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PLUMBING SYSTEM INSPECT DIAGNOSE REPAIR
AGE of PLUMBING MATERIALS & FIXTURES
AIR DISCHARGE at FAUCETS, FIXTURES
ANTI SCALD VALVES
ANODES & DIP TUBES on WATER HEATERS
BACKUP PREVENTION, SEPTIC
BACKUP PREVENTION, SEWER LINE
BACKWATER VALVES, SEWER LINE
BATH & KITCHEN DESIGN GUIDE
CHEMICAL CONTAMINANTS in WATER
CHEMICAL ODOR SOURCES
CHLORINE IN DRINKING WATER
DEBRIS in WATER SUPPLY, Water Heater
DEPTH of SEPTIC TANK
DRAIN & SEWER PIPING
FAUCETS & CONTROLS, KITCHEN & BATH
FAUCETS, OUTDOOR HOSE BIBBS
FLOOD DAMAGE ASSESSMENT, SAFETY & CLEANUP
FLOOR DRAIN / TRAP ODORS
FLUSHOMETER VALVES for TOILETS URINALS
GAS PIPING, VALVES, CONTROLS
GALVANIC SCALE & METAL CORROSION
HARD WATER - SOFTENERS
HEAT TAPES, Heat, Insulation prevent Freeze-Up
LEAD POISONING HAZARDS GUIDE
LEAD IN DRINKING WATER, HOW to REDUCE
METHANE GAS SOURCES
MIXING / ANTI-SCALD VALVES
MUNICIPAL WATER PRESSURE IMPROVEMENTS
NOISE / SOUND DIAGNOSIS & CURE
ODORS GASES SMELLS, DIAGNOSIS & CURE
ODORS IN WATER
ODORS, SEPTIC or SEWER
ODORS SEWER GAS in COLD WEATHER
ODORS, SULPHUR SMELL SOURCES
ANIMAL or URINE ODOR SOURCE DETECTION
PIPING IN BUILDINGS, Clogs Leaks Types
PLUMBING FIXTURES, KITCHEN, BATH
PLUMBING NOISE CONTROL
PLUMBING VENT DEFINITIONS & CODES
PLUMBING VENT DEFECTS & NOISES
PUMPS, WATER REPAIR
RELIEF VALVE LEAKS
RELIEF VALVES - TP Valves on Boilers
RELIEF VALVES - STEAM TP VALVES
RELIEF VALVES - Water Heaters
RELIEF VALVES - Water Tanks
REPAIR BURST LEAKY PIPES
METHANE GAS HAZARDS
SEPTIC SYSTEM INSPECT DIAGNOSE REPAIR
SHUTOFF VALVE LOCATION, USE
SULPHUR & SEWER GAS SMELL SOURCES
SWEATING (CONDENSATION) on PIPES, TANKS
TOILETS, INSPECT, INSTALL, REPAIR
WATER, WELLS, WATER TANKS: TESTING GUIDE
WATER PRESSURE LOSS DIAGNOSIS & REPAIR
WATER PUMPS & TANKS
WATER SOFTENERS & CONDITIONERS
WATER SOURCE ALTERNATIVES
WATER SUPPLY & DRAIN PIPING
WATER SHUTOFF VALVE LOCATION, USE
WATER SHUTOFF VALVE, WELL PUMP
WATER TESTS, CONTAMINANTS, TREATMENT
WELLS CISTERNS & SPRINGS
WINTERIZE A BUILDING
How to diagnose and fix a toilet: this article series discusses the cause, diagnosis, and repair of toilet problems (water closet problems) such as a toilet that does not flush well, clogged toilets, slow-filling toilets, running toilets, loose wobbly toilets, and odors at leaky toilets. Here we explain how to diagnose and repair problems with toilets, leaks, flushes, odors, noises, running and wasted water.
Our page top photo shows ugly staining in a toilet bowl - strong evidence that this toilet has been running, wasting water, possibly flooding the septic system, and sometimes giving bad flush performance as well.
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If your toilet is overflowing or about-to see TOILET OVERFLOW EMERGENCY
All modern toilets receive human waste, urine, feces, and are intended to dispose of that matter in a sanitary fashion.
By the late 1800's the development of the modern flush-toilet, replacing chamber pots and outhouses, toilets have relied on a dose of water to flush waste out of the toilet bowl into sewage piping or into a private septic system for wastewater treatment and disposal.
Some sources refer to a toilet as a water closet. Thomas Crapper & Co. (London) called their scary-looking toilet contraption an "Elastic Valve Closet".
Early flush toilets like this 1890 model used a high wall-mounted reservoir tank, typically wooden, to provide adequate pressure and flow rate to clean and empty the toilet bowl.
Contemporary toilets use a tank attached to the toilet bowl itself, relying on improved flush valve controls to provide the water flow rate into the bowl to empty it and clean the bowl sides.
We discuss onsite waste disposal systems - septic tanks, drainfields, separately at SEPTIC SYSTEM INSPECT DIAGNOSE REPAIR
Before launching into our series of articles on diagnosing and repairing toilet problems such as clogged toilets, toilets that don't flush properly, running or leaky or noisy toilets, toilet odors, and loose toilets, take a look at the simple connection between a typical reservoir-tank toilet and the soil stack (waste piping) in the Carson Dunlop Associates sketch (above left), and review our description of basic types of toilets at TOILET TYPES.
At page top or left please see our list of toilet trouble diagnosis and repair articles.
You will see that some toilet problems are fixed easily and right at the toilet by a simple adjustment, while others may not be the toilet's fault at all, and may need more thoughtful diagnosis and repair.
Taking off the toilet tank top: Some of these simple toilet diagnosis steps require that you look into the toilet flush tank on the back of the toilet.
Just lift the top off of the toilet tank and set it carefully aside on the floor where you won't break it or trip over it.
If you leave the tank top on the toilet seat (as we did for this photo) you're asking for trouble, and also, it's a bit in the way.
Our sketch below shows the parts you'll see inside the toilet tank. You may want to refer back to this drawing while reading the details of each class if individual toilet problems listed above and how they are detected, diagnosed, and repaired.
While there have been improvements in toilet tank fill valves, flush valves, floats, and water savings, the design has remained about the same.
A flush lever moves an arm to lift a flapper valve or tank ball to permit water to rush into the toilet bowl below, washing away waste into the sewer pipe.
At the end of the flush cycle, a float arm, or a float moving on a vertical stalk (newer valves) drops to open a valve permitting the toilet tank to refill with water.
When the toilet tank water level reaches the proper level, the float closes the toilet tank fill valve.
If the toilet won't flush at all, what happened when you pushed the flush lever ?
Is the sewer line or soil stack clogged? Our grandson Chase Patrick Gilligan, learning toilet training, flushed his peed-in underpants down the toilet. We have also found child's toys, and once, a dog's bone clogging the waste line just below the toilet.
If other building drains are working fine, but one toilet is flushing poorly, it is possible that there is a local blockage close to the toilet itself.
Brian found this drain clog by asking Chase what happened to the missing underpants. He then removed the toilet from the floor, and by luck, the underpants were able to be easily retrieved - unblocking the clogged toilet drain before a backup and toilet overflow catastrophe had occurred.
See Toilet Drain Clogged to continue with blocked or clogged toilet diagnosis and repair.
See TOILET TYPES for a guide to identifying toilets by type, brand, parts & features. Also see TOILET ALTERNATIVES, WATERLESS for a discussion of camping toilets, chemical toilets, emergency-use toilets, waterless toilets, graywater systems, composting toilets, home health care toilets, incinerating toilets, outhouses, and latrines.
For toilets (and urinals) that are operated by building water pressure alone and without a reservoir tank, see FLUSHOMETER VALVES for TOILETS URINALS.
Green link shows where you are in this article series.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about toilets: types, installation, troubleshooting, & repairs
Question: toilet makes a loud noise after it is flushed
why does my second floor toilet make a loud noise after it is flushed (not a water hammer noise) - Sandy 10/22/11
Sandy, we'd need more information - like the toilet brand and model or type. Some toilets designed to use the smallest possible volume of water to flush the bowl may use water pressure or even a mixture of compressed air and water to scour and clean the bowl; these as well as toilets using a flushometer valve often make more noise than a gravity-operated standard tank-type flush toilet.
Question: how to I determine if a toilet has a leaky wax ring seal?
So I am interested in inspected whether or not I have a leaky seal on my wax ring, and here's my situation:
[Some plumbers use two wax rings, mashing the first one onto the bottom of the toilet to be certain of a perfect seal, then placing the second ring in place just before the toilet is pressed down onto the floor drain flange for securing.]
Question: pink or black algae in toilet bowl
My toilet bowls develop a pink and / or black algae (?) after only a week of non-use (or use, for that matter). Is there something I can safely add to the tank water (I have a septic system) to prevent this? Why does it happen? - Anon 6/7/12
Anon, indeed I occasionally find both mold growth and algal growth in toilet bowls, usually when a toilet has been left un-used for a time (not flushed often enough to wash contaminants down the drain).
Try cleaning the toilet bowl thorougly with any toilet cleaning product. While you're at it, if your water is supplied from a private well or cistern, you might have your drinking water tested for contaminants as well.
Also check to be sure that the toilet is not running constantly like the one shown in our photo just above.
Question: sound of draining pipes after new toilet installation
My husband just installed a new toilet. When we go to the bathroom it sounds like the pipes are draining. I just poured water into the toilet so I could figure out where the noise was coming from. It's not coming from the tank area. I can hear it clearly when my ear is at the bottom of the toilet, by the floor. I don't feel or see any leaking. Any ideas what this noise is and if it's a problem? - Mary 10/17/2012
I presume "when we go to the bathroom" refers to entering the room, not actually using the toilet. If you hear drainage noises continuously most likely somewhere a fixture is sending water into the drain line. Look for a running toilet, either this one or one that also shares the same drain.
I live in a multi-unit building, the gentleman on the bottom floor was experiencing soap suds coming though his toilet. The plumbers came and installed longer pipes, which solved his problem. Immediately after, however, my toilet (I'm on the top floor) stopped flushing and my water pressure in all faucets/showerheads increased tenfold. Could these things be related in any way? Plumbers have come back twice and said they fixed the problem, that the toilet was just clogged, and that it's a new "green" toilet so it doesn't have as powerful of a flush. Unfortunately I am now stuck with a toilet that has not been flushed in days and threatens to overflow every time I try.
I've tried plunging to no avail multiple times. Thank you. - Kristen 10/23/2012
Try looking through the additional toilet repair articles found Related Topics.
Question: Disaster zone toilet guide - emergency toilet flushing procedure & alternatives - can I use lake water to flush toilets?
Post hurricane sandy question:
Can I use lake water to flush my toilets. We still have no power, heat or water in Stamford, Connecticut - S.D., Stamford CT 11/5/2012
Reply: Suggestions for emergency flush procedures for conventional toilets when heat, electricity, or water are not available
Here are some suggestions for & warnings about using lake water or other reasonably-clean water from other sources to flush toilets in an emergency. Details about various options for flushing toilets in a disaster zone or ways to come up with emergency toilets are at DISASTER ZONE TOILET GUIDE
Watch out: if you flush via the toilet tank and flush valve and the toilet starts to back up or overflow, quickly
Other emergency toilet options for use when your home or building have no power, water, etc. include some simple and easy expedient methods for holding feces, toilet paper, and if necessary, urine such as using a plastic bag lined bucket or just using a plastic bag alone.
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