Toilet Not Clogged & Won’t Flush: How to Fix It

During the best of times, your toilet is one of your home’s most reliable plumbing fixtures. Toilets are pretty simple in construction and typically operate smoothly. However, during the worst of times, your toilet randomly decides that it doesn’t feel like flushing. The toilet isn’t clogged or plugged, so why doesn’t it flush? 

Many things can cause your toilet not to flush, even if it isn’t clogged. You may have a problem with your siphon valve, drain flapper, drainage issue, clogged rim holes, insufficient water flow in the toilet bowl or toilet tank, or a damaged fill valve. 

Regardless of why your toilet isn’t flushing, you have to figure things out to get your toilet working again. The only bathroom issue more inconvenient than a clogged toilet looks normal but isn’t working because it’s harder to decipher the problem. You’ve come to the right place if you’re at your wit’s end with your toilet. 

Common Reasons Your Toilet Won’t Flush. 

Before rushing off to call a professional plumber, there are several things you can check on your own. Some of these problems are quick fixes, but others require in-depth detective work. 

Your Siphon Jet or Rim Holes are Clogged 

The first and most common reason an unclogged toilet doesn’t flush is problems with the siphon jet or rim holes. The siphon jet is the tiny hole inside your toilet directly opposite the big drain where water and waste flush down. When you push your toilet handle to flush, water shoots out of the siphon jet and starts the flushing process. 

Rim or inlet holes are the tiny holes at the top of the toilet underneath the rim. In toilets with siphon valves, the rim holes only help with rinsing. However, some toilets don’t have siphon valves, which means that rim holes are the only option for getting water into the toilet and starting the flushing process. 

Depending on where you live, and if you don’t have a water softener combined with hard water, mineral deposits can plug your rim holes or siphon jet. When this happens, the water supply pipe cannot get water into the toilet bowl, which means that you won’t be able to flush. 

How to Fix 

Lucky for you, unclogging siphon holes or rim holes is usually easier than unclogging the actual toilet. Here’s what you’ll need and how it works. Let’s start with your supplies 

  • White vinegar 
  • Cleaning or protective gloves 
  • Toilet plunger 
  • Small wrench 
  1. Once you’ve gathered your supplies together, you’re ready to start the unclogging process. 
  1. Start by locating the siphon jet at the bottom of your toilet. 
  1. Use your glove-covered finger to poke around inside the siphon hole and loosen any present mineral buildup. If there’s a visible buildup that breaks free, this is most likely the source of your problem. 
  1. Continue poking around to get rid of all the buildup that you can. 
  1. Use a shop-vac, sponge, bucket, or another method to get as much standing toilet water out of the bowl as possible. 
  1. Remove the toilet tank lid and locate the overflow tube, the circular tube with a tiny hose running into it. 
  1. Pour two cups of white vinegar and a little bit of baking soda down the overflow tube. The vinegar and baking soda will make their way to the bottom of the bowl. 
  1. Give these ingredients anywhere between three to ten hours to work and soak up all the calcium and minerals in the siphon jet and inlet holes. 
  1. Flush the toilet and see if the problem gets resolved. You may also need an Allen wrench to poke around the rim holes and free any deposits. 
  1. To keep this problem from recurring, you should install a water softener system in your home. You can periodically pour the vinegar and baking soda concoction down your overflow tube for a cheaper option. 

Toilet Tank Doesn’t Have Enough Water. 

While everyone can look in their toilet tank or bowl and see water, most people don’t realize what it’s there for. Modern gravity toilets need water to flush, and a good deal of it. If not enough water drains into the toilet tank, not enough water will get sent into the bowl, and your toilet won’t flush. 

An excellent way to check whether or not you have enough water in your tank is to see how far below the top of the overflow tube it is. The top of the water should be between one-half to one inch below the top of the tube. Two inches and beyond likely means that low water levels in your toilet tank are the cause of your unflushable toilet. 

How to Fix 

If you’re pretty sure that you don’t have enough water in your tank, here’s what you need to do. 

Remove the tank lid and visually examine the water levels. If they’re low according to the abovementioned standards, you’ll have to raise them. A temporary and easy fix is to take a jug of water and pour some into the tank until the levels are high enough. However, a permanent fix is what you need. 

  1. Remove the lid of the top of the tank and check the water levels. You should also take note of whether you have a float ball, which is a large balloon-shaped float that’s easy to see, or if you have a float cup, which is smaller and connected to the side of the fill valve. 
  1. If you have a float ball, you’ll notice that the balloon portion gets connected to the fill valve via a lever. 
  1. Follow the lever back to the screw attaching it to the fill valve. 
  1. Turn the screw clockwise to adjust the lever and raise the water levels to the appropriate depth. 
  1. If you have a float cap, you should also have a long plastic screw attached to the side of the fill valve. 
  1. Use a Phillips screwdriver or even your bare hand to turn the screw clockwise and raise the water levels in the tank to your desired height. 
  1. Once you’ve done this, perform a few successful toilet flushes to ensure that low water levels were the source of your problem. 

You Have a Damaged Toilet Flapper  

While having a humorous name, your toilet flapper is one of the most critical components of a working toilet. A damaged toilet flapper also happens to be a common issue with toilets. When you push the flushing lever and flush your toilet, a chain attaches to the lever from inside the toilet tank.

The other end of the chain gets connected to the toilet flapper, which is underwater at the bottom of the toilet tank. The chain lifts the flapper and allows water to pour into the flush tube as you press the flush handle. 

The flapper falls back down when you release the lever and forms a tight seal around the flush tube or gasket. If the flapper gets bent, twisted, or damaged, it won’t be able to create a perfect seal around the flush tube. An imperfect seal means that water will continuously drip or flow through the flush tube, causing a constant drain on your toilet. 

A toilet tank not filling will likely be low on water, resulting in the same problem we examined above. 

How to Fix 

While replacing a busted toilet flapper is inconvenient, it’s surprisingly easy. Here’s how the process works. 

  1. Remove the tank lid and set it aside so that you can see what’s going on. 
  1. Turn off the water supply to the toilet by shutting off the valve below and behind the toilet. 
  1. Flush the toilet, if you can, to remove excess water in the tank. 
  1. Unhook the end of the flapper chain connected to the flapper’s handle arm. Leave the other end attached to the flushing handle inside the toilet. 
  1. Disconnect the flapper ears or levers attached to either side of the flush valve at the bottom of the overflow tube. 
  1. Remove the old flapper and set the new flapper in place. Attach the ears to the flush valve, and reconnect the chain to the handle arm. 
  1. Turn the water supply on and let the tank fill with water. 
  1. Listen to the sound of running water leaking from the tank into the bowl. 
  1. Perform a successful flush to make sure the problem is solved. 

It’s also possible that the bottom of your existing rubber flapper is dirty or coated in mineral deposits. You can clean it using vinegar and baking soda. However, if there are visual bends, twists, or corrosion on the flapper valve, you’re better off replacing it. 

Your Lift Chain is Slack or Disconnected 

If you try to flush your toilet, but you feel little to no resistance when you push the toilet handle, there’s a good chance that you have a damaged lift chain. On new toilets, lift chains get adjusted to the perfect tightness. However, over time, the chain can become slack and can’t lift the toilet flapper enough to let water into the flush tube. 

If you feel absolutely nothing when you try to flush, the chain is no longer connected to either the toilet lever or the flapper. Either way, the flapper won’t lift, and water won’t be able to pour into the toilet bowl and initiate the flushing process. 

How to Fix

  1. Lift the lid on the toilet tank and visually examine the lift chain. 
  2. Reconnect it to whichever side it came loose from if it’s disconnected. 
  3. If it’s connected, attempt to flush the toilet and observe whether or not the toilet flapper rises to release water. 
  4. If the flapper doesn’t raise or barely lifts, you’ll have to tighten the chain to remove the slack. 
  5. Remove the chain from the toilet lever and tighten it accordingly. 

Your Drain Line has a Partial Clog or was Incorrectly Installed. 

All of the problems we’ve looked at so far are relatively easy to solve. However, if your toilet drain line wasn’t installed correctly or with the right materials, you’re in for toilet trouble. Toilet drains have to be installed in a specific way with enough downslope to ensure water and waste drain properly. 

If you have an older home, there’s a good chance that your plumbing system has cast iron pipes. While they were great in the old days, cast iron pipes tend to decompose from the inside out. As a result, they tend to snag toilet paper or paper towels during the flushing process. Snags are especially possible if you tend to use too much toilet paper. 

You’ll notice that your toilet clogs very quickly and often if you have cast iron pipes or if your plumber didn’t install your pipes correctly. You’re also more likely to have a bunch of partial clogs or clogs that you can’t see. 

You could also have tree roots partially blocking your main sewer line. Once tree roots penetrate the sewer pipe, it’s only a matter of time before it becomes fully clogged.

How to Fix 

Out of all the possible reasons your toilet isn’t flushing even though it doesn’t appear clogged, improper installation is the worst option. Short of replacing your entire drainage system, there isn’t a whole lot you can do outside of fixing clogs as they happen and hoping for the best. However, thousands of homes across the country deal with this issue, which means that it’s at least manageable, and here’s how. 

  1. The best way to start is with a toilet plunger and do your best to unplug a toilet even if it doesn’t appear clogged. 
  1. If the plunger doesn’t work, move on to a toilet auger to venture into the drain pipes and loosen a hidden clog. 
  1. Try not to use too much toilet paper per flush, and never flush tampons, paper towels, or other objects down the toilet. 

Related Questions 

Will installing a new toilet fix my problems? 

Some problems get fixed when you install a new toilet. However, if you have a flawed plumbing system, the newest and best toilet in the world won’t be able to help you. 

What’s the most common reason that an unclogged toilet won’t flush? 

A damaged toilet flapper, a clogged jet or inlet holes, or not having enough water in the toilet bowl are the most common reasons that your toilet won’t flush. 

Can I fix a toilet that doesn’t flush by myself? 

Installing a new toilet or plumbing system will likely require a professional plumber. However, you can fix most of the problems with the repair methods you looked at above on your own. 

Final Thoughts 

Toilets are among the most crucial plumbing appliances in your home, but you often don’t think about them until they don’t work. Unfortunately, despite being relatively simple and low maintenance, several problems can cause your toilet not to flush. Clogs are the easiest and most obvious, but far from the only reason. 

You must know how to diagnose each of the problems listed above and cross them off one at a time until you get to the root of your flushing problems. 

Photo of author

Hubert Miles

I've been conducting home inspections for 17 years. I'm a licensed Home Inspector, Certified Master Inspector (CMI), and FHA 203k Consultant. I started HomeInspectionInsider.com to help people better understand the home inspection process and answer questions about homeownership and home maintenance.
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