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What to do when your toilet won’t flush

Toilet In Modern Bathroom

We’ve all been there – you’re pressing the toilet flush button, but nothing happens. A non-flushing toilet can be a real headache, especially when you’re in a rush, or expecting guests for a visit.
However, despite the clogged toilet being one of the biggest nightmares for both Customers and homeowners, the issue can usually be resolved faster and easier than you think. In today’s blog, we’ve compiled an easy guide designed to help you troubleshoot and address the common reasons behind a toilet that refuses to flush properly.
So, whether you're a DIY enthusiast or are just looking for a quick fix, our guide aims to simplify the process of addressing a non-flushing toilet and help you tackle this common inconvenience with confidence.


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Check the water supply

Checking the water supply is a simple, yet crucial step to take when your toilet won’t flush properly. In other words, the water tank, usually known as the cistern,  behind or above your toilet needs to have enough water to be able to flush.

Locating Water Valve For Toilet
  • First of all, locate the water supply valve, which is typically located behind or beside the toilet near the floor. This valve controls the flow of water to the toilet
  • Once you’ve found the valve, turn it clockwise to ensure it is fully open. If the valve is partially closed, it can restrict the water flow to the toilet, leading to inadequate flushing.
  • While checking the water supply, inspect for any leaks around the valve or the water line. If you notice water pooling or dampness, it could indicate a leak that needs to be addressed.
  • And finally, lift the cistern lid and check the water level. If the water level doesn’t reach the designated marked line, adjust the water valve to allow more water to enter the tank during the filling process.

Clogged toilet won’t flush properly

If you’ve already checked the water supply but your toilet still refuses to flush, you can try to use a plunger. A clogged toilet is another common issue behind a non-flushing toilet, and using a plunger to release the blockage is a simple, yet effective solution to restore the water flow in your toilet.
However, before diving into the process of using a plunger, let’s look at some of the most common factors causing a blockage of your toilet.

Toilet paper buildup
Overuse of toilet paper or flushing excessive amounts at once can lead to buildup in the drain pipes. When combined with other materials, it can form clutter, blocking the smooth flow of water through the pipe.

Foreign objects
Accidentally dropping items like hygiene products, cotton swabs, or small objects into the toilet can also create blockages. Therefore, make sure to dispose of these items in a bin instead to prevent potential issues.
Non-flushable items
Similarly, items labelled as non-flushable, such as wet wipes or paper towels, should never be flushed down the toilet, as these materials don’t break easily and can lead to blockages.
So, whether it’s a non-flushable object or toilet paper buildup causing the blockage, using a plunger should get your toilet back in working order.

Clearing Toilet Blockage With Plunger
  • Use a plunger with a rubber cup that fully covers the drain hole in the toilet bowl.
  • Place the plunger over the drain hole and press down gently to create a seal between the plunger and the bowl.
  • With the plunger in position, apply firm and steady pressure by pushing down and then pulling up quickly. This will help you create the suction essential for dislodging the blockage.
  • Repeat the plunging motion several times, maintaining the seal each time.
  • Once you’re done, flush the toilet to see if the water drains away smoothly.
  • If the water level remains the same, you may need to repeat the plunging process, or eventually call a professional.

If it’s not just the toilet causing issues in your bathroom, you can also read our blog on How to unblock a bathroom sink

Look for a stuck flapper

When troubleshooting a non-flushing toilet, a flapper is a key component ensuring its smooth operation.
Essentially, a toilet flapper is the part of your toilet attached to a chain, sealing the opening between the tank and the toilet bowl. It opens when you press the flush lever, allowing water to rush into the toilet bowl and create the flush. However, if the flapper gets stuck, it can disrupt this process and result in a malfunctioning toilet.

  • The easiest way to check for a stuck flapper is by opening the cistern lid and looking for a rubber or plastic component located at the bottom of the tank.
  • Inspect the area around the flapper for any objects, debris, or mineral buildup that might be hindering its movement. If you notice anything, carefully remove it to allow the flapper to move freely.
  • Many flappers are connected to the flush lever by a chain. If the chain is too short or too long, it can prevent the flapper's movement. If that’s the case, you can usually adjust the chain length to achieve a smooth and unobstructed motion.
  • Check the condition of the flapper for any signs of wear or damage. If the flapper is worn out or has cracks, it may not seal properly, leading to water leakage. In such cases, consider replacing the flapper with a new one.

Check for mineral buildup

Mineral And Limescale Build Up In Bathroom And Toilet

As the water flows through the pipes, it can create a mineral buildup and reduce the diameter through which water flows. While mineral buildup is more common in areas with hard water, over time, it’s an inevitable outcome of water moving through the plumbing system.

Identifying mineral buildup can be relatively straightforward. If you spot grey deposits on the inner surface of the toilet bowl or rim, particularly in areas where water regularly flows, it’s a clear indication of mineral buildup. If there’s a visible mineral buildup in your toilet bowl, it’s possible that a similar accumulation might be occurring in the pipe connected to the toilet. 

To prevent or minimise mineral buildup, you can consider using water softeners or descaling agents. Water softeners reduce the mineral content in the water while descaling agents help break down existing deposits.
However, in case of severe mineral buildup, it might be necessary to seek professional plumbing assistance. By using techniques such as hydro jetting, plumbers can remove stubborn mineral residue and restore the pipes to their full capacity.

Call a professional

Plumber Repairs Broken Toilet

While our easy troubleshooting steps can help you resolve some of the common problems, there are situations where these measures are not effective enough to provide a complete solution.
These cases might include: 

  • Complex plumbing issues
  • Persistent blockages
  • Hidden leaks or damage
  • Low water pressure
  • Septic tank troubles

Similarly, even if the issues behind a non-flushing toilet appear minor, it’s always safer to call a professional than to perform DIY tasks you’re not sure about. In fact, plumbing systems can sometimes be intricate, and what seems like a simple problem can have underlying complexities.
What’s more, professionals can not only fix immediate problems but also help you prevent any future issues and breakdowns. If you’re a Places for People customer, you can report a repair