How to Repair Common Problems with Toilets, Sinks and Tubs

Know the quick fixes behind a few of the most frustrating bathroom repairs.

©Janet Allinger

©Janet Allinger

©Janet Allinger

©Janet Allinger

©Janet Allinger

©Janet Allinger

©Janet Allinger

Clogged Sink or Tub Drain

Sinks and tubs whisk away a lot of stuff, including dirt, soap, shampoo, hair, dead skin — a lot of material that can build up in the drain. While we may be quick to grab a drain cleaner or try a plunger when water won't go down, sometimes a simple cleaning out can do the trick. Feed a drain snake (if you don't have one, try straightening a wire clothes hanger) a few inches past the stopper, twirl it around and slowly pull it out. This will be easier if you can remove the stopper. There's a good chance you'll snag a clump of hair and gunk. Keep doing this a few times until the water drains and you can't remove anything else. Now's a good time to follow up with a drain cleaner or a simple combination of baking soda and vinegar, followed by very hot, but not boiling, water.

Broken Toilet Handle

The toilet handle has one job: to open the flapper and allow the tank water to release and flush out the contents of the bowl via pressure. If the handle breaks, no flush. A handle can fail outside of the tank, where it simply snaps off, or inside, where the arm connected to the flapper chain breaks. The chain can also slip off the arm, which will give the impression that the handle is broken. Check the chain first, and simply slide it back on the arm and flush. If the arm breaks, you'll need to pull the chain to open the flapper to flush. If the handle breaks on the inside, simply lift the arm to flush. Handle replacement parts are inexpensive and easy to find in the plumbing department at a home center.

Dropped Cellphone in Toilet

In your mind you know you won't do it, but some neuron misfires, your hand twitches or you bump your arm, and KERPLUNK! Your cellphone lands in the toilet. It's actually not an uncommon occurrence that a phone lands in water, although a toilet may not be quite as common (at least admittedly). Don't freak out, but act like a ninja and snatch it out of the bowl as quickly as possible. Pat it dry with a paper towel, then remove the battery and dry the battery and battery recess as much as possible. If away from home, wrap them separately in an unused and dry paper towel. As soon as you can, place the phone and battery in a bowl or resealable plastic bag with uncooked rice, enough to completely cover them. Make sure the phone and battery do not touch, and allow them to sit in the rice for a full day. Remove any dust from the rice before reassembling the phone and battery.

Overflowing Toilet

You can feel helpless watching the toilet bowl overflow, but you can stop it quickly. Reach for the water cutoff valve (usually behind or slightly off center of the toilet near the floor) and turn it off (righty-tighty).This will immediately stop water from refilling into the tank, which in turn goes into the bowl. If it's not overflowing but slowly rising, you can reach into the tank and lift the ballcock (float) to horizontal, which will stop the valve from allowing more water into the tank. This will give the bowl time to drain.

Clogged Toilet

A clogged toilet leads to the aforementioned overflow problem, but it also can also create a slow drain. It's a nasty job, but one that requires a few basic steps. Grab the go-to tool: the plunger. The key to getting the plunger to do its job is getting good coverage over the drain hole at the bottom of the bowl, which helps facilitate the suction and force action. The prototypical plunger isn't the best at doing this. Newer designs with a smaller mouth actually are better. It may take several tries, but plunging usually does the trick. If not, try pouring really hot, but not boiling, water into the bowl. This can sometimes weaken what's clogging the drain. Follow this with more plunging. Your last option, if all else fails, is using a drain snake.

Loose Toilet

A wee wobble while sitting on the porcelain throne is not only annoying, but also a potential problem. A lot of movement and tilting could ruin the wax ring's seal at the bottom of the toilet, which will eventually lead to a leak from flushed water. This can be a simple fix. First try tightening the nuts on the bolts at the floor, making sure to not over-tighten the nuts, thus cracking the toilet base. If that doesn't fix it, you'll need to remove the toilet because it’s likely the bolt heads have come loose from the drain flange or have broken. This is a good time to replace the bolts (and nuts), as well as the wax ring. You can pick up a kit that contains all the replacement parts.

Sink Stopper Breaks

You've just washed your face or shaved, you reach to drain the sink and the handle or stopper rod for the sink stopper (located behind the faucet) snaps. Now there's a sink full of dirty water and seemingly no way to drain it. It's a good time to look under the sink and see that your stopper is moved by a simple lever. You'll see a rod (pivot rod) that's connected to the drain of the sink on one end, and to the handle (stopper rod) on the other. There may be a bar with several holes connecting the two. Simply push down on the end of the rod near the handle to raise the stopper and allow the sink to drain. Head off to your local home center for a replacement handle/stopper rod.