Have you ever visited someone’s house, like your grandparents, and as you were entering the bathroom they yelled, “Don’t forget to jiggle the handle,” or “make sure to hold the handle down!” These phrases are often used when a toilet handle is presumed to be stuck and needs a little extra encouragement to do its job.
The toilet handle is probably not stuck. In fact, the toilet handle has very little to do with the problem. Unless a nut in the toilet handle is loose and has become separated, or the lever inside has become corroded and therefore won’t budge—the problem lies elsewhere.
The best way to figure out what is going on with the handle is to take the lid off the tank and look inside. Flush the toilet, like you normally would, without the jiggle, and watch what happens. What you will discover, is that the need to jiggle or hold down the handle usually indicates that you need to adjust the chain inside the toilet tank.
The chain connects the lever, also known as the flush arm, to the flapper. When you push the toilet handle down it lifts the lever, which lifts the chain, which lifts the flapper and allows the water to exit the tank. However, when the chain is too loose, the flapper doesn’t get lifted high enough to allow the toilet to flush. Holding the handle down would keep the flapper upright—and therefore solves the problem. The same is true for jiggling the handle. Jiggling the handle also jiggles the flapper up and down, increasing the chances that it would be raised high enough to allow the toilet to flush.
Another reason people jiggle the handle is to stop a running toilet. When the chain is too loose or too long, it can get caught between the flapper and the valve. This will cause the toilet to continuously run. This means the tank is continuously leaking into the toilet bowl.
To solve both of these problems you need to adjust the chain. Good news! Adjusting the chain is super easy and something you can do yourself.
How to adjust the toilet chain:
- Turn the water off . . . or don’t. In order to adjust the toilet chain, you are obviously going to need to get your hands into the tank and manipulate the toilet chain. If you don’t want to stick your hands into the tank water, then you will need to drain the tank. In order to do that, you will need to first turn off the water supply to the toilet tank. To do this, locate the shut off valve. The shut off valve is usually where the water supply pipe comes up through the floor or out of the wall. Once you have turned off the water supply, flush the toilet and the tank will drain. If you can’t locate the shut off valve, then you need to prepare to get your hands wet. Most people are grossed out by the idea of sticking their hands in the tank water, but this is kind of ridiculous. The water in the tank is fresh water. It is the same water that comes out of your sink or shower head. However, if you put cleaners in the tank, then you may really want to find that shut off valve.
- Measure the chain. The chain is connected to the lever/flush arm via a hook or clip. Unhook the chain from the flush arm and place the arm in the down position (like you were pushing the toilet handle down). With the flush arm down, and the flapper down, pull the chain straight up, with no slack, and align the chain with the nearest hole in the flush arm. Make note of the hole, and the link that is right below that hole. You can do this by pinching the link with your fingers.
- Hook the chain. Move the hook or clip to the pinched link, and then hook the chain to the flush arm.
- Check the slack. The hook/clip should have provided enough slack to allow the flapper to sit firmly over the flush valve. However, it should also be taught enough that when you push down the toilet handle you no longer need to jiggle or hold the handle. Lastly, make sure that the chain hanging from the other side of the hook isn’t too long, with the potential of getting stuck between the flapper and the valve. If it is, you will need to cut the chain, or be creative and hook it elsewhere on the lever (think paper-clips).
- Check the job. To make sure that everything is now operating correctly, first turn the water back on at the shut off valve. Let the tank fill, and flush the toilet. If you still need to hold the handle down to get a full flush, then move the hook down one link in the chain to remove slack and try again.
It may take a couple tries to get it just right, but when you are done, you will have fixed a really annoying problem, and potentially gotten over your fear of toilet tank water! If this still didn’t solve the problem, maybe there really is something wrong with your toilet handle—or your toilet. If you need help with this DIY project, feel free to give us call—we can probably help you over the phone. If you think the problem isn’t the chain, then schedule an appointment with one of our expert technicians at Liberty Plumbing. Whether your toilet needs a replacement part, or you need a new toilet, we have the right tools and knowhow to get the job done.