What to do if your toilet won't flush
Help and advice
Check the water supply
The first thing you should do is check to see if there is a greater issue with the water supply to your property. Start by turning on the taps on your bathroom and leave them running for a minute or two. If the water doesn’t run properly then you’ll know that the issue isn’t just confined to your toilet.
Your next port of call should be your stopcock, which will usually be located downstairs in a kitchen cupboard. If your stopcock is closed then reopening it should correct the issue; however, if your stopcock is open then the next step is to check with your neighbours to see if they are having issues with their water supply.
If your neighbours are having the same issue then you’ll need to contact your water supplier for advice or reach out to an emergency plumber.
Broken or damaged toilet flapper
This is a common reason for toilets failing to flush and can be solved quite easily by checking your toilet ‘flapper’. All you need to do is open the cistern tank behind your toilet and take a peek inside. The flapper should be located at the bottom of the tank and looks a bit like a sink stopper with a rod and chain connecting it to the toilet handle.
When the flapper is functioning correctly it’s supposed to lift up and allow water to enter the toilet bowl from the cistern tank. If the flapper is on the blink you’ll usually find yourself with a dry toilet bowl and a trickling water sound coming from the cistern tank.
To put things right, pop your hand into the tank (don’t worry, it’s clean water) and reseat the flapper into its correct position. You’ll know when you’ve cracked it because the tank will start refilling with water.
Check the toilet flapper chain
If the chain has broken loose from the flapper then you’ll need to get it reattached or purchase a new toilet flapper. Fortunately, toilet flappers are relatively inexpensive and can be purchased from most DIY or hardware shops.
If the chain is still attached to the toilet flapper you should check to see if it’s obstructing the flapper from doing its job. Pulling it loose should result in the tank refilling. As soon as the tank is full, give the flush another try.
Sometimes the chain can also be too loose, preventing it from pulling on the flapper correctly when you flush the handle. You can put this right by shortening the length of the chain to create enough tension to get the flusher working correctly, or by replacing the flapper and chain.
Check the water level in your cistern tank
Sometimes the water level can drop too low in your cistern tank and prevent the toilet from flushing. Ideally, the water level should be about an inch or so below the overflow. If the water does look a little low, you’ll need to check the water valve.
To find the valve, look for a column with a floatation device attached. The valve should be located at the top of the column with a small tube that leads to the overflow. You’ll need to check this valve for a way to adjust the water level, usually via a screw or other adjustable feature.
Turning this should allow the tank to refill to the correct level. Please take care with the water valve as it’s relatively easy to damage and could (in a worst case scenario) result in a flood. When in doubt you should reach out to a plumber for assistance.
Check your toilet handle
Sometimes the problem can be as simple as a broken toilet handle. You should start by checking the mounting that connects the handle to the toilet to see if any nuts have come loose. It’s also possible that your toilet handle has become too stiff due to limescale or age. If so, a good clean and a spray of WD40 should get it flushing smoothly again.
How to flush the toilet manually
If none of the above methods have worked for you then you should probably call a plumber. If you’ve just used the toilet, though (or you’re feeling a little embarrassed) the following tip should help you flush the toilet manually.
All you’ll need is a bucket of water which you can use in the following two ways. Firstly, if your water tank level is low you can refill the water to just below the overflow tube and give the toilet flusher a try. Or you can try pouring the bucket of water down the toilet instead.
If you opt for the latter option, you should pour the water down as quickly as possible without spilling it. This is because the water needs to travel with enough force to clear the toilet bowl of any materials and send them through the u-bend.