If your toilet is refusing to flush, you have a big problem! Luckily, many of the solutions are actually simple, and you might be able to fix it without calling a plumber.
If your toilet swirls but won’t flush, chances are, it’s a water pressure issue. You can normally fix that quite easily yourself by resolving clogs or fixing the toilet mechanism. However, the first step to fixing your toilet flushing issues is always diagnosing the problem.
Here’s 4 Reasons Why Your Toilet Swirls But Doesn’t Flush
If your toilet isn’t flushing, you want to fix it, and quickly! Luckily, there are only a few things that can go wrong with a toilet. Chances are, it’s one of these 4 issues.
Water Pressure When Flushing
Water pressure issues are the most common reason your toilet swirls but won’t flush. This is also a relatively easy problem to diagnose. However, it can stem from multiple very separate issues. For example, if the toilet bowl isn’t filling properly. Or, if the valve to the toilet is partially closed or clogged. Another reason might be that the lift chain in the toilet is broken. We’ll cover all of the most common reasons low water pressure occurs when filling the toilet.
Floater Issues – Toilets use a floating ball to automatically shut off the flow of water when the tank is full enough. People who want to save water often fill the tank with objects or bend the rod holding the ball further down. This essentially prevents the toilet tank from filling up with more water.
Flapper – The flapper, or rubber seal, functions to prevent water from flowing from the tank to the toilet bowl when the flush or trip handle is pushed. As the rubber gets old, it stiffens and degrades. Eventually, this can result in a poor seal. Water will flow into the toilet bowl before you depress the handle. This means the toilet tank will never fill all the way up.
Lift Chain – The lift chain connects the flush handle to the flapper. If there’s too much slack in the chain, it won’t properly lift the flapper when you flush the toilet. The result is, of course, not enough water entering the toilet bowl when you flush it.
Clogs in the Siphon Holes – If you have hard water or the toilet is very old, the jet, siphon, or rim holes that allow water to move from the tank to the toilet bowl might be clogged. This also results in not enough water reaching the toilet bowl.
Clogs in the Toilet or Drain
Clogs in the toilet or drain can also cause the water to swirl without flushing the toilet. Why? They increase the amount of upwards pressure from the drain. In addition, they create more barriers between the toilet and the drain. You need more pressure to actually drain water.
Clogs are also, coincidentally, the most common problem to occur with any toilet. However, it’s less commonly the reason behind your toilet swirling but not flushing. Clogs might exist anywhere between the toilet flange and the drain. These can also be very difficult to deal with if they are too big or too far down the toilet. Here, common issues include large quantities of toilet paper, socks or other clothing that has been flushed, or even buildup.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to directly diagnose a clog without taking the toilet apart. In most cases, it’s just a good idea to take resolution measures with the assumption there is a clog. That is, of course, if there are no visible water pressure issues.
Floor Water Pressure
If clogs and water tank issues aren’t the cause, the house water pressure might be. Here, you’ll likely only have a problem if the toilet is new. Alternatively, if you’ve recently installed something that might change the water pressure. For example, a sprinkler system, a second tap or toilet, or a water radiator. These issues most commonly occur on the second floor. Here, water pressure quite simply isn’t high enough to fill the toilet tank enough to flush the toilet properly.
Most importantly, these water pressure issues can stem from a few different reasons. For example, it might be that water doesn’t pump to the floor at enough pressure to fill the tank. It might be that your toilet has been poorly designed and isn’t utilizing the pressure you have. A more efficient toilet might do the trick. You could even try swapping your upstairs and downstairs toilet to see if that resolves the issue.
On the other hand, if your water tanks for the home are upstairs, this problem could be reversed. Water loses pressure for every foot of distance it travels through pipes. That’s especially true if it has to travel up a wall. The higher the floor in your house, the more likely you are to have water pressure issues in the bathroom.
Plumbing and Drainage Issues
In some cases, drainage and flushing issues relate to the house. For example, if you have pressure or air bubbles in your sewage. Or, if you have actual clogs in your sewage. This can increase the pressure needed to flush the toilet. It could also mean that your toilet literally cannot flush –which means it might overflow when you dump more water into the bowl.
Luckily, this issue is rare and it won’t likely be the case. You’ll also want to call a plumber if you think it is the case. However, this issue is also relatively easy to diagnose. You should have similar issues on any line connected to the same sewage system. So, your bathroom sink should also have drainage issues.
Plus, if your toilet is not swirling at all, this is highly likely to be the issue.
What to Do if Your Toilet Spins but Doesn’t Flush
Now that you know what can go wrong, you can go about troubleshooting why a toilet isn’t flushing. If you’re not sure what your issue is, start from the top and work your way down.
Fixing Toilet Bowl Water Pressure
Fixing the water pressure in the toilet tank and bowl means diagnosing the issue. Normally, the first step is to take off the lid of the tank. From there, you can easily take steps based on what you find.
Fixing Floater Issues
The first step should always be to check the floater. Floaters are also easily damaged, so this is a likely problem.
- Is the floater rod damaged
- Does the floater rod stick or is hard to move?
- Is the floater detached or broken?
- Where does the floater rod stop when filling up the tank?
Flush your toilet with the tank lid off (providing the toilet is actually draining and not overflowing). Check if the floater bobs all the way down when you do so. Does the tank fill all the way up?
If not, there are a few fixes. The first might be bending the floater rod upwards to ensure that it actually fills the tank all the way up. Another option is to check if the floater ball is damaged. For example, if it’s full of water, it’s going to be very heavy and the tank won’t fill properly. Or, if the floater rod is rusty, it might stick and jam. In this case, you probably want a new one.
In the latter case, you want to go to a plumbing or hardware store where you can buy a new assembly. Here, you want the full assembly. From there, you can simply remove the old assembly (usually attached using small screws) and insert the new one.
You might also be able to get away with replacing only the floater ball.
If the flapper is stiff, stuck, or broken, it won’t seal properly. This is a major cause of toilets running constantly and of poor flushing. Take the flapper out and check it for damage. If it’s corroded, features pocks, or is very stiff, you probably want a new one. Plungers attach to a floater chain – you’ll want to take this off.
Flappers function in the same way as drain stoppers. They create a rubber seal. You can easily replace one by taking yours to the hardware or plumbing store. There, you’ll have to choose a new one in the same size as the existing one. Then, simply use a pair of needle-nose pliers to re-attach it to the chain. An easy fix!
Fixing the Lift Chain
Lift chain problems can result in similar issues to flapper problems. Here, the lift chain is either twisted, damaged, or too tight. It then prevents the flapper from fully closing or connecting with the siphon for a good seal. You can also normally diagnose this very easily. Is there slack in the chain when the flush handle is left alone? Does the chain tighten enough to fully lift the flapper from the bottom of the toilet when the handle is pushed?
If the chain is twisted, you can easily untwist it to hopefully solve the problem. If it’s too tight, you might want to look into why. For example, if your toilet has been running normally for years, it’s unlikely that the chain will suddenly shorten. If you’ve recently acquired a new toilet or moved into a new home, that’s another question.
In most cases, toilet flapper chains have slack at the end. You can tighten or loosen the chain by unclipping the chain from the plunger handle and moving it one or two links up or down. Always test that this resolves the issue.
Fixing Clogged Siphon Holes
In some cases, the siphon holes between the toilet tank and the bowl may become clogged. Normally, this requires having extremely hard water, a very old toilet, or someone having stored something in the toilet tank. For example, paper residue can cause clogs. This often happens when people put large items like water bottles into toilet tanks to reduce the amount of water used. If the bottle has paper on it, this degrades over time and can end up in the siphon holes.
One of the most obvious signs of clogged siphon holes is that the water might change direction. For example, it might flow out in a vertical fashion inside the toilet bowl.
To clean the clogs, put a solution of 1 part vinegar and 4 parts water into the toilet bowl. Allow it to sit overnight. Flush the toilet. Then, take a solution of 1 part bleach and 10 parts water. Fill the toilet bowl and the toilet tank. Allow it to sit for about 5 minutes. Then flush. You’ll want to flush again and then clean out the toilet bowl.
Then, take a wire with a brush or a bottle cleaner, and manually clean out each of the siphon holes to remove buildup and debris. Flush your toilet when done. Does it resolve the issue?
Fixing Clogs in the Toilet Flange or Drain
If your toilet flange or drain have partial clogs, it can be more difficult to fix. While clogs are less likely to cause your toilet to swirl but not flush, it does happen. Checking for clogs should always be your second step if the previous troubleshooting doesn’t work.
1. Use a Plunger
Take a plunger to your toilet, with the flush lever depressed down, and vigorously plunge the toilet. For the best results, use a toilet plunger, with a flange. The first few plunges will be full of air so go gently at first, and then use more force. You also want to make sure you keep enough water in the toilet bowl to cover the plunger. This creates a good vacuum seal.
If nothing comes up after 5-10 minutes, a plunger probably won’t do anything. However, technique matters a great deal. If you’re not sure, you can always ask a plumber for help.
2. Use a Snake or Auger
A plumbing snake, sometimes called a plumbing auger, is a device made of twisted metal cable with a handle at one end. If you don’t own one already, you can normally buy them for $10-$25 for a short version. Your local hardware store will definitely have them in multiple lengths. Here, shorter versions are easier to operate without any skill. However, longer ones extend deeper into the plumbing and can find and remove more clogs.
In most cases, it’s best if you choose a shorter snake of 7-15 feet. This will allow you to remove any clogs directly around the toilet without risking that you extend the snake through another plumbing outlet. If you need longer, you might want to contact your local plumber.
To use a snake, either flush the toilet and keep the handle depressed or remove the toilet from the base. Insert the tip of the snake into the plumbing and push it downwards using a twisting motion. You want the metal to coil in circles around the edges of the pipe. When you hit a blockage, twist and push vigorously until the snake moves again.
3. Try a Chemical Declogger
Chemical decloggers can do a great deal for removing buildup and non-fabric blockers. However, you should always follow the instructions on the bottle when buying one. Choose an option that is suitable for toilets.
Fixing Floor Water Pressure
If your water pressure is too low, there are a couple of possible fixes. Some of them are also easy. Most, however, will require hiring a plumber.
For example, you can check the water valves at each stage between the toilet and the main water supply. Make sure all of them are all the way on. You’ll also want to check for leaks or bent or kinked flexible piping.
Otherwise, there are two primary solutions:
- Hire a plumber to install a pump to resolve water pressure issues upstairs
- Hire a plumber to install a water reservoir upstairs, likely in the attic, to resolve water pressure issues.
In either case, you probably need a professional to do the work. If you’re outside of city limits, you can consider doing so yourself. However, getting the pressure right is important or it could backfire on your whole system.
Fixing Plumbing and Drainage Issues
Plumbing and drainage issues such as air bubbles and clogs usually require a plumber. While you can check for some issues by using a long snake or using a chemical declogger, you’ll only check for surface issues. In addition, you aren’t legally allowed to adjust the sewage in most urban areas. Bleeding air bubbles out of the sewage might also require custom machinery. Always contact a plumber.
The reverse of this issue, where airlock happens, is when there’s too much downward pressure on the toilet. However, in this case, the toilet bowl likely won’t stay full.
If you still have questions, hopefully this FAQ helps. However, in most cases, you’ll need a professional plumber to answer specific questions based on your unique circumstances.
Can a toilet get Airlocked?
Yes. If there’s downward pressure from the sewage, your toilet can create an air lock of sorts. The solution is normally to check that your P-trap is properly installed. From there, you can simply turn on all the taps and showers in the house. Let them run for a few minutes. Flush the toilets a few times. Then, turn everything off. Check if the air is out of the sewage and if the problem is resolved.
Do I need to flush my toilets multiple times?
No. If you have to flush your toilet more than once, it likely means you don’t have enough water or pressure in the toilet bowl. You can usually resolve that following the other steps listed in this article. You might also have to clean the hard water buildup out of the tank or the bowl, which you can normally do with a vinegar and water solution.
There are multiple reasons why your toilet will swirl but not flush. However, the most likely culprit is low water pressure from the tank to the bowl. You can normally resolve that by troubleshooting common issues. If you do still have a problem after, check for clogs or call a plumber.