What Is a Flapper?
The flapper is a contraption in the toilet's tank that's responsible for draining water from the tank into the bowl when you flush. The flapper is attached to the tank by a chain; when you flush, it lifts the flapper, allowing water to pass.
Observe the Flapper to Diagnose the Problem
Remove the cover from your toilet tank and look down at the large opening in the bottom of the tank. This is the flush valve, and in normal operation, there is a rubber or vinyl flapper designed to lift up away from the flush valve when the toilet handle is pressed to start the flush cycle. At the end of the cycle, the flapper is supposed to settle back down into the flush valve opening and seal it tightly until the next flush cycle is initiated.
Here are two situations when the flush valve is not working correctly.
- Won't fully flush: If the toilet doesn't flush completely unless you hold the handle down, it is usually because the flapper is not lifting fully away from the flush valve.
- Continues to run after flushing: If the toilet continues to run, this almost always occurs because this flapper does not fit properly into the flush valve opening. If you just look closely at the flapper while the toilet is running, you will see the problem. Because water is continuing to leak down through the flush valve into the toilet bowl, the water level in the tank never rises high enough to shut off the water flow.
Very old toilets may use a tank ball with lift rod rather than a flapper and lift chain to seal the flush valve opening. Consider replacing the flush valve unit with a more modern assembly. Modern kits offer a single piece that includes the flush valve, the refill tube, and flapper all in a single plastic unit like the one shown below.
Watch Now: How to Replace a Toilet Flapper
Fixing a Toilet That Won't Fully Flush
One of the most common toilet problems is having to hold the flush lever down completely to flush the toilet. Fortunately, this is an easy fix.
The problem is caused by too much slack in the lifting chain that connects the flush lever to the flapper. When the chain has too much slack, it cannot lift the flapper high enough to allow the full amount of water to flow down through the flush valve; it closes prematurely, thereby stopping the flush.
To fix this problem, simply adjust the chain length so there is about a half inch of slack. If the leftover chain hangs down too far and interferes with any part, trim the length of the leftover chain.
Fixing a Toilet Continues to Run After Flushing
Sometimes water in the toilet tank will continue to flow even after the flush is completed. The problem is annoying, and it can waste hundreds of gallons of water if it isn't fixed.
This usually is caused by another issue with the flapper. When the flapper doesn't tightly reseal against the flush valve, water will continue to flow down into the toilet bowl. Because the water level in the tank never reaches the level necessary to shut off the water supply valve (ballcock), fresh water continues to enter the tank endlessly.
There are several different fixes you can try here:
- Pinched lift chain: Make sure the lift chain is not so long that it pinches between the flapper and the flush valve. If it is, water will leak down into the toilet bowl after the flush. Shorten the chain slightly so it doesn't get pinched beneath the flapper.
- Align the flapper: Make sure the flapper is properly aligned so it seals correctly against the flush valve opening. You may be able to make small adjustments to the flapper that magically stop the leaking.
- Replace the flapper: If the rubber of the flapper is old and cracked, it will be unable to seal the flow of water into the tank. In this case, you'll need to replace the flapper. Or, you can replace the entire flush valve/flapper assembly with a convenient repair kit.