A person flushing a toilet.
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Toilet Troubles? Here’s How to Fix a Toilet Handle

How to Fix a Toilet Handle

You’re trying to flush the toilet, but something’s not right. It’s the toilet handle, but is it something you can tackle yourself? Here’s our handy step-by-step guide on how to fix a toilet handle.

Diagnosing the Problem

When the old trick of wiggling the handle and forcibly holding it down is not doing the job, it is time to roll up your sleeves and decipher what’s going on with the toilet’s working parts. So yes, grin and bear it because you will need to remove the toilet’s lid to fix an unresponsive handle.

The anatomy of the toilet is fairly easy to understand, even if you’ve never had the privilege of peering into the lidless tank. Basically, the toilet handle is attached to a lift arm, that bar you see running horizontally from one apparatus to the other. There’s a chain at the end of the lift arm that's connected to the flush valve (sometimes dubbed the toilet flapper).

Here are three common problems that can cause a toilet handle not to work:

Problem One:

When things are all well and good, this arm pulls on the chain, which lifts the flapper to start the flush. Your toilet will not flush if the arm cannot lift the flapper high enough to initiate the flush unless you really hold that toilet handle down long enough. This means there is too much slack in the chain.

Solve this problem by positioning the arm in its down position, so the flapper rests nicely on the valve. Pull the chain up, so there is no slack, align the chain with an appropriate hole on the arm, and secure it. If you do not want to get wet, you can shut the water off when working inside the toilet tank. There’s a shutoff valve often located near the left side of the tank.

Problem Two:

If the chain is too long and becomes stuck between the flapper and the valve, you have the problem of the flapper never fully closing. This causes the toilet to run and run and run because the tank never fills.

This is an easy solution: make the chain the correct length by re-fastening it to a different hole on the arm, and there you go!

Problem Three:

You could be faced with a broken toilet handle that needs to be replaced entirely. Luckily, replacing a toilet handle is a do-it-yourself task.

Replacing a Toilet Handle

Perhaps your situation is that your toilet is flushing fine, but the actual handle is busted. Check to see where the handle is located on the tank (right or left) and start shopping around for a new one. Most are universal, but some handles are designed for toilets with mounting for the front, side, or angle. You can pick up a new handle online or at your local hardware store.

You’ll need:

  • Adjustable wrench
  • A new toilet handle

Step One:

Your first step should be removing the chain that connects to the lift arm. Keep a mental note as to which hole in the lift arm the chain’s connected to so you can attach it to the right spot when you’re finished.

Step Two:

Remove your old handle. There’s a nut that secures the handle in place, so grab an adjustable wrench and get turning. Slip the lift arm through the hole in the tank so you can remove the old handle.

Step Three:

Grab your new handle and take off the nut and O-ring for now. Insert the lift arm through the hole from the outer side of the tank once again. Slip the washer onto the lift arm, followed by the nut. Tighten the nut and use your wrench if needed.

Step Four:

Hook the chain back onto the lift arm (into the same hole it was originally secured to). Now, it’s time to conduct a test flush. Too long of a chain, the tank won’t drain all the way, while too short of a chain, and the toilet will drain continuously. Make your adjustments as needed.

When to Call the Pros

Fixing a toilet handle is usually achievable by even a novice do-it-yourselfer. However, if you have tried all the tricks of the trade like shortening or elongating the toilet chain, replacing the toilet handle, and you are still not getting a flush — call a professional. There could be something else going on with the flush system that a professional can solve in no time.