Toilet flooded--is there anything I can do about it while I wait?
January 27, 2013 9:58 AM   Subscribe

Maybe I should just bail out some water from the tank or something? Better explanation below.

For the last few weeks, my toilet has wanted to run and run and run after flushing. The handle seems to "lock up" frequently on flushes, so I've been jiggling the handle so it wouldn't lock up and would stop running, which has worked. This morning after doing the usual, I jiggled the handle and suddenly water started spurting out all over from the side of the tank where the lip is lower than the rest of it--not an overflow from the bowl itself. (One side of the tank is chipped and is a lot lower down than the rest of it. Don't ask me why, I rent and management is cheap.) I jiggled the handle again and it spurted AGAIN. It wasn't the worst amount of flooding I've had in there (hahahahahahahahahah) and I was able to clean up the water mess by using an entire roll of paper towels.

I have called management, but I guess nobody's home on a Sunday morning today. Joy.

I'm not sure what to do now in the meantime or if there's anything I can do to help this. It does look like there is a lot of water in the tank-- I'd say it's about 4 inches down from the top on the regularly-sized areas of the tank, but an inch down from where the chip is. I'm guessing that's why it overflowed upon flushing. If I bailed water out of the tank on my own, do you think that would help, or would that just mean the toilet stops flushing? How much water should be in the back of that thing anyway? Is there anything I can do here (that doesn't make MORE water spurt all over the place) while I wait around to hear from someone?
posted by jenfullmoon to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There is often a valve behind the toilet on the water line that supplies it. Turn that valve off, as a first step, so you aren't adding any more water to the situation.

It sounds like you have a leak where the bowl attaches to the tank. If it is still leaking after turning off the water, then yes, it would help to remove the water from the tank.
posted by ssg at 10:06 AM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is there a chain in the tank? When we had one like that, pulling up the chain manually would flush the tank.

And keep calling management. Landlords are supposed to be accessible for emergencies [my apartment has someone on-call for off-hours emergency maintenance].
posted by DoubleLune at 10:06 AM on January 27, 2013

Have you turned off the water to the toilet? See the first photo here -- turn that knob to the right.
posted by Houstonian at 10:07 AM on January 27, 2013

I'd say it's about 4 inches down from the top on the regularly-sized areas of the tank

That actually sounds about right for the toilets I'm familiar with, but the sloshing is a problem.

You really only need enough water to fill the bowl for a flush. You can turn the water off at the source like ssg suggests, then use a bucket to put enough water in the tank for a flush each time you need to use the toilet until someone comes to fix it.

The water in my apartment several apartments ago had to get shut off semi-frequently for some construction work they were doing on the building, and I used the fill from a bucket method in order to still use the toilet in the meantime. Not perfect, but it'll get you through the dark times.
posted by phunniemee at 10:10 AM on January 27, 2013

If you take the lid off the tank and look at what happens when you (gently!) jiggle the handle, you should be able to see what is causing the splashing. It sounds to me like the tank is too full, due to a faulty shut-off mechanism for the filling pipe. Probably when you jiggle the handle it causes waves in the water, which then slosh out the short side of the tank.

You can turn off the water to the toilet by turning the knob at the wall (where the pipe comes in to feed the toilet). Turn it clockwise until it won't go any further. You can flush the toilet if you want to, to empty out the tank in back. Since the water is shut off, it won't refill itself. Wait for somebody to come look at and fix the thing.

If you need to use and flush the toilet in the mean time, you can either pour a bunch of water into the bowl all at once (a 3/4 full sink dishpan is about right), or loosen the water supply valve long enough to fill the tank up again. Just turn it off before the water gets too close to the top of the tank, and then flush with the handle as usual.
posted by vytae at 10:26 AM on January 27, 2013

Turn the water off - there will be a valve near floor level - then open the tank and marvel. You should be able to see what's going on, and might be able to fix the problem or at least flush the toilet directly by lifting the thingy (valve?) at the bottom of the tank.
posted by zippy at 10:27 AM on January 27, 2013

Toilet diagram here. I'm assuming when you say "water started spurting out all over from the side of the tank where the lip is lower than the rest of it" that it's coming out over the top of the tank which is normally covered by a lid? That's really unusual.

Normally a running toilet is caused by a problem with the ballcock and float, or perhaps the rubber flush valve and chain. These are easily replaced and/or adjusted. If water is coming out over the top of the tank, that means somehow the tank-to-bowl connection is malfunctioning and water isn't getting through. (The 4 inches from the top level inside the tank should match the top of a standpipe -- which is probably plastic nowadays -- that drains into the bowl.) I would check your flush valve (the thing at the very bottom of the tank, usually a hinged rubber gasket connected by chain to the handle) and see how freely it moves. If it's limed up by hard water deposits, it can close very poorly, which is what would cause a running toilet. This can be almost magically cured by turning off the water to the toilet (stop valve under the tank), pulling off the rubber flush valve, and soaking it in vinegar or CLR (any type of commercial lime remover) before putting it back.

Alternatively the fill mechanism could be limed up. The vertical type in the linked diagram -- plastic parts -- are especially prone to this. I don't recommend taking this one apart, though, as it's very tricky and you could cause a flood by improper replacement. If it doesn't move up and down freely you could try deliming by just pouring CLR over it then forcing it up and down until the lime is out of the way.

As far as the chipped tank, that's inexcusable and a potential hazard (flood and safety). I'd insist on a replacement -- they're like $20 used. It's almost certainly a violation of your city's housing code.
posted by dhartung at 10:33 AM on January 27, 2013

If the water is over the top of the overflow tube (see the diagram in the middle of this page) then that's weird, I agree. I'm not sure what would normally clog that tube.
posted by hattifattener at 1:31 PM on January 27, 2013

Having to jiggle the flush handle to get it to stop filling is usually a kinked up or excessively taught chain connecting to the flapper.

From your description, it sounds like water is spraying out between the tank lid and the tank. If that's the case, it's most likely the fill valve (the black part in the diagram, with the float on it) that's toast. Water would be spraying up against the closed lid and then out the side.

First, check if a thin rubber hose has disconnected from the top of the fill valve. Usually it directs the incoming water down the overflow pipe to fill the tank. If it's fallen off the fill valve, it would be spraying against the tank side and/or lid.

If that's not the case and you have an old cup that you don't mind using for this and will fit, you could try placing it on top of the fill valve and seeing if it has enough weight to hold back the pressure and direct the water into the tank.

If you're not into that, then turn off the toilet shut-off. You can pour a bucket of water into the bowl to flush it if needed. Then you won't be without a quasi-workable toilet until the part gets replaced.
posted by CKmtl at 1:38 PM on January 27, 2013

Response by poster: Well, it turned out to be the flapper AND the water being too high AND some pipe issue. The manager eventually came over by 11:15 and repaired all of the mess.

Thanks, all. I tried to comprehend the instructions here, but eventually just figured I was too dumb to mess with this stuff and should leave it to someone who knew what they were doing rather than flood the joint again.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:22 PM on January 27, 2013

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