Run toilet, run
June 21, 2021 5:41 PM   Subscribe

Seeking a solution to an often-running toilet. The human relations and toilet maintenance angles have been exhausted, it's time to think differently.

Our toilets frequently keep running after a flush. SO is very hard of hearing, thus they are unable to hear that the toilet hasn’t stopped running. I investigate when I hear water rushing through the pipes but if I'm not home or am asleep the toilet can be left running for who knows how long.

Things we’ve tried:
• Adjusting the toilet. We have adjusted the tank float, overflow tube, flapper chain, and replaced flappers many times yet the issue continues to reappear at a far greater frequency than you would expect
• SO jiggles the handle. This works sometimes
• SO waits by the toilet until they visually verify the flush has completed. This rarely happens
• SO revisits the toilet to double check flushing has completed. This only happens when SO visits the restroom for a subsequent flush-needed visit and discovers the toilet has been wasting water (in a severe drought!) for the past several hours
• I quit my career and give up sleep to become a 24/7 toilet monitor. Um, no.

Can anyone recommend a solution that would put a loud audio alert near SOs chair in the family room if the toilet keeps running ? I found a tank mounted device which would be great but the alarm is too quiet to be heard from outside the bathroom. So, something like this but much louder? Or perhaps there’s a fancy smart toilet for the home market that solves this problem somehow?
posted by jamaro to Home & Garden (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Which toilet brand and model is giving you trouble?
posted by Iris Gambol at 5:49 PM on June 21, 2021

What brand of toilet is this? Does this have some kind of PowerFlush feature?
posted by extramundane at 5:50 PM on June 21, 2021

Like you, I have never had any luck adjusting things so when this kept happening to me I replaced all the toilet innards. I went to Home Depot and bought the deluxe flush mechanism and replaced the whole thing. I also replaced the flapper with one that came with a stick-on gasket that the flapper seals up with. Cost maybe $30, took me about an hour and required almost nothing in the way of tools. Problem solved.

It's just not worth putting any effort into it beyond that.
posted by bondcliff at 5:51 PM on June 21, 2021 [23 favorites]

Best answer: If it's worth $199 to you, it looks like this product that gets wrapped around your water meter would push "leak" alerts about this to a device of your choosing.
posted by teremala at 6:04 PM on June 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Seconding bondcliff. If that doesn't get it, replace the whole thing. If you aren't physically capable of this, I apologize for suggesting it, but toilets don't cost a huge amount and installing one is dead simple.
posted by ivanthenotsoterrible at 6:04 PM on June 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

In the past, I've had a worn out fill valve be the source of this problem.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:06 PM on June 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Given that this issue of toilets running on and on occurs only when SO uses any of them (there are 3, Kohler, different ages), I suspect it is not the toilets that are the issue, thus my seeking a different solution.

I'm happy to have new ones put in only if the incoming models have some inherent design feature about them that is smart about shutting off.
posted by jamaro at 6:10 PM on June 21, 2021

Best answer: Push button toilets don't have this problem. Dual flush will also save you a lot of water longer term! You can get them for $150 and up. There is no chain, float, or handle, but rather a button on a spring that actuates a valve. I have never experienced one that keeps running after a flush.
posted by goingonit at 6:30 PM on June 21, 2021 [2 favorites]

I mean… a properly-working toilet should almost *never* get stuck running, no matter how it’s flushed. So even if your SO is the only one triggering the problem, that still means something’s wrong with the toilet.

If you’ve already replaced and tinkered with each of the parts individually, my vote is for replacing the whole innards, as suggested above.
posted by mekily at 6:31 PM on June 21, 2021 [10 favorites]

Replace the innards, not just the flap, and the chain should be just long enough, no more, no less. I am not a DIY plumbing person, but have done most of that task, so it's not really hard. Also, full plastic water bottle in the tank to reduce water use.
posted by theora55 at 6:34 PM on June 21, 2021 [2 favorites]

It has to be the toilet tank workings (have you actually replaced, not just done maintenance on, the fill valve, flap, and flush mechanism? Have you done a leak test from tank to bowl?). A toilet in good working order - which should be feasible with maybe $40 worth of gear per toilet - should be basically impossible to flush "wrong" routinely on a regular basis by only one person.

If your toilets are using an old tradition lever-chain-flapper assembly and your flushing-person is an aggressive flusher, you may be better off with a flapless diaphragm and cable-flush (not chain) mechanism like this set. The reasons toilets run in the way you describe is because the flapper doesn't close, and a rough flush can kink the chain so the flap won't close, or yank the flap sideways so it doesn't fall directly back over the hole to close it.

The other reason toilets run continuously is because the fill valve isn't correctly recognizing the water level. These are basically the only two ways for a toilet to keep running without overflowing, so it has to be one of those two things, and modern fill valves and flush controllers have massively better mechanics than the old type.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:37 PM on June 21, 2021 [6 favorites]

The least expensive option to try is to invest in some plumbing grease/ silicion lubricant.

Turn off the water. Flush/ drain.

Remove flapper, apply grease with a q-tip or the like on all contact points with the bottom of the tank/ hole and a little bit more.

Replace flapper. Turn water back on.

My current rental has stupid Mansfield-style flushing mechanisms with the flat o-ring that kept leaking. New o-ring? Still leaked. Applied grease, problem solved.
posted by porpoise at 6:54 PM on June 21, 2021

Kohler, eh? Does it have one of those canister flushers, like on page 3 here?

(Just to let people know, some of the Kohlers use different internal parts than your regular toilet, so some of the replacement options may not apply.)
posted by Huffy Puffy at 6:58 PM on June 21, 2021

Do you use any kind of toilet bowl cleaner pellet in the tank? Those can degrade the rubber in the flapper (there are some that don't, and there are also flappers that are impervious to the toilet bowl cleaner). That wouldn't explain why it only leaks when one person uses it, but if you use them in the various toilets, it could explain why they all exhibit the problem.
posted by jonathanhughes at 7:23 PM on June 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For one of my toilets I bought a sink attachment for the top in order to save water and space. When you flush, the water goes to the faucet of the sink so you can wash your hands and the sink drains into the toilet tank. The operation of the sink isn't very loud but it is louder than just the toilet by itself would be and makes it easier to know if the toilet hasn't stopped filling the tank because water will still be pouring out of the faucet and draining into the tank.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 7:26 PM on June 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

> Given that this issue of toilets running on and on occurs only when SO uses any of them (there are 3, Kohler, different ages), I suspect it is not the toilets that are the issue, thus my seeking a different solution.

What in the world do you think they are doing incorrectly that can cause this? I mean given the innards of the toilet, you push the handle and let go and that is pretty much the entire surface area of interaction with the thing.

Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but you really sound like you think your SO is not flushing the toilet correctly, which seems really strange to me. Even if you just barely push the handle it won't drop enough water to cause it to flush which would be obvious because the bowl would show. If you push the handle too long, it just eats more water until you let go and the flapper closes. All jiggling the handle does is rattle the flapper enough to hopefully get it to seal better or get the chain out of the way. There isn't magic going on inside the toilet. It's a pretty simple mechanism in most toilets.

So I think your angle of "how can I fix my SO to flush the toilet correctly or care about it running" is the wrong path, and greasing up the flapper or getting a gasket to help the seal or making sure there isn't a cracked fill tube as folks above have said makes a lot more sense. The toilet is supposed to work properly.
posted by cmm at 7:41 PM on June 21, 2021 [11 favorites]

We have really hard water and get sediment / carbonate scale in the tank fill valve. this causes higher friction than normal so that things don't move right.. The valves can (usually) be taken apart and the scale wiped off any slidey parts or rubber seals and they work like normal for a year or so.

Much cheaper than replacing the fill valve every year, but it wouldn't hurt to have a spare on hand, just in case the maintenance goes sideways.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 8:10 PM on June 21, 2021

Oh jesus. I had a running toilet for years that made me completely insane and getting rid of it and getting another one was the only way to shut the damn thing up. All the crap involving the flapper, etc. didn't do shit. It was just an old toilet.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:10 PM on June 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

I investigate when I hear water rushing through the pipes

So when you investigated, repeatedly, by taking the lid off the tank and looking to see what was wrong, what was the typical failure mode? If the tank has almost no water in it and the water is running continuously, then the flapper is stuck wide open. If the tank is full and the water is running continuously, then the float valve is stuck or adjusted incorrectly. If the tank is full and the water is running intermittently then the flapper isn’t sealing properly.

If there’s a clear pattern, that should give you a clue as to what to adjust or replace.

Nthing that this is the toilets’ fault, not your spouse’s.
posted by jon1270 at 9:11 PM on June 21, 2021 [2 favorites]

I had this issue once when I added a new handle, which comes attached to the internal arm that pulls the chain to lift the flapper. The new arm was so long that it would flip up into the underside of the tank lid, which was curved at that spot, and the arm would follow the curve and get stuck there, thereby holding the flap open just a little.

Take a look at the arm inside the toilet tank and see if it has wear around the edge where it may be scraping. Also look for scrape evidence on the underside of the toilet tank-- mine left some metallic streaks.

I ended up getting a new handle (didn't like the new one anyway), because it was too hard to change my habit of how much pressure I was applying to the handle. Someone who habitually applied less pressure to the handle wouldn't have the same problem I was having, which is why I think your SO and you get different results on the same handle.

However, you could try drastically shortening the chain linking the flapper to the handle-- that would change the feel of the handle a bit, but also maybe preventing it form getting high enough to stick.

Oh, and just wanted to add that the really nefarious thing was that it took a while to figure out this problem in my case because it absolutely can't occur when the tank lid is off, and I just didn't think to look at the underside of the lid.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:14 PM on June 21, 2021 [2 favorites]

Have you gotten a plumber to come look at it? I also agree with jenfullmoon. Sometimes a toilet just needs to be replaced. Overly complicated flushing mechanisms can also be frustrating and/or expensive to fix.

If you decide to replace a toilet, Toto toilets are usually highly recommended by plumbers for their reliability and simple and efficient design. We installed one ourselves to replace a very old toilet and the process was actually not bad at all.
posted by extramundane at 9:19 PM on June 21, 2021

Response by poster: Folks, please give me the benefit of the doubt that we have replaced (repeatedly) all the parts inside the toilets, from individual parts to the entire mechanism. We have replaced entire toilets. SO freely offers that they gank on the flush handle hard enough to the point where the handle has broken off in their hand. Also accept this behavior is unlikely to change for Reasons. SO cares about the toilet running, he simply cannot HEAR IT and having to stand around and wait for the flush to complete is just not a workable solution.

SO would like a solution that would alert them the water is running OR a toilet that can detect it is running and shut itself off or is of a design where physically interacting with the flush mechanism is controlled. Suggestions such as the push button toilet or the water metering device are along the lines of what we are seeking.

If it helps, think of this as an accessibility issue, not an interpersonal or DIY plumbing issue.
posted by jamaro at 9:44 PM on June 21, 2021 [3 favorites]

Just a data point - I have a dual push button toilet that regularly gets stuck and keeps running; one of the buttons tends to get caught slightly under the other and I have to press on both again to get it to reset. I assume that not all dual button designs would have this problem, but maybe keep an eye out for this when considering options?
posted by rhythm and booze at 5:16 AM on June 22, 2021

Best answer: You might try a pressure assisted toilet. The flush mechanism releases a measured pulse of water, and water cannot continue flowing after the flush.
posted by monotreme at 9:15 AM on June 22, 2021

I recently discovered that you can buy "water saver" or "leak detector" toilet fill valves. Our local hardware store had two different brands, both exactly the same price. The one I bought has a second chain that attaches to the flush arm that releases a catch on the float only once per flush. As the toilet fills, the float will rise up to the point the catch will stop it from going back down as the tank "leaks."

Also I learned from the installation instructions that you should be setting the shutoff level for the float at least a half inch below the top of the overflow tube. The fill valve I replaced in one toilet had not been installed properly, and the old one always filled to the very top of the tube and didn't stop until it had overflowed a bit. Setting that level correctly on the new valve means the toilet actually stops filling when it should.

Flappers in our toilets don't seal well in the winter (I guess our house is too cold) and this purchase seems to have been worthwhile. But also Kohler toilets have an idiosyncratic tank-to-bowl gasket that may be leaking in a way you're not even seeing. You may want to investigate that gasket because if your toilet is constantly filling even with a new flapper and a properly installed fill valve, that gasket may be the problem.
posted by fedward at 11:12 AM on June 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

We had this problem with one particular toilet and replaced the inside parts twice. Then I discovered that the problem wasn't with the interior parts. It was the position of the reservoir tank cover. if I flip up the toilet lid aggressively enough that it pushes the tank cover back, it blocks something inside the tank and whatever it is won't allow the valve to close; the toilet can run for hours, days even. Similarly, if while sitting on the toilet I lean back at all and push the tank cover back even minimally the same thing happens. Such a simple thing, and it was something that never occurred to me. I discovered it by accident, and it cured the toilet running issue.

The water running still occurs occasionally (with guests, especially), who understandably don't know about our touchy toilet. I've learned to listen for running water, and after I use the toilet I now wait 20 seconds to make sure the flush handle returns to the neutral position and the water stops running.

Simple fix, though maddening that the toilet design is poor. I suppose if I were handier or more determined to permanently fix the issue I could install some kind of blockers on the tank lid, but so far my "pull the tank lid forward" intervention is working fine.
posted by citygirl at 11:43 AM on June 22, 2021

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