Learn how you can improve your toilet's overall performance to help you save water and money.

How To Improve Toilet Performance

Do I really need to worry about improving my toilet's performance?

picture of a toilet

There are a few things you can do to improve the performance of your toilet, and yes, you will need to eventually. Anything man made will wear out or break down and your toilet is no exception. We check the oil in our car every few months to make sure our car works well, but we usually don't check our toilet to see if it is working properly, sometimes for years!

Think about this for a moment: We determined that a family of four with one bathroom in the household will, on average, flush the toilet approximately 5,840 times per year! Okay, maybe we are a little high in our calculations, but we did include the occasional overnight guest. So if each member of a family of four were to flush the toilet only one time per day that would be over 1,450 flushes per year. That is still a lot of wear and tear.

Who said, "Be good to your toilet and your toilet will be good to you?" We did! It is a good idea to periodically check the inside of your toilet and make sure all is working well. The fill valve may be leaking, or the flushing mechanism or flapper may be worn out. The tank trip lever may be ready to fall off - the list could go on.

We would like to help you improve your toilet performance by offering some simple ways for you to accomplish a toilet "tune-up". Before you begin you may want to put on some latex gloves.

How To Improve The Performance Of Your Toilet

Items needed: latex type gloves, small cup and bucket, phillips screwdriver, flat head screwdriver, 1/2 gallon white vinegar.

Step 1: Remove the tank lid

picture of tank lidHand-painted tank lid

Remove the tank lid and put it in a safe place to keep it from being broken. Be careful handling your tank lid because they are very fragile, can be heavy and sometimes slippery.

Step 2: Turn off the water

picture of shut off valveSupply/shut-off valve

When replacing or repairing any of the parts inside a toilet tank, make sure to turn off the water to your toilet. A shut-off valve, also known as a supply valve or stop valve, is typically located on the wall or floor behind the toilet and usually on the left side. Turn the handle clockwise to turn the water off.

Step 3: Examine the toilet tank flush lever

Check to make sure the flush lever, also known as a trip lever, is tightly secured to the wall of the tank. If not secured tightly, you can reach into the tank and tighten the lock nut.

If your tank trip lever is located on the front left-hand side of the toilet, the trip lever base and the corresponding lock nut usually are left handed threads and tighten opposite from standard nuts. From the front of the tank and looking down at the trip lever, reach in and turn the nut from left to right. (we suggest hand tightening this nut to prevent the possibility of cracking your china/porcelain).

If the tank trip lever is located on the right-hand side of the tank then the trip lever base and the corresponding lock nut are usually a standard right hand thread. From the front of the tank and looking down at the trip lever, reach in and turn the nut from right to left. (we suggest hand tightening this nut to prevent the possibility of cracking your china/porcelain).

Tank trip levers are designed to thread on in this fashion to help keep the trip lever from loosening with use over time. Each time it is pushed down to flush the toilet, the pressure put on the trip lever is in the direction of making the nut tighter.

Make sure all the parts of the trip lever are working properly. The internal rod should not be bent (unless manufactured to be bent) or separating from the base. If the trip lever appears to be in bad shape, you may need to replace it with a new trip lever assembly.

Step 4: Add a few drops of food coloring into the tank and wait 15 or 20 minutes

This is a simple way to find out if water is leaking from the tank into the bowl. Look into the bowl and if you see the food coloring appear then water is leaking into the bowl. If water is leaking into the bowl then possibly the flush valve has eroded, or perhaps the flapper, tank ball or seat disc needs to be replaced.

Step 5: Remove the water from your tank

In order to check your flapper, tank ball or seat disc you will need to remove the water in your tank. If you are environmentally concerned, or water conscious, then use a small cup and bucket and use the extracted water from the tank to water one of your plants.

Step 6: Examine your flapper, tank ball, seat disc or seal

Which one you have will depend on your style of flush valve.

Flappers are the most common type of seal used on flush valves in recent years. Flappers usually mount on two posts near the base of the overflow tube. The flapper arms rotate on the posts and the flapper pivots upward when the tank lever attached to the flapper is pushed or "tripped" to release the water in the tank to flow into the bowl.

Tank balls were used on older toilets before flapper technology was introduced to the plumbing industry. Tank balls are attached to the trip lever by thin brass rods, one of which threads into the tank ball. A guide is needed to keep the thin rods and the tank ball on track to settle back onto the flush valve.

Seat discs are used in many American Standard toilets, and are attached to an actuator that is attached to the trip lever by a chain. The actuator has a cylinder that holds water as a counter balance to keep the seat disc up and away from the flush valve rim when the trip lever is activated. The actuator cylinder has a small hole that allows the water to slowly drain from the cylinder until it can no longer stay up and must close to seal the flush valve rim.

Most Mansfield brand toilets use a seal at the bottom of the flush valve but is not attached to their float cylinder. The float cylinder is lifted off of the seal when the tank lever is tripped and because air is trapped in the cylinder it stays afloat until the water level lowers and the float drops onto the seal.

If you can hear water leaking out of the tank, push down on the flapper, if the leak stops, then the flapper needs to be replaced. Examine the flapper, tank ball or seat disc and be thorough, checking for any signs of wear or weakness in the material.

Some flappers, and some tank balls, over time may harden and lose their original shape causing them not to seat properly onto the rim of the flush valve. This is usually caused by chlorine in the tank water, but can also be caused by leave-in tank/bowl cleaners.

Lift up the flapper and look underneath for signs of wear. Some flappers, and some tank balls may look good from the top, but the underneath part may be deteriorated causing air in the flapper pocket to prematurely escape.

Air in the flapper pocket helps keep the flapper or tank ball buoyant and allows it to float as water exits the tank through the flush valve. As the tank is emptied of water the flapper or tank ball is unable to float any longer and seals back down onto the rim of the flush valve.

If the flapper or tank ball air pocket is compromised it can cause the flapper or tank ball to close too quickly, causing the bowl to only partially flush.

After touching the flapper, tank ball or seat disc, if any residual flapper material has transferred onto your fingers or gloves (such as some of the rubber wiping off) then you need to replace the flapper, tank ball or seat disc because it is deteriorating and disintegrating.

Step 7: Check your flush valve

Using latex gloves on your hands move the flapper, tank ball or seat disc upwards and check the rim surface of the flush valve where the flapper, tank ball or seat disc creates the seal to keep the water in the tank. The rim should be smooth without chips, or rough spots, or signs of erosion. Any imperfections on the surface of the rim can allow water to slip into the bowl virtually unnoticed. This will then cause the fill valve to activate when enough water has escaped the tank.

If you find the rim of the flush valve to be clean and smooth but water is still leaking into the bowl, then the flapper, tank ball or seat disc can most likely be the problem.

Step 8: Examine the chain or strap attached to the trip lever

A flapper normally attaches to the trip lever arm by a chain or strap. It's important to make sure the chain or strap isn't too loose or too tight. If the chain/strap is too tight, the flapper may not seat properly all the way onto the flush valve rim which will allow water to stream into the bowl. If the chain/strap is too loose, the flapper may not lift high enough to stay open properly and prematurely close causing the bowl to only partially flush. The chain or strap should have some slack but just a little, approximately a half-inch.

Once you have determined the flapper is working correctly, cut off any excess chain or strap. Excess chain or strap can interfere with the flapper and can keep it suspended to where the flapper may not close at all. This will in turn cause water to continuously run down into your bowl, keeping the fill valve open while water is being wasted. Now imagine you flushed your toilet and walked out the door to leave for the weekend, thinking everything was working perfectly. Not a very good scenario.

Step 9: Examine the bowl (with the water still off)

One thing that is often overlooked is the toilet bowl itself. Over time the holes in the rim of the bowl of the toilet can get clogged due to hard water deposits or possible sediment or dirt in the water. This can cause less water to flow into the bowl to properly rinse or flush the bowl.

You could use a short length of wire coat hanger and push into each hole in the rim of the toilet bowl to make sure each hole is clear of any lime build up or other possible debris.

If you would like, you could put a funnel into the overflow tube and pour white vinegar directly into the rim passageway, and let sit for a few minutes. This type of occasional treatment of white vinegar is a good way to help keep the holes in the rim of the toilet clear of build up.

If you would like to eliminate the hard water deposits altogether, the best investment would be for you to install a water softener, especially if you have multiple bathrooms.

Step 10: Turn the water on

To inspect your fill valve you will need to turn the shut off valve back on to allow the fill valve to operate.

Step 11: Inspect your fill valve, also known as a ballcock

Fluidmaster pro fill valve model pro45

Watch as the water fills the tank to see if the float moves upward and turns the water off at the proper water line level. The water level is normally marked on the overflow tube or on the inside back of the tank. If the water line is not clearly found, then adjustment of the water level to 1-inch below the top of the overflow tube is an acceptable solution.

Make sure that water is not leaking from other parts of the fill valve, like spurting out the top or sides of the plunger or cap. If this is happening, then the internal parts of the fill valve may need to be replaced, or there just may be dirt that has accumulated in the plunger or diaphragm that needs to be cleaned out.

If the float turns the fill valve off but the water level is not at the correct height, then the float assembly will need to be adjusted. The proper water level in the tank is critical for the toilet bowl to be flushed completely.

Adjust the float so that the water stops at the water line. Most toilets are designed to function correctly at the water level line determined by the manufacturer of your particular toilet. Adjusting the water level too high can result in wasted water if the water leaks over the top and into the overflow tube.

Take notice of the refill tube. It should be in a position to add water into the overflow tube allowing the bowl to fill back up while the fill valve is refilling the tank.

Many of the newer style fill valves use a cylinder or similar type float that slides up and down on the fill valve shaft. These newer styles are not designed to have the refill tube shoved down into the overflow tube. Instead, these types are designed to use a refill tube "clip" that attaches to the top of the overflow tube. The clip provides an air gap for the refill tube. If a clip is not used then water in the tank can be siphoned into the bowl, causing the fill valve to constantly turn on and off or continually run.

Most fill valves that use a float ball at the end of a brass rod can have the refill tube put directly into the overflow tube, because it will not affect the performance of the fill valve, or siphon water from the tank.

We hope you found this information useful and you were successful in your endeavor to "tune up" and maintain your toilet. PlumbingSupply.com® is pleased to offer this and other pages that provide information on plumbing products or the installation and/or care of many of the products offered on our site.

Extra Info:

The Oxford dictionary defines the word ballcock as a "device with a floating ball controlling the water level in a cistern" and also defines cistern as a "tank for storing water." Many fill valves no longer use a ball as a float. Many use a cylinder or other shape of float so the earlier term ballcock could be technically incorrect.

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