a problem that requires fixing. A running toilet can cause your water bill to skyrocket and can waste water, so it’s important not to ignore this issue.

Fortunately, the basic toilet design hasn’t changed in decades, and troubleshooting this problem is typically straightforward. However, you should contact a professional plumber if you’ve tried everything but still can’t get your toilet to stop running.

Why Your Toilet Keeps Running

There are a few possible culprits and solutions if your toilet keeps running. But, before you troubleshoot, familiarize yourself with the different toilet parts and understand how they work. You can do this by shutting off your toilet’s water supply and removing the tank lid to see the components inside. You’ll find the following:

  • The rubber flapper creates a seal to stop the water in the tank from flowing into the toilet bowl.
  • A toilet’s fill valve refills the tank with water after every flush.
  • The float ball rises with the water to let the fill valve know when to stop.
  • The overflow tube prevents the water from spilling onto the floor if there is excess water in the tank.

When you flush the toilet, the rubber flapper will lift to allow the water to flow into the bowl and push down the waste. The float will drop as the water in the tank decreases, and the flapper will reform a seal. The fill valve will refill the tank, and water will flow down into the bowl. As the tank fills, the float will rise and signal the fill valve to stop when there’s enough water.

Now that you understand the inner workings of a toilet, you’ll have an easier time fixing yours if it is running continuously. Here are the most common causes behind this problem and how to address them.

Dirty or Broken Rubber Flapper

Your toilet’s rubber flapper can become dirty, deformed or broken with time. When that happens, it can no longer form a tight seal, and the water will keep flowing from the tank into the bowl.

If you need to replace or clean the flapper, drain the tank first and disconnect it from the chain. You can look for a new flapper that is the same brand as your toilet or a universal one that fits all models. After attaching it, check if it seals well and if the running problem is solved. You can make it a habit to get a new flapper every three to five years to prevent leakages.

In some cases, the flush valve is the problem. This is the part that secures the flapper in place, and it could be causing the water leak. If so, you can have a professional plumber replace it for you.

Fill Valve Issue

The fill valve may be to blame if your toilet keeps running. It could be filling the tank with too much water, causing the excess to go down the overflow tube and into the bowl. That is the running water sound you hear. Ideally, the tank’s water level should be a half inch below the overflow tube’s opening.

You can resolve this issue by lowering the height of the float ball. That will stop the fill valve from pumping too much water into the tank. In addition, ensure that the float ball isn’t sticking to the sides of the tank.

If these fixes don’t work, you might have to replace the entire fill valve assembly. This part can become brittle as your toilet ages. A professional plumber can help you with this.

Improper Flapper Chain Length

The flapper chain is another common cause behind a running toilet. If it is too long, it can get in the way of the flapper and prevent it from creating a tight seal. You can fix this quickly by adjusting the chain length with your fingers. But if there are too many excess links, it’s best to use pliers to shorten the chain.

A chain that is too short can also cause problems because the flapper can’t fully lower down into place. If this is the case, do the reverse and give it additional links. You should also check if the chain is caught or tangled in anything and free it. If you have an older toilet, see if the chain has become rusty and replace it entirely if necessary.

It is common for toilet components, especially plastic ones, to become worn down with time. If your toilet keeps running and you can’t seem to troubleshoot it, contact a professional plumber as soon as possible. The plumber will know why the toilet is running and fix or replace the malfunctioning parts.

a toilet in a white bathroom

How To Turn off the Toilet’s Water

Many homeowners have the notion that toilets are complicated. Even turning off its water supply can seem like a confusing task. But it is much easier than you think. All homeowners should know how to turn off the toilet’s water supply. That way, you can immediately respond if there’s a clog, flood or another issue. Here’s how to do it in two steps.

Find the Shut-Off Valve

The first step is to figure out where your toilet’s shut-off valve is. Locate the pipe that leads out of the water tank and follow it. The shut-off valve will be where it ends, usually at the bottom left side of the tank. While these valves come in various shapes and sizes, the most common type has a football shape.

Turn Off the Water Supply

After locating the shut-off valve, twist it to the right to cut off your toilet’s water supply. After a few turns, you should feel the valve tighten. That means you have turned it off. Note that some valves only need a quarter of a rotation. To confirm that it worked, flush the toilet and check that the tank doesn’t refill.

Shut-off valves shouldn’t be hard to turn. If yours won’t rotate, you can spray it with lubricant, but refrain from using a wrench or other tools. That can damage the valve and cause a flood in your home. A valve that refuses to turn might be damaged, requiring a replacement. It is best to contact a professional plumber who can help you with this task.

a house's bathroom

What To Do When the Toilet Is Gurgling and Water Is Backing Up

You have every right to worry if your toilet is making strange gurgling noises. It means there is a blockage somewhere in the plumbing system that is generating negative air pressure. Air and water are backing up because they can’t flow through the pipes, causing that sound you’re hearing. Here are the possible reasons for a gurgling toilet and what you can do.

Clogged Toilet

The most common culprit is a clogged toilet. Toilet paper and other foreign objects can get stuck and cause a gurgling noise. Fortunately, it is a simple problem with an easy solution. Get your plunger and perform at least ten powerful plunges. If the block isn’t too far down, you should be able to retrieve it.

If that doesn’t work, you can try inserting a toilet snake or auger into the drain hole to clear the blockage. It is time to call a professional plumber if these tools are still ineffective.

Blocked Drain Line

Drain lines connect your toilet drain to the main line outside. If blocked, it can cause water to back up every time you flush. These blockages are typically deep in your plumbing, so it is best to get a professional plumber’s help.

The plumber will insert a camera into the drain line to see what is causing the problem. Then, the plumber might even have to remove your toilet or dig the ground outside to resolve the issue.

Blocked Vent Stack

The vent stack controls the air pressure inside the plumbing system and lets out the exhaust. It must always be free of any obstruction, even water. If the vent stack is blocked, it will create negative pressure and cause slow water drainage in various parts of your home. You may even start smelling a sewer odor.

Birds’ nests, leaves and rodents are common causes of vent stack clogging. More often than not, homeowners need the expertise of a professional plumber to remove the blockage. The plumber will climb up the roof, check the vent stack and snake the obstruction out.

If you went on a vacation and haven’t used your toilet in a while, don’t worry if it gurgles after the first flush. But if the sound persists, contact a professional plumber immediately to prevent the issue from worsening.

The Bottom Line

All homeowners will encounter toilet problems at some point. The best way to handle these issues is to let the professionals take over. They will assess your plumbing thoroughly, provide a solution and answer all your questions and concerns. They will have your toilet running smoothly again.

ABC Can Help With Your Toilet Problems

When dealing with plumbing problems, it’s not worth making a mess yourself. Instead of trying to learn the ins and outs of plumbing, contact ABC Home & Commercial Services. Our licensed professionals can efficiently diagnose and repair any plumbing issue you may have. In cases where a repair isn’t possible, we can help you decide which type of toilet works best for you and then install it.

Tom Riggs

Tom Riggs is the Division Manager for Mechanical Services, overseeing sales and operations for HVAC, Plumbing, Electrical, Appliance Repair and Water Quality for all ABC Austin branches. He joined ABC in 2014. Before ABC, he was an HVAC Service Technician, HVAC Comfort Advisor/Sales and Operations Manager. Tom attended Universal Technical Institute. He's an avid outdoorsman and enjoys country living with his wife and two sons.

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