One of the most common (and annoying) problems with a standard toilet, commonly known as a gravity-flush toilet, is when the fixture continues to run after the flush cycle is complete. Not only is the constant sound of trickling water irritating, but it can waste hundreds of gallons of water if you're not careful. When looking to solve this issue, turn your attention to your toilet flapper.
What Is a Toilet Flapper?
The toilet flapper is a rubber seal that closes off the flush valve to keep water in the tank and opens up the valve when the handle lever is pressed.
How to Replace a Toilet Flapper
Anatomy of a Gravity-Flush Toilet
A standard gravity-flush toilet is remarkably simple in design, but having a good knowledge of its mechanism will help you understand what can go wrong. In many cases, you should be able to fix many problems without enlisting the help of a professional plumber. A gravity-flush toilet consists of the following parts:
Also known as the ballcock or water supply valve, the fill valve is what delivers fresh water into the tank. The fill valve has a built-in float device that controls the water flow, opening when the water level in the tank drops, and closing when the water level is once again near the top of the tank.
The toilet tank serves as a reservoir for the water that will be released downward when a flush cycle is initiated.
A flush valve is the opening at the bottom of the tank that connects to the toilet bowl. The flush itself occurs when water stored in the tank is released downward through the flush valve. The flush valve unit is integrated with the overflow tube and serves as a mounting point for the flapper.
Lifting the flapper initiates the flush cycle, allowing water to rush into the toilet bowl. When the flapper drops back into place as the flush concludes, the tank can begin to refill with water.
Handle and Lever
This manually operated lever connects to a lift chain that lifts the flapper away from the flush valve when the toilet is flushed.
As part of the flush valve unit, the overflow tube serves two functions. First, it provides an escape route for excess water to drain down into the bowl should the fill valve fail to shut off as it's supposed to. Second, it allows a small stream of water delivered by a refill tube from the fill valve to flow down into the toilet tank. This small stream of water refills the standing water level in the toilet bowl.
Toilet Bowl and Trap
The toilet bowl is integrated with a loop-shaped trap built into the body of the toilet. Together, this configuration holds standing water that seals off the sewer system from the bathroom. During the flush cycle, water and waste material in the bowl pushes through the trap and into the drain pipes.
Diagnosing a Running Toilet
When a toilet continues to run after you flush it, there are several possible causes, but a good place to start is by simple observation. If you take the cover off the tank of your toilet and peer inside, you'll notice an unusual component down in the bottom: a hinged flap valve made of plastic and soft rubber (usually black or red) that is connected to the chain hanging down from the flush handle lever. This component is known as the flapper.
If you flush the toilet, you'll see that the chain lifts up the flapper, allowing water to rush down into the bowl. This initiates the flush cycle. As the water empties from the tank, the flapper drops back down like a trap door, closing the valve so that the tank can refill for the next flush.
When a toilet continues to run after a flush cycle, it's usually because the flapper fails to seat itself properly back over the flush valve opening, allowing water to continue to flow into the bowl. In turn, the fill valve keeps pumping water as it continues its attempt to refill the tank. While sometimes there are adjustments you can make to the flapper, in other instances the problem occurs because the rubber of the flapper hardens or softens over time and can no longer seal the valve properly. The solution: Replace the flapper with a matching new part.
Equipment / Tools
- Heavy-duty scissors or snips
- Rubber gloves (optional)
- Replacement flapper with lift chain
Turn off the Water
Turn off the water to the toilet by rotating the shutoff valve, located on the water supply line leading to the toilet, clockwise until it stops. Drain the toilet tank by flushing the toilet. If necessary, hold the flush handle down until most of the water is out of the tank.
Remove the Old Flapper
Disconnect the flapper chain from the flush handle lever. This lever is a horizontal bar that runs from the flush handle to a position just above the flapper. There is usually a small clip on the top end of the chain that hooks into one of the holes on the handle lever. Undo the clip and let the chain drop; you will replace this chain as you install the new flapper.
Slip the side ears of the flapper off of the pegs extending from the sides of the flush valve tube. On flappers made of hard plastic, these ears will snap loose; on flappers made of soft rubber, the ears simply slide off the pegs.
Prepare the New Flapper
How you set up the flapper will vary depending on your toilet's design. The most common toilet configuration has the flapper attached to pegs on the sides of the flush valve tube. In this case, cut off the ring (if there is one) on the back of the new flapper using a strong pair of scissors—it won't be needed. If your flush valve doesn’t have the side pegs for the flapper, use the ring provided with the new flapper to slide the flapper into place over the overflow tube.
It is always best to know the make and model of your toilet before purchasing a new flapper. Using factory parts is, in most cases, the best way to fix the problem correctly the first time.
Install the New Flapper
Put the new flapper into place and hook each ear of the flapper onto the pegs on the sides of the flush valve. Connect the flapper chain onto the handle lever, adjusting the chain length as needed. When the handle lever is in the resting position, the chain should be relaxed, with a little bit of slack. If the chain is too tight, the flapper may not close completely. Likewise, if the chain has too much slack, it can get caught under the flapper and prevent it from fully seating in the flush valve opening.
Turn the water back on by turning the shutoff valve counterclockwise all the way. Test the new flapper and the chain length by flushing a couple of times and watching the flapper go up and down.