• Michele Wright-REALTOR®

To flush or not to flush: How to Replace a Toilet Handle

You've just purchased your new home and have been "nesting." You know, making it your own, and just when things begin to feel settled, the toilet stops flushing. (or maybe, like me, you want ugly toilet handle to match the rest of your painstakingly chosen decor...) Well, there's an easy fix! Replace it!

No need to call in your handyman, for just a few dollars and a little bit of time, you can rectify the issue all by yourself! (Yes! Even you men and ladies with zero handyman knowledge!)


Step 1: Acknowledge there is a problem. (LOL, I kid, but before rushing off to the hardware store, there are a few steps to address first, so that you don't end up with the typical three trips before the project is finished.)


Step 2: Open the Tank. I know it seems icky, but having an old beach towel (or that one you dye your hair with) laid out on the floor out of the way, is a great place to set the tank lid once you remove it. Just be very careful and gently as often times the porcelain they make your throne with can be brittle, and your tile floors (even with the towel) are stronger than you think. Look for numbers printed inside the tank, you'll want to take note of model names or numbers to buy the right replacement handle. (I also recommend paying attention to the location of the handle... is it front or side, left or right of the tank.... this comes in handy when shopping....)


Step 3: Getting your hands dirty. On the inside of the tank, there is a long antenna-looking thing that attaches to your faulty handle. This long arm is linked to a chain that lifts the flush valve (that rubber plunger-looking thing at the bottom of the tank). Take note which of the multiple holes the chain is hooked to (I recommend taking a picture with your smart device...just don't drop it! LOL) and then unhook the clasp that holds the chain to the arm/antenna-looking thing.


Step 4: Get out your tools. Every homeowner, regardless of skill, should own at least a wrench or pliers (among other things...), so get yours out. Now that we've taken the arm off the chain, it's time to take off the old handle. Before jumping in with Hulk strength... there are few things to keep in mind. 1.) The tank is also that brittle porcelain and you don't want to have a wrench or plier slip and crack the tank ($$$$). 2.) Most of the toilets on the market use left-handed threads. Why is that important? You know the saying "righty-righty, lefty-loose" It's opposite time. You would actually turn it clockwise to loosen. 3.) If the nut looks rusty and crusty, you might want a shot of WD-40 before attempting the removal. 4.) A lot of toilet handles these day incorporate pesky plastic nuts, so again take a gander and assess. Once you loosen the nut, just use your hand to remove the rest, then slide the arm through the hole.


Step 5: Shopping. It's time to go to your favorite hardware store to purchase a replacement. (you could do it on amazon- but then you're toilet-less for a few days). Armed with either pictures of and notes from the removal (ie, serial numbers, model, measurements, etc. ) or with the actual faulty piece (dry it off first), confidently stroll to the aisle with the plumbing needs (don't worry they usually have signs), and look for what is called a "toilet trip lever". There are other similarly named items, but in the case of a faulty handle, you'll want the package that contains the handle and the swing arm (and maybe even a new chain... depending on how "eww" your situation is.) Prices vary depending on style on toilet model type. Expect to pay anywhere from $20-100. (and don't be fooled by labels of "universal"... there are usually differences in length and angle of arm, and where the handle is located (front, side, left, right). Choose the option that best suits your needs. :)


Step 5: Put it back together at home. With parts disassembled and your tank sitting there all exposed, now is a great time to do a little cleanup. It's not just to make mom happy, but removing and mildew, crustiness or rust stains off the porcelain (especially around the handle hole), helps the new parts go in nice and tight. Once the parts are all clean and dry again, take the nut off the new handle (remember the opposites from step 4), and insert the arm into the hole and into the tank. Slide the nut back over the arm and hand-turn it onto the handle base (again, Lefty!) Use your wrench or pliers to firm it up, again remembering not to be Hulk and over-tighten it, unless you want to crack that porcelain and go back to the store for a new toilet--did you see those prices?? Geesh...


Step 6: This is "off the chain"...err, back on the chain that is. Attach the chain to the same hole you remembered on the old arm (refer to your picture you took). And do a test flush. Watch the rubber stopper at the bottom and its supporting mechanism to open and close completely. Why care? If the chain (or new chain) is too loose, the tank won't fully drain and thus leaving your excrement in the toilet for guests to see and smell. Too tight, and the flush valve won't seat properly and you'll have a leaky, running toilet (better go catch it!LOL). You can adjust the chain by switching that hole you remembered to a different one or by adjusting the chain up or down a link at a time. Keep testing like Goldilocks until you find the flush works "just right". Then, just replace the tank lid gently and throw that towel in the laundry and stick a fork in you- you're done!


And if you are a visual learner, like so many of my students' were when I taught high school, Check out this youtube video:


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