This article was posted on Wednesday, Feb 01, 2017

There have always been problems with our toilets.  More than 5,000 years ago, primitive systems in several ancient civilizations utilized a constant stream of water that carried waste away from centralized, public latrine systems.  Unfortunately, the water from those latrines often flowed back into the same river or stream that was the main water supply.  I guess we all live “down-stream” from someone.

In the 1500-1600s in Europe, royalty began to use what are considered the first “flush” toilets, with a large two feet deep pot fed by water from an upstairs source.  Almost eight gallons of water were needed for each flush.  When water was a little scarce, they would often wait until at least twenty people had relieved themselves and the pot was filled to the brim before flushing.

More recently and closer to home, when my wife’s great-great-great grandparents came West by a covered wagon and settled in the Blue Mountains of Oregon, they had a fancy “two-holer” outhouse behind the farm house.  Grandma Yoder said that it was a fine outhouse, unless it was winter when she had to rub the half-inch thick hoar-frost off of the wooden seat before sitting down.

These days, we still have problems and issues with our toilets.  Below are some of the more common problems we see that you might be able to easily take care of yourself.

Loose Toilet Seat

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No matter how old the toilet is the most common problem we see are loose toilet seats.  These days, the screws that hold toilet seats down tight are usually make of thick plastic.  When they used to be made of metal, they would not survive long and would corrode away.  Most all toilet seats have two long plastic slotted screws under a little lid that can be tightened easily using a blade screwdriver.  The screws typically have a nut underneath the porcelain that needs to be held from spinning while tightening the screws.

Water Keeps Running in Toilet

This is also a very common problem that toilets have.  After flushing, the toilet fills up but then doesn’t seem to shut off all the way and water keeps trying to fill the toilet.  Usually, if that is happening, there are a couple of things that can be checked and fixed fairly easily

NOTE:  Before attempting any repairs that affect the water to your toilet, be sure that you can control the water and turn it off when working on any waterworks.

A:  Check the Water Level in the Tank:  First of all make sure the water level is proper and the float is adjusted so that it shuts the water off below the top of the overflow-tube.  If the water level is too high, it will flow into the waterflow tube and the toilet will keep running.  There is usually a line or mark on the overflow tube that indicates the correct water level.  If you have an older style fill valve (ballcock) with a float on the arm, then you can carefully bend the arm to make the water shut off at the right level. If you have the kind of fill-valve that uses a vertical post and a floating cup, you need to spin the post, as described in the manufacturer’s instructions, to raise or lower the shut-off point.

B.  Check the Flapper Seal: If the water level is okay but the toilet is still running, then the flapper in the bottom of the toilet tank is probably not sealing properly.  There are many different types of flapper systems in use today, but one of the most common types is pictured below.

You will need to lift the lid off the toilet tank to see what kind of flapper your toilet has and get a proper replacement if you need one.  To find out for sure if your flapper is leaking, simply put a small amount of blue or red food coloring in your toilet tank and see if it migrates down into the bowl after a few minutes without flushing the toilet.  If it does, then the flapper that is supposed to hold the water in the tank is not working properly and needs to be replaced.

Hopefully, this advice will help you navigate some of the simpler toilet problems.   You can also find many how-to repair videos online.  That being said, don’t be surprised or discouraged if you try to fix your own toilet and you simply can’t.  Sometimes, it’s not as simple as it seems and you may need to call a professional for help.  The truth is, as common as toilets are, they can be tough to fix.  Even the professionals have to make a couple of attempts to get it right.


Reprinted with permission of UPDATE, the official publication of the Rental Housing Association of Washington.