Homeownership is a wonderful privilege. That is until something breaks or doesn’t work right. At that point, you may find yourself longing for your early days of apartment living and being able to call the super or caretaker when something went wrong. Fortunately, there are things you can fix without having to call in (and pay for) the professionals.

How to fix a slow filling toilet tank. There are several things you can check to get to the root of the issue:

  1. Check the water valve.
  2. Check for clogs in the valves and tubes.
  3. Evaluate the water pressure coming into your house.
  4. Adjust your float ball or fill valve.
  5. Realign your trip assembly.

If those tricks don’t work,

  1. Go ahead and call a plumber.
  2. Have a new commode installed.

This article will dig into each of these solutions so you can do everything you can to save money and have the satisfaction of a wonderful sense of accomplishment.

Knowing When Your Toilet Tank Takes Too Long to Fill

If you have more people in your household than you have bathrooms, you may have times when it seems that the commode takes too long to refill.

Starting with reasonable expectations is a good place to start. The fact is that a properly adjusted toilet tank should take about three minutes to fill and quit running. If your toilet is taking five minutes – or even longer – to fill, it’s time to start looking for a proper diagnosis.

Finding a Resolution Step by Step

Now that you know you aren’t losing your mind or just being a little bit impatient, here are some steps you can take to work on correcting the issue:

1.      Check the water valve.

The water valve is at the base of the toilet near the floor. Check to make sure that it is all the way open. If it’s only partially open, this could be your culprit.

Some people have the mistaken thought that if they only open the water valve half-way, they’ll use less water. That’s not the case. All that happens is that it takes longer for your tank to fill, causing the water to run longer.

2.      Check for clogs in the valves and tubes.

This step gets you slightly more involved in the solution and requires you to get your hands wet. For this step, you’ll want:

  • A small bucket, bowl, or plastic tumbler
  • A rag
  • A small bottle or hose brush

The first hose you’ll want to check is the one that connects to the bottom of the toilet’s tank above the water. Here’s what you’re going to want to do:

  • Turn the water valve off.
  • Flush the toilet, so the tank empties but is unable to refill.
  • Place your capture container (bucket, bowl, tumbler) on the floor below the valve.
  • Unscrew the valve nuts to allow you to remove the hose at both ends.
  • Examine the inside of the hose like you would use a spyglass to see if there are any blockages. If there are, at the sink, use the brush and running water to clean the hose.
  • Securely reattach the hose at both ends.
  • Turn the water all the way back on and flush the toilet.
  • If this hasn’t cared for your issue, it’s time to take the next step.

If that didn’t work, it’s time to check the flush valve inside the toilet assembly.

  • Turn the water valve back off.
  • Remove the commode tank lid and set it aside.
  • Lift the float cup and keep it lifted – do not let it down.
  • Hold onto the gray pipe shaft and place your other hand on top of the valve cap. Turn the valve cap in a clockwise direction 1/8 to ¼ of a turn to unlock it.
  • Lift the cap off, inspect the seal and the valve for debris. If you find any, clean away the debris.
  • Place a plastic cup upside down over the valve opening and turn on the water supply for 10-15 seconds then turn it back off. This process should free any debris stuck further down in the valve inlet.
  • Reassemble the top of the valve and secure the cap.
  • Turn the water back on.

Note: If you discover that you have any damaged parts during this investigative process, your local hardware store will be able to help you find the correct replacement part.

3.      Check the water pressure coming into your house.

If your fist response to that was… “how on earth am I supposed to know how to do that?!?” You’re not alone. If your second thought was, “you know… the tub does seem to take a really long time to fill.” This is probably a step you need to explore. That said, low water pressure can be a cause of a slow filling tank. Here’s what you need to know about testing your home’s water pressure:

  • Your first step is to call your water department to find out whether or not they have a pressure gauge attached at the entrance to your house. If they do, ask them if they can tell you:
    • 1) where the gauge is located
    • 2) how to read it
    • 3) what the pressure should be for your residence
  • If the water department doesn’t have a gauge on your house, you can pick up a pressure gauge that measures in pounds per square inch (psi) and has female hose threads. You’ll want to screw this into the outdoor hose spigot that is closest to your main water supply. Make sure you have the connection tight – you don’t want any water leaking around the seal during this test.
  • Make sure water isn’t running anywhere else in the house (inside or outside). This includes your ice maker, dishwasher, washing machine, etc.
  • Turn your faucet all the way on and then read the pressure on the gauge’s dial.

Note: In general, your home’s water PSI should be between 40 to 50 and should not be more than 60. If you find that the water pressure is above 60 or below 40, it’s time to call a plumber to have a pressure regulator installed.

4.      Adjust your float ball or fill valve.

If, when you look inside your toilet tank, you notice that the float ball is very low (only in the bottom third or half of your tank), you can adjust it to better fill your tank.

  • To adjust the float ball, simply gently bend the metal arm upward.
  • If this doesn’t correct the issue, you may need to replace the float ball assembly completely.

Note: This is also the step you can take if your tank continues running and “jiggling” the handle doesn’t make it stop.

If resolving the float ball placement doesn’t care for your issue, you can try opening up the fill valve slightly more.

  • Use a flat-headed screwdriver to turn the adjustment screw clockwise. This will allow more water to flow into the commode’s tank. Once you’ve finished your adjustment, flush the toilet to determine if this has resolved your issue.
  • If you find that you are now getting too much water into your tank, you can correct the issue by turning the screw in a counterclockwise direction.

5.      Realign your trip assembly.

The trip assembly is located inside your toilet tank and connected to the exterior flushing mechanism. If it is hitting the lid, realign it to a slightly lower position. If the connection inside the tank is crooked, chances are pretty good that you need to replace it.

If None of These Solutions Helped

If, after you’ve gone through these steps, your toilet is still taking too long to fill, you may have a larger plumbing issue. If this is the case:

6.      Call a reputable plumber.

If you don’t know a plumber, most realtors and builders have plumbers they can recommend. A search of Angie’sList.com can also provide you with information, including customer reviews.

7.      Start thinking about a replacement commode.

Especially if you have a very old house, be prepared. Your plumber may tell you that your commode is too old and needs to be replaced or that the house’s plumbing isn’t structured to handle current appliance expectations.

On average, a toilet should be able to last 50 years or more. That said, things happen – especially in areas of frequent seismic activities or extreme temperature changes. If the toilet tank or bowl has a crack in it, it will need to be replaced.

Overall Pro Tips:

  • Always avoid over-tightening anything as it can result in damaged parts.
  • Always take the part you want to replace with you when you go to the hardware store. This will ensure you get the right size(s).

Some More About Water Pressure

We live in a society that tends to think that if a little bit is good, more must be better… right? In the case of water pressure, that is absolutely not the case. Too much water pressure can result in leaking pipes and significant damage to your home. Some of the warning signs of high-water pressure damage are:

  • Let’s start with the commode.

Do you ever hear the toilet running, but nobody’s been in the lavatory? Water pressure that is set at a level that is too high for the building’s pipes can cause the toilet to run because of the excess pressure.

  • Do you get annoyed by that banging noise that happens when the water gets shut off?

This phenomenon is called water hammer. This happens when water, or any dynamic fluid, is abruptly stopped. The sound of the fluid slamming against the closed valve is the same as that of a hammer that suddenly comes into contact with a surface.

  • Have you noticed water leaks on the floor or ceiling first thing in the morning?

When the water pressure is set too high and has no relief from various usage, it can result in latent water in the pipes causing cracks or eroding the pipes, and then causing leaks that lead to very expensive repairs.

Just as we discussed that water pressure that is too low can cause your toilet to take too long to fill, water pressure that is too strong causes different problems. To resolve this, go back to determine what the water psi is for your house. If it’s over 60, you’re going to want to call a plumber and/or maybe the water department to get a regulator installed on your house that will control that flow better.

Wasted Water

Another issue with water pressure that is set too high is that you are wasting one of your precious resources: water. If you live in an area that doesn’t experience water shortages, you may think, “so what?”

If, on the other hand, you live in Arizona, California, New Mexico, or any number of other areas that experience serious water restrictions and shortages, this will be a huge issue for you.

The other part of this is that the more water that goes into your house, the more water you are paying for as part of your utility bill. If you want to lower your water bill, one way to do that is to keep the water pressure for your house between 40 and 50 psi.

Managing Water Pressure from a Well System

If you have a well instead of some sort of municipality managed water, you may be wondering… what about us?

Your well pump has a pressure switch that measures the water pressure in the well.

If you are experiencing either low or high-water pressure, chances are that this pressure switch needs to be adjusted or replaced. Here are a few other things to look for that will give you a heads-up that your well may need some attention:

  • Are you getting a mix of water and air when you turn your faucet on?

You may find that this is one of two issues:

1) Worst-case scenario is that the water table has dropped below your pump level or is right at your pump level. This would cause the pump to occasionally draw some air through the line.

2) Another possibility is that the pump drop pipe is broken, corroded, or has significant cracks. This would also cause air to be sucked into the system.

  • If you found that there is a lot of sediment in your flush valve, it could be that your well is pumping sand or silt.

If the well’s pump is near the bottom of the water supply, it will pick up sediment and push it through your system. This could result in clogged pipes and unsuitable drinking water.

Another reason this could be happening is that the well screen has developed flaws and is allowing debris from the gravel pack in. You well should be set up with a sand and sediment trapper or an automatic purge valve attached to a #60 mesh screen filter.

  • Is your well pressure switch and pump continuously cycling off and on? It’s time to do some investigating. Before you panic, you’ve got this.

Your first step is to look at the check or foot valve. If it has too much water pressure built up, the water isn’t returning back down to the well. If this is happening, your first clue is going to be your skyrocketing power bill. This is an instance where your well pump is practically running 24-hours per day.

It is also possible that your pressure tank is not retaining captive pressure. To troubleshoot this:

  • Turn the power to the well pump off and run water in or at the house until there isn’t any water pressure left.
  • Use a tire pressure gaugeyes, a tire pressure gauge… to check the built-up pressure at the valve on top of the pressure tank.
    • If your well turns on at 40 psi, your gauge should read 2 psi lower – 38 psi. If it doesn’t, you may need to consider replacing your well’s pressure valve.
  • Turn the power to the well pump back on. 5) Run water from an outdoor spigot until it runs clear again.

If neither of these are issues, you may need to start looking for areas in the ground along your pipeline that are soggy or potential leaks inside the house.

Replacing your Commode

If you’ve determined that there’s just nothing around it, you have to replace your toilet, here are some things to consider:

  1. How old is your home?

Historic homes’ pipes were most likely made of cast iron as opposed to the materials used in today’s construction. These older plumbing systems aren’t built for the water pressures typically found in today’s construction projects.

Homes built after World War II typically had galvanized screw piping for their internal plumbing. Once the 1970s came along, though, copper pipes were the material of choice for indoor pipes. Starting in the 1990s, PVC and PEX pipes became more widely used. They offered cost savings for the construction process, were easy to work with, and

If you own an older home (pre-1970s) and want to be sure you are going to be successful with your purchase, contact a plumber experienced in working on historic homes/buildings. We already know that commodes last about 50 years – pre-1970 is more than 50 years ago.

  1. How old and tall are your household members?

As people age, it becomes more difficult to get up from what some people call “squatty potties.” Toilets that are seated lower to the floor can cause challenges for handicapped, older, and taller populations.

A standard toilet measures about 15 inches from the floor to the seat. What’s referred to as a comfort height toilet seat, on the other hand, is between 17 to 19 off the ground. Standard toilets are ideal for children and individuals of smaller stature.

Someone who has trouble standing up from less than a foot and half off the ground would be better off on a comfort height toilet seat. That two to three-inch difference can make someone’s life much easier.

  1. Round or elongated bowl and seat is another choice you have.

A round bowl stretches about 16.5 inches from the front of the tank to the end of the bowl. An elongated bowl, however, gives about two more inches to a total of 18.5 inches. There’s another option: a compact elongated bowl. This one fits right in the middle and ends up measuring at about 17.5 inches.

  1. Standard or heated seat.

Yes…there’s such a thing as a heated seat – and it’s amazing! Particularly in the winter. If you’re interested in this, read on.

A heated toilet seat requires an electrician to install a dedicated GFI outlet. If this is a route you think you may want to explore, talk to an electrician first to determine if it’s even an option.

You’ll have to find out if you have space on your electrical panel if it’s possible to get an outlet where you would need it, and if there are any local building codes that would prohibit it.

  1. Flush options.

There are six typical types of flushing options:

  • Standard side handle that you see in most instances
  • Top button flush
  • Split top button flush to manage water conservation
  • Foot pedal flush
  • Split foot pedal flush to manage water conservation
  • High tank with chain pull flush

These are all decisions you’re going to want to make before you begin shopping for your new commode. It may seem overwhelming, but it’s worse to get into the store and be faced with all of these options. That typically results in an impulse buy and leaves you wishing you had thought through some of these things first.

Refreshing Your Existing Commode

Maybe you don’t want to worry about buying a new toilet; you just want to take back the toilet your teenager refused to clean over the years. How to get it back in shape?

Getting Rid of Ring Around the Toilet

Hard water can oftentimes result in a ring around the waterline of a toilet. Perhaps you’ve just bought a house that was on the market for a while. If the commode wasn’t flushed every couple days, it developed a serious ring that just doesn’t want to scrub away. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Get a pair of rubber cleaning gloves, baking soda, a Pumie (this is a pumice stone with a handle).
  • Clean your toilet as you normally would.
  • After you have finished and flush the chemicals away, sprinkle baking soda around the ring and let it sit for 3 to 5 minutes.
  • After the time has passed, go back and scrub with your Pumie. This is designed to work on your porcelain throne without scratching it.
  • If you have a particularly stubborn stain, you may need to repeat this process.

Changing Your Commode’s Color

Do you have an old art deco bathroom with a pink-taffy colored toilet? They exist. If you’re interested in changing the color of the porcelain in your bathroom, here’s what you can do:

  • Start with a thoroughly cleaned surface. It can’t have any cleaning product residue. At all. If it does, your paint won’t adhere correctly and will end up chipping. Once your toilet is completely clean, turn off the water at the valve, then pour a bucket of water in the bowl to cause the toilet to force-flush without allowing the bowl to refill.

Pro Tip: After you’ve finished cleaning, scrape a razor blade across the surface. If you get any residue, scrub away cleaner some more.

  • Sand the entire surface with 120-grit sandpaper. When you’re finished sanding, make sure your paint with have a smooth appearance by thoroughly rinse away all of the remaining grit and dust. Then allow it to completely air dry. You don’t want to heat the surface using a blow dryer.
  • Choose primer, paint, and finisher for porcelain. They will most likely be latex-based or epoxy products. You will not want to use any oil-based or acrylic paints for this important project.
  • Carefully follow the product instructions and let each layer dry completely. Once the paint has thoroughly dried, turn the water back on and flush the toilet to allow it to fill.

Now you have your own personally designed toilet.

Flushing the Problems Away

You have the ability to do anything we’ve discussed here. You also have the choice to decide that you don’t want to. Life is about making the choices that best suit you and the priorities that you’ve set. Whether or not you’re going to be a DIYer, you have the information you need to make sure that you’re never taken advantage of.

It doesn’t matter if you have city water or a well, you know what steps need to be taken when it comes to fixing your commode. It’s ok if you want to call yourself Bob Vila. By the time you go through the troubleshooting, you’ve absolutely earned the right.