Have you ever been in the house alone and sworn you’ve heard the toilet flush on its own? It’s possible your cats have learned to flush the toilet, but surely they can’t be flushing it six or seven times a day. Is your house haunted by well-hydrated ghosts?
Before you start calling the Ghostbusters, don’t worry; phantom flushing is a common phenomenon in houses. It’s an easy problem to fix, and we guarantee it won’t require any salt-filled shotgun shells. Read on to learn why your toilet randomly runs and what to do about it.
Basics of Toilet Anatomy
Before we start talking about phantom flushing (spoiler alert: it’s not ghosts), let’s go over some of the basics of toilet anatomy. First off, you have the bowl, where the water sits, and the tank, where the mechanisms are.
When you flush your toilet, a chain attached to the handle pulls up on a flapper that covers a hole in the bottom of the tank. This allows the water to flow down into a siphon tube below the bowl. When that siphon tube fills, it sucks the water out of the bowl until the tube empties again, producing that distinctive sucking sound.
Once the water is gone out of the tank and bowl, the fill valve in the tank begins to pour water back into the tank, where it flows down into the bowl. Attached to the fill valve is a lever with a rubber balloon on the end. The balloon floats on top of the water refilling the tank until it reaches a level that will flip the fill valve shut, finishing the flushing process.
What Is a Phantom Flush?
So if the thing that kickstarts the flushing process is pushing down the handle on the toilet, why do you sometimes hear your toilet flush or run on its own? This happens when water leaks out of your toilet tank, artificially starting the flushing process.
Depending on how bad your leak is, you may only hear the tank refilling, or the toilet running, from time to time. This means the water level in the tank has gotten low enough for the rubber balloon to trigger the fill valve to open. Or if your toilet is leaking fast enough, it may fill that siphon up with water, causing a full-on flush cycle to run.
Why Is It a Problem?
You may be wondering why phantom flushing is an issue. After all, now that you know it’s not ghosts or your cat flushing the toilet at random, it’s not really an inconvenience for you. But phantom flushes can waste hundreds of gallons of water a day and driving your water bills through the roof.
On average, each flush of a toilet uses about one and a half gallons of water. So every time your toilet flushes, that much water is going down the pipes for no reason. But even more insidious are the slow leaks that you don’t notice; a steady leak running all the time can send 200 gallons of water down the pipes every single day.
Is Your Toilet Leaking?
If you’ve never heard your toilet flush on its own, you may be thinking that there’s nothing to worry about. But leaking tanks are a surprisingly common problem, and as we’ve mentioned, they may not always take the form of a phantom flush. Even if you don’t hear the toilet randomly running, you may still have a slow leak.
Luckily, there’s an easy test to figure out if your toilets are leaking or not. Take some food dye, pour a few drops in the tank of your toilet, and leave it there without flushing the toilet for about half an hour. Then check the water in the toilet bowl; if it’s colored with food dye, you’ve got a toilet leak.
What Makes Toilets Leak?
So what is it that makes toilets leak anyhow? The usual culprit is a flapper that doesn’t form a tight seal over the hole in the bottom of the tank, which is called the flush valve. These flappers can wear down over time, and they may not form a completely watertight seal over that flush valve anymore.
Sometimes a flapper can be in perfect condition and may still not cover the flush valve completely. This is usually due to the chain that attaches to the toilet handle being too short. The chain won’t allow the flapper to sit all the way down over the flush valve, and you get a leak.
How to Fix It
Take the lid off your toilet tank and take a look at what’s going on around the flapper valve. If it seems to be worn down or cracked around the edges, it’s time to replace it.
Start by turning off the water supply and flushing the toilet to remove all the water from the tank. Take the chain off the worn-out flapper, and unhook its two ears from the flush valve. Then hook the ears of the new flapper back over the flush valve and hook the chain back on.
If your flapper appears in fine condition, check that the chain going to the toilet handle isn’t too short. If there seems not to be enough slack, adjust the chain so that the flapper can sit all the way down on the valve. After you’ve adjusted it or attached the new flapper, turn the water supply back on and flush the toilet a couple of times to check that the chain isn’t too loose to start the flushing process.
When Your Toilet Needs Replacing
If you’ve checked the flapper and all seems fine there, you may have a bigger problem on your hands. Sometimes toilet tanks get cracked, and when this happens, it’s time to replace the toilet. Check to see if there are any beads of water on the side of your tank, and if there are, call a plumber.
What to Do When Your Toilet Randomly Runs
Phantom flushes are an extremely wasteful problem with a simple solution. Check your toilets for leaks, and if you discover a problem, it’s worth the ten minutes to fix it. You’ll save a lot on both your water bill and your environmental impact.
If your toilet randomly runs, get in touch with us at Beehive Plumbing. We offer residential and emergency plumbing repairs, as well as a variety of installation services. Book an appointment with us today to get your toilet repaired or replaced.