Angie's List: When to DIY toilet fixes

By Paul F. P. Pogue,
Angie’s List

You depend on your toilet to work day in, day out. But when things go wrong with the toilet, they can go very wrong indeed.

You can solve some toilet problems yourself, but don’t hesitate to call a plumber if you exceed your own skills. (Dreamstime)

Fortunately, when you run into toilet trouble, you can frequently solve the problem yourself. Consider these tips for common toilet problems. However, keep a realistic assessment of your own skills. If you get in over your head in trouble, don’t hesitate to call in a professional. When you don’t know what you’re doing, you can easily make things worse.


Many toilet problems go back to clogs: something stuck in the pipes that just won’t budge. The first solution is that most iconic of plumber’s tools, the plunger. When plunging a clog, make sure to position your plunger to create a tight seal around the opening.

Position it in the drain opening and push down, forcing the air out of the plunger. Then continue with several rapid up and down movements. You may have to try this several times. Lift the plunger out of the water to let more air into it between each effort.

Are your other drains working normally? If not, the clog is apparently in the main drain and no amount of plunging will dislodge it.

If the toilet is the only fixture affected and plunging doesn’t work, you could try dissolving the clog — but don’t use harsh chemical products. Put one cup of baking soda and one cup of vinegar in the toilet and let it sit for about eight hours. The chemical reaction that occurs between the two substances might help break down whatever is clogging the drain.

To prevent future clogs: Don’t flush any materials other than toilet paper. Feminine products should go in the trashcan, not the toilet. Many plumbers even recommend against putting “flushable wipes” down the drain because they don’t degrade well and can cause clogs down the line.

Keep the counter space around the toilet and the back of the tank clear of small objects that might fall in without being noticed.


On occasion, you may hear your toilet flush itself. Though this can be disconcerting to hear in the middle of the night, it’s no ghost and no home intruder. Instead, the phantom flush indicates that water is leaking from your tank into the toilet bowl. Thanks to the physical laws that make toilets work, when enough water fills the bowl, it flushes automatically.

In most cases, a worn-out flapper in the tank causes this leak. Test for a leak by putting a few drops of food coloring in the tank and waiting to see if it becomes visible in the bowl without flushing. You can hire a plumber to replace the flapper, or if you feel handy enough, you can purchase the parts at a hardware store and try it yourself.


Paul F. P. Pogue is a reporter for Angie’s List, a trusted provider of local consumer reviews and an online marketplace of services from top-rated providers. Visit