Few household issues can make your stomach sink as fast as a toilet problem will. Whether you’ve got a leak, a broken seat or a tank that won’t stop running, you’re definitely not fixing it yourself. But it turns out toilets last practically forever — so they’re often worth fixing.
Plumbing expert and Thumbtack Top Pro James Jones of Loyalty Drains and Sewers in Orting, Washington told us what to do with most common toilet issues, and what signs mean it’s time to upgrade that toilet.
When to Fix: Common Toilet Troubles
Most repair calls are for toilet tanks that won’t stop filling. If this is your issue, good news: you can probably get away with a relatively affordable fix.
“If your tank water keeps running and running, you usually need to replace either the fill valve or the flapper,” explains James. The fill valve lets your tank refill after you flush. When it isn’t working, water will keep streaming through the tank. The flapper is the round (often red rubber) piece that suctions to the bottom of the tank. Flushing the toilet lifts the flapper so water can flow into the toilet bowl.
“Replacing the fill valve is a quick job that takes under an hour and costs around $150 for parts and labor,” shares James. “To install the new flapper is around $50 for parts and labor.”
When your toilet is leaking from the bottom, the solution “is often as simple as replacing the wax ring around the base” he adds. It requires removing the toilet, taking out the old part and resetting it. “It typically costs around $185 for parts and labor,” says James. Considering that a new toilet installation can cost $500 or more with parts and labor, this fix may be worth it.
When to Replace: Do the Math
If your repairs start reaching upwards of $400, maybe it’s time to consider a new toilet.
“Toilets, if maintained well, can last 20 – 40 years – although it’s getting old at 40,” says James. “You can buy a new toilet for anywhere from $200 on up to $3,000 or more, depending on the features you want. The brand I recommend (Toto) ranges from $600 – $900. I like them because they have a bigger trap and a better flush.”
Plumbers have varying rates for installation. “My labor cost to install a new toilet (and dispose of the old one for you) is $300,” shares James of Loyalty Drains and Sewers. So a new toilet with installation costs could range anywhere from $500 and up.
One common issue in older toilets is the porcelain glaze wearing off and getting stuck in the trap. You won’t see it, says James. “If you’re using the plunger on your toilet every week, you may have this problem,” he explains. If you’ve already had a plumber snake the toilet and it plugs again soon after, it’s time to replace the toilet.
How to Avoid Toilet Troubles
Don’t dump disposable wipes. “They’re horrible on toilets,” shares James, “even the ones that claim to decompose when flushed.” Also no-nos for your toilet health? Paper towels, napkins, feminine products, essentially anything that’s not toilet paper. “I’ve seen q-tips down the toilet drains too many times,” says James of Loyalty Drains and Sewers.
Other than flushing responsibly, all you need to do maintain your toilet is keep it clean with regular scrubbing. And when you call a plumber for help, James recommends not taking the first contract that is offered if they say you need a big fix. Get a second opinion if it’s going to be an expensive project.