Fixing a Running Toilet: Do It Yourself Fixes for a Leaky Toilet
Plumbing Leak

Fixing a Running Toilet: The Common Causes and Do It Yourself Fixes for a Leaky Toilet

Do you have a leaky toilet that is running all the time? Not only is it wasting water, but it can also be an annoyance. Fixing a running toilet is usually pretty easy if you know what to look for.

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Common Causes of a Running Toilet

Chain – The chain connects the flapper to the knob you use to flush the toilet. If the chain is too long or poorly adjusted, it may get stuck in the flapper and prevent a good seal from forming. If it’s too short, it can hold the flapper open.

Flapper – The flapper is a plastic or rubber stopper that forms a seal between the toilet tank and bowl. When you flush the toilet, the flapper opens to flush down the drain. Flappers can get dirty and form a bad seal or even will wear out over time.

Float – The float is the mechanism that controls when the toilet tank is filled with water. Older toilets may have a ball float, which floats a rubber ball on top of the water in the toilet tank. Newer toilets have a cup float, where a smaller float slides around a central tube. Your toilet may run if the float is not set correctly and you may need to adjust or replace it over time.

Fill Valve – The fill valve is the mechanism that actually fills the toilet tank. It will turn on when the float drops too low and runs until the tank is full. Over time the fill valve can wear out, causing the toilet to keep running.

Making Repairs to a Running Toilet

You should inspect each of those items with the water running so you get a clear picture of what is happening. You should be able to make adjustments to the chain and the float with the water still on. Replacing the flapper may be easier with the water turned off.

You will need to turn off the water and completely drain the tank before replacing the fill valve. The tank is unlikely to empty completely by flushing alone, so use a sponge or a towel to soak up the excess water.

Adjusting the Chain

If the chain is preventing the toilet from forming a good seal, make a simple adjustment to the length. If it’s too short, adjust the chain to the right length. More often, the chain is too long and you will need to clip it back. You can loop it back on itself near the flush lever or even cut off excess chain-links.

Cleaning or Replacing the Flapper

Minerals and dirt can build up on the flapper, preventing it from making a good seal and causing your toilet to run more than necessary. To clean it, soak it in vinegar for half an hour then scrub away the grime using an old toothbrush.

If it still does not form a good seal after cleaning or if it shows signs of damage, a replacement flapper will fix a running toilet. Most flappers are universal, but take your old flapper with you to the hardware store to ensure you get a good fit.

Adjusting the Float

If your float is set improperly, it can cause your toilet to run more than necessary. To adjust ball floats, there will be a screw or bolt that connects the float arm to the fill valve. Loosen that and adjust the arm until the float is in the right position.

For cup floats, there is usually a screw at the top of the fill valve. Typically clockwise turns will raise the float, while counterclockwise turns will lower it. Regardless of the type of float you have, it may take a few flushes to dial in the right settings.

Replacing the Fill Valve

In some cases, the only way to fix a running toilet to replace the fill valve. You will definitely want to drain the toilet tank completely and shut off the water first. To remove the old fill valve, use a pair of pliers or a wrench to disconnect the water supply line and remove the old fill valve.

A universal fill valve should work with your toilet in most case, but some brands may require a specific valve. Consult the clerks at your local hardware store if you have questions about which valve will work with your toilet.


Take a photo of the outside and inside of your toilet before you disassemble it. Also, take the parts you need to replace with you to the hardware store. This can help will identifying the parts you need and prevent repeated trips to the store.

Follow the instructions included with the new fill valve to reassemble your toilet. In addition to installing the valve in the tank, you will also need to reattach the water supply line and adjust both the float and chain.

If you cannot locate the source of the problem or your toilet continues to run after fixing or replacing parts you should contact a professional plumber to ensure there isn’t a more serious problem.

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