How to Fix a Stuck Toilet Handle

Why Toilets Get Stuck

Person pulling the chain in a toilet tank.
Steve Hallo

When the toilet's acting up, most people resort to the same, old advice: "You have to hold the handle down." The "stuck" toilet handle is something that occurs for no obvious reason, although the cause is remarkably simple.

You can start to understand what is happening if you simply remove the lid from the toilet and watch the parts in action as you depress the toilet handle. Under proper operating circumstances, the flush arm pulls on a lift chain that lifts the flapper up and away from the flush valve at the bottom of the tank to initiate the flush.

But when there is too much slack in the chain, the flush arm cannot lift the flapper high enough to start the flush cycle—unless you hold the handle down. If you don't hold the handle, the flapper drops back down over the flush valve, shutting off the water flow. This creates the sensation that the handle is "stuck," though this is not exactly what is happening.

A different, but related, problem occurs when the chain is too long and gets stuck between the flapper and the valve, so the flapper never fully closes. This causes the toilet to run continuously because the tank never fills. Correcting the chain length will solve this problem, too.

Turn off the Water

Person switching off the water to a toilet.
Steve Hallo

Turn off the water at the fixture shutoff valve, which is usually located near the left side of the toilet tank, where the water supply pipe comes up through the floor or out from the wall. If you don't have a shutoff valve near the toilet, don't worry about it: you can easily fix this problem without shutting the water off at all, though you will get your hands wet. Don't worry; the water in the toilet tank is fresh.

Measure the Chain Length

Person pulling the chain in a toilet tank.
Steve Hallo

Flush the toilet to empty the tank of water. Unhook the chain from the flush arm. There is usually a small clip that hooks onto the arm.

With the flush arm in the down position and the flapper at rest on the flush valve, pull the chain straight up so there is no slack, and align the chain with one of the holes in the arm. Pinch the chain link nearest this hole.

Move the Hook

Person moving the hook in a toilet tank.
Steve Hallo

Place the chain hook into the pinched link on the flush chain. The hook will provide a small amount of slack for the chain, which will ensure that the flapper will seat firmly over the flush valve.

Check the Slack

Person pulling chain in a toilet tank
Steve Hallo

Check the slack in the chain when you operate the toilet handle. When the handle is depressed, the flapper should lift into a nearly vertical position so you can see the bottom of the flapper. When you release the handle, the flapper should settle down into the flush valve, with just a small amount of slack in the chain.

Turn the water back on (if you turned it off). Let the tank fill back up and test your work. If the handle is still sticking, you can take more slack out of the chain. Don't worry if it takes a little trial and error to find just the right amount of slack.