How to fix a toilet handle – and keep your loo in working order

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Everyone had that queasy feeling when the toilet handle didn’t work. Why does it always happen first thing in the morning when the whole family wants to go? Toilet handles are used a lot and are therefore often misbehaved. Luckily, knowing how to fix a toilet handle isn’t too difficult.

There are a few different types of toilet handles – a traditional handle flush, a push button, and a wall-actuated panel. The easiest way to repair a conventional flush handle is yourself.

If your flush doesn’t seem to be working and it’s not trying to unblock the toilet, in most cases the handle is just too stiff to flush through limescale. In that case, it’s time to break open the best cleaning products – just remove the handle and soak in descaler. Or it’s become too loose for the flush to snap in – so all you have to do is tighten the nut holding the handle in place.

Wooden toilet seat in the bathroom

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Paul Dwyer, managing director of Thomas Crapper, says: “If the handle itself breaks, it can be replaced fairly easily.”

How to repair a toilet handle – step by step

1. Get into the cistern

Carefully lift off the cistern lid. If you drop it, it could break, crack or chip. Put it in a safe place. Also, it’s a good idea to fold down the toilet seat so you don’t drop parts or tools in the bowl.

2. Check the inner workings

A flashlight might come in handy here if your bathroom or cloakroom isn’t the brightest room to work in. You might also want to check out our genius bathroom lighting ideas.

Here’s what you should see inside: just behind the handle is a metal rod that goes through a hole in the cistern. This is held by a plastic nut. At the end of the rod is the release lever. This is a piece of solid plastic in an elongated teardrop shape with multiple holes going through it. A metal loop should go through the last hole. The bottom end of the loop should be hooked into the irrigation system valve.

When you push the handle down, the lever and loop (or “limb”) raise the valve to let in water. It’s useful to know that if the handle doesn’t work, you can pull it up yourself to manually flush the loo.

In the cistern of a toilet

(Image credit: Getty)

Andy Floyd, one of Homeserves (opens in new tab) Plumbing and heating experts say, “The handle can become too loose, preventing it from connecting to the connection and flushing mechanism. This can be remedied by simply tightening the nut on the back of the handle.’

3. Identify the problem

Here are three common reasons why the mechanism isn’t working, and you’ll need a few essential tools like a screwdriver and wrench to fix them. First, the handle bar could have snapped off, leaving the release lever dangling. In this case you will have to replace the handle completely.

Second, the release lever could have slipped off the end of the bar. This is easily fixed by sliding it back on and tightening the screw holding it in place.

Eventually the metal link has bent open and is no longer connected to the trigger lever or the flushing system. If you have the strength and patience this could be bent back with pliers in each hand, but if that doesn’t work you can buy a new one. Thomas Crapper’s Paul Dwyer says, “You could replace it with a bit of wire or string, but of course the weaker the material, the quicker it’s going to break again.”

4. Remove the broken handle

If you are replacing your handle, disassemble the existing mechanism, but don’t throw it away. Release levers vary in size, as do the cistern holes through which the handle bars pass. It’s best to take the parts to the hardware store to make sure you’re swapping like for like.

gray bathroom with vanity

(Image credit: Future PLC/David Parmiter)

To remove the handle, unscrew the nut (usually plastic) inside the cistern that holds the handle in place. Loosen the screw on the release lever and slide it off the end of the rod. You can now pull the handle bar through the hole to remove the handle. To remove the trigger and connecting link, use pliers to bend the connecting link open enough to disengage it from the flushing mechanism.

5. Assemble the new mechanism

Simply insert the new handle bar through the hole, screw on the lock nut and tighten with an adjustable wrench. Don’t get too excited though – you might crack the cistern. Push the release lever onto the end of the metal rod and tighten the screw, then hook the connector onto the purge valve.

How much does it cost to replace a toilet handle?

It’s not that expensive to replace a toilet handle. It’s probably one of the cheapest bathroom repairs you can do that will definitely make your life easier. A complete mechanism (handle, release lever, link) will set you back between £6-10. If your grip is ok you can buy the trigger lever and connecting link alone for around £4.

How to fix a broken toilet handle chain?

You can buy a new one or remove a broken link with pliers before hanging it again. “At the top of a high-level cistern there is usually a lever with a hook or hole at the end to attach it to,” says Paul Dwyer of Thomas Crapper.

Blue bathroom with black toilet

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Why does my toilet lever keep breaking?

“You may not give the cistern a chance to refill before trying to flush again. It means there is no resistance to your move,” says Paul Dwyer.

The age of the flush valve could also be an issue, if it’s old and sticking it could be a sign that it needs to be replaced with a newer one that requires less force to flush. This should help protect the toilet lever from constantly breaking.

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