Toilets are one of those appliances that many people take for granted. They serve one purpose, and most people give little thought to how they work or what it takes to maintain them until they stop working.
Toilet operation is relatively simple, but when one stops working, it can send the user into a panic. If you are that user and your toilet isn’t flushing, you may feel your anxiety rising. The first thing to do is to take a deep breath. A toilet that won’t flush isn’t the end of the world and there are only a few reasons it isn’t working. In the paragraphs that follow, I’m going to cover how you can manually flush your toilet (you have options), what causes a toilet not to flush, and what you need to do to fix the problem.
Manually Flushing a Toilet With a Broken Handle
A non-flushing toilet is definitely frustrating, especially if you have already used it and the embarrassment of leaving your waste behind for the next person to deal with is just too much. Luckily, you have three options for manually flushing a toilet that won’t flush because the handle is broken.
Manually Opening the Flapper
The flapper is the rubber disk that resides at the bottom of the tank. When engaged, it opens to allow water to flow into the toilet bowl, thus flushing away waste. If the flapper is worn, it can get stuck and keep water from flowing into the bowl. If this happens, you will need to open the flapper manually.
To do this:
- Remove the cover from the toilet tank and set it on the floor.
- Locate the chain connected to the handle arm at one end and the flapper at the other. If the chain is detached from either end, reattach it and try flushing the toilet again.
- If the toilet still does not flush, pull the flapper up from the bottom of the tank to begin the flushing process.
If the flapper was stuck and your toilet flushed by manually lifting the flapper, you will need to replace the flapper to keep it from sticking in the future.
Pour a Bucket Of Water Into The Bowl
This is probably the easiest and least messy way to manually flush a toilet. All you need is a bucket of water. Follow these steps to manually flush your toilet using this method.
- Fill a bucket with water. Newer models may only need a gallon or two to flush this way, but if yours is an older model, you may need as much as 3-5 gallons of water to start the flushing process.
- Start pouring the water into the toilet bowl slowly at first. Pour the water faster once you get about half of the contents of the bucket in.
- The quantity and rush of water should push the waste down the drain.
Pour Water Into the Tank
Another method that works to manually flush a toilet is pouring water into the tank. Many times, a toilet that won’t flush is caused by something broken or worn in the tank itself. When this happens, you may be able to flush the toilet by following these steps.
- Take the cover off the toilet tank.
- Pour water into the tank until it reaches the water line or is about an inch below the top.
- Try flushing the toilet again by pressing the handle. If it doesn’t flush, you will need to do some investigating to find out why and replace the broken parts.
Why Does the Toilet Handle Get Stiff or Break
The reason your toilet’s handle is hard to push or seems to be broken can be found inside the tank itself. As simple as flushing a toilet appears, there are actually several parts inside the tank that play a part in making a flush happen. Here are several reasons your toilet handle may be stiff or broken.
The Chain is Snagging
There is a chain inside the tank that is connected to the handle and the flapper. This chain must have free and unhindered movement inside the tank to properly raise and lower the flapper. If it is getting snagged on something during the flushing process, the handle may be difficult or impossible to push.
The Chain is The Wrong Length
In order for the chain to raise and lower the flapper correctly, it must be the exact right length. Too long and it won’t raise the flapper enough to allow enough water into the bowl to flush. If the chain is too short, the flapper won’t be able to close properly and the toilet may ‘run’ continuously, wasting water.
The flapper is made of rubber, which means it can deteriorate over time. When this happens, the rubber may get stuck to the porcelain and make it hard to push the handle. If nothing else seems to be the problem, and you have to manually pull the flapper up to get it to open, you should replace the flapper.
The Handle Is Corroded
The handle itself could be the culprit as it sees a lot of wear and tear with time. It could be that the handle is cracked, which means it will need to be replaced, or it could just be loose, in which case, all you will need to do is tighten it back up.
Fixing or Replacing the Toilet Handle
Depending on what you find to be the cause of your difficult-to-use or non-flushing toilet handle, you can likely fix it yourself.
Tightening a Loose Toilet Handle
If your toilet handle is simply loose, here is how you tighten it back up.
- Turn off the water supply to the tank. Make sure to turn the valve all the way clockwise to shut it off completely.
- Manually flush the toilet using one of the methods above. This will drain the tank so you can access the handle without getting wet.
- Locate the nut that holds the handle onto the tank. You will find it directly opposite (inside the tank) the handle.
- Use an adjustable wrench or a pair of pliers to turn the nut clockwise to tighten it. Be careful not to tighten it too much as this could crack the porcelain and leave you with an even bigger problem.
- Once the handle is tight, turn the water back on and try flushing the toilet again.
How to Replace a Broken Toilet Handle
If your toilet is difficult to flush or won’t flush at all, the handle may be broken. You can replace this part easily by following the advice below.
- Go to your local home improvement store and purchase a universal toilet handle kit. These kits work for most toilets but double-check with a knowledgeable staff member to make sure you don’t need a specific part for your toilet.
- Once you have the new handle, start by turning the water supply to the toilet off.
- Manually flush the toilet to drain the tank.
- Remove the tank cover and use an adjustable wrench or pliers to loosen and remove the nut holding the old handle on.
- Disconnect the chain from the old handle and slide it out of the hole in the side of the tank.
- Slide the new handle into the opening and use the new nut to tighten it into place. Again, avoid overtightening.
- Connect the chain to the new handle, making sure it is the correct length to sufficiently open and close the flapper.
- Turn the water supply back on and try flushing the toilet.
When a toilet stops working due to a broken handle, it can cause a lot of anxiety. Luckily, the problem is an easy one to fix, and you can even manually flush your toilet to avoid the embarrassment of having to leave your waste behind for someone else to see. By following the steps and advice I have provided above, you will be able to flush and fix a toilet with a broken handle.
If you would like to visual aid then check out this useful video below.
As a retired Master Plumber Jamie has over 30 years of hands-on experience, making his plumbing knowledge second to none. He has also worked on both residential and commercial HVAC installation and repair projects.