In any household, a fully functional toilet is essential for hygiene and convenience. However, one common issue many homeowners encounter is a toilet that doesn’t flush completely.
This problem can lead to unpleasant situations and, if not addressed, may escalate into more significant plumbing issues. Understanding the mechanics behind a toilet’s function and the reasons for incomplete flushing is crucial for timely and effective troubleshooting.
Understanding Toilet Mechanics
Toilets are a common feature in every household and are used multiple times per day. Yet, we often take for granted how they function.
Toilets work by using a simple but effective system that includes a bowl and a tank. The tank is equipped with a flushing mechanism that consists of a handle, flapper, lift chain, and other components.
When you push down on the handle, you are lifting the flapper, which is a rubber or plastic piece that covers the hole at the bottom of the tank. This allows water to rush into the bowl below. The water flow from the tank into the bowl is what initiates a siphon effect in the toilet’s trapway, which is the curved section of pipe that connects the toilet to the sewer line.
The siphon effect is created by the water being pulled down into the trapway, which creates a vacuum that forces the contents of the bowl down the drain and into the sewer line. Once the water has flowed out of the tank and into the bowl, the flapper then falls back into place, and the tank starts refilling with water.
The water level in the tank is controlled by a float, which shuts off the water supply once the tank has been refilled to a certain level.
Understanding how these components work together can help you diagnose and fix issues when your toilet flushes slowly and incompletely.
Common Causes of Incomplete Flushing
Several factors can contribute to a toilet not flushing completely:
Low Water Level in the Tank
A common issue is the water level being set too low in the tank, which can be due to an improperly adjusted float.
The float in your toilet tank is responsible for regulating the water level. When the tank is not filled enough, the result is a weak or incomplete flush. Over time, the float can become misaligned or damaged, causing the water level to be lower than necessary. Adjusting or replacing the float can often resolve this issue.
Partial or Slow Flapper Closure
Another common issue leading to incomplete flushing is if the flapper closes too quickly or slowly. The flapper needs to stay open long enough for enough water to leave the tank and initiate a proper flush. If the flapper is worn out or the lift chain connecting the flapper to the handle is too short or too long, it could affect the timing of the flapper closing, leading to an incomplete flush.
Clogged or Obstructed Overflow Tube
The overflow tube not only prevents water from overflowing the tank, but also ensures a proper amount of water enters the bowl to initiate a siphon effect. If the tube becomes clogged or obstructed, it can affect the water level in the bowl, leading to an incomplete flush.
Blocked Sewer or Vent Pipe
If your toilet has numerous incomplete flushes, it could be a symptom of a more serious issue such as a blocked sewer line or vent pipe. A blockage in these areas can restrict the flow of waste and water, disrupting the siphoning process needed for a complete flush. This issue often requires professional intervention.
Remember, if you’re uncomfortable performing these checks or repairs yourself, it’s always best to contact a professional plumber. They have the expertise to handle a variety of toilet issues and can ensure the job is done correctly and safely.
Here are some initial steps for how to fix a weak flushing toilet:
Checking and Adjusting the Water Level
The water level in the tank should be about an inch below the overflow tube. To check and adjust the water level in your toilet tank, follow these steps:
- Remove the Tank Lid: The first step in checking the water level is to remove the tank lid. Handle it with care since it can be quite heavy and fragile.
- Check the Water Level: Observe the water level in the tank. It should ideally be about an inch below the top of the overflow tube. This tube is the large vertical tube located in the middle of the tank. If the water level is significantly below this point, it could be causing weak or incomplete flushes.
- Locate the Float: Find the float in your toilet tank. It’s typically a round or cylindrical plastic piece connected to a metal or plastic rod known as a fill valve. The fill valve is what controls the water fill level in your tank.
- Adjust the Float: If the water level is too low, you will need to adjust the float. How you adjust it depends on the type of float you have. For a ball float, you will need to bend the metal rod connected to it upward, which will allow the tank to fill with more water. For a cylinder or cup float, there will typically be a spring clip or a screw that you can adjust to change the water level.
- Check the Water Level Again: After making adjustments, flush your toilet a few times to see if the water level in the tank reaches the desired height. If it doesn’t, you may need to make further adjustments.
Inspecting and Adjusting the Flapper and Chain
To inspect and adjust the flapper and chain, follow these steps:
- Inspect the Flapper: The flapper should form a tight seal over the hole at the bottom of the tank when the toilet is not in use. If there’s water slowly flowing into the bowl, it could be an indication that the flapper isn’t sealing properly. In that case, you may need to replace it.
- Check the Chain Length: The chain connecting the flapper to the toilet handle should have just enough slack to allow the flapper to seal properly. If the chain is too short, it may prevent the flapper from sealing fully, causing a continuous flow of water into the bowl. On the other hand, if the chain is too long, it may get stuck under the flapper and prevent it from sealing. Adjust the chain length as necessary to ensure proper operation.
- Test the Flapper Function: Now, you need to test the flapper. Flush your toilet and watch the flapper. It should stay open until at least half of the tank has drained for a proper flush. If it drops too soon, you’ll need to replace it.
- Replace the Flapper if Needed: If you’ve determined that the flapper is worn or damaged, replace it with a new one. You can usually just unhook the old flapper from its base by the overflow tube and remove the chain from the toilet handle. To install the new flapper, just reverse the process.
Check these components for signs of wear and ensure they are properly adjusted for optimal function.
Vent Inspection and Clearing
Inspect the roof vent for blockages like leaves or nests and clear them to restore proper airflow.
- Locate the Vent: Typically, the vent pipe is located on the roof of your house, directly above the bathroom. Be careful when climbing onto your roof.
- Inspect the Vent: Look for any visible blockages such as leaves, twigs, or bird nests that may be obstructing the vent pipe.
- Clear the Vent: If you find any obstructions, remove them carefully. It’s also a good idea to use a plumber’s snake to clear any potential blockages further down the pipe.
- Check the Vent Function: You can test the vent function by pouring a bucket of water down the vent pipe on the roof. If the water drains easily, your vent is clear. If not, there may still be a blockage.
- Seek Professional Help if Needed: If you are unable to clear the vent or if you are uncomfortable with the process, it’s recommended to hire a professional plumber. They have the necessary equipment and training to safely and effectively clear vent blockages.
Remember, working on a rooftop can be dangerous. Always prioritize safety and don’t hesitate to seek professional help if needed.
Sewer Line Inspection and Clearing
In case of a suspected sewer line blockage, professional intervention is usually required. Here are some steps to consider:
- Identify Signs of a Blocked Sewer Line: Signs may include frequent toilet backups, sewer odors in your home, and water draining slowly from tubs or sinks.
- Call a Professional Plumber: If you suspect a sewer line blockage, it’s advisable to call a professional plumber immediately. They have specialized tools such as sewer cameras and augurs to identify and clear blockages.
- Understand the Cause of the Blockage: Once the plumber has identified the issue, ask them about the cause. Understanding the problem can help prevent future blockages. Common causes include tree roots, fat or grease build-up, or foreign objects in the line.
- Discuss and Implement the Solution: The plumber will suggest the best way to clear the blockage. This could involve using a plumber’s snake, hydro jetting, or in severe cases, replacing the sewer line.
Remember, neglecting a blocked sewer line can lead to significant damage over time. Always address these issues promptly to maintain the functionality of your plumbing system.
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FAQ’s – Toilet Not Flushing Properly
Do I need to get a new toilet if it’s not flushing properly?
Not necessarily. In many cases, a simple adjustment or replacement of a component such as the flapper can solve the issue. However, if your toilet is old and frequently experiences flushing problems, it may be time to consider replacing it.
Why does my toilet keep running after I flush it?
A continuously running toilet is usually caused by a faulty flapper or an improperly adjusted fill valve. Check these components and adjust or replace them if needed.
What can I do if my toilet is clogged?
Try using a plunger to dislodge the blockage. If that doesn’t work, you may need to use a plumber’s snake or call a professional plumber for assistance. It’s important not to flush multiple times as it can cause the toilet to overflow.