Woman using plunger to stop the overflowing toilet

Emergency Plumbing Tips: What to Do With an Overflowing Toilet

A toilet overflowing is the epitome of an emergency plumbing situation. No one wants the hassle of cleanup and the potential for water damage. When a toilet overflows, it is caused by one of three possibilities. Those three possible causes are: 

  1. Improperly Adjusted Float - Unlike other causes of an overflowing toilet, a high filler float will cause water to spill from the tank. If this float is adjusted incorrectly it allows the tank to fill up too much and spill out. 
  2. Clogged or Blocked Drain - This is the most common cause of an overflowing toilet. The only way to combat this is to treat the clog. That typically involves using a plunger, however there can be extreme cases where professional plumbers need to get involved.
  3. Blocked Vent Pipe - If a clogged toilet is a frequent occurrence in your home, a blocked vent pipe may be the cause. The purpose of a vent pipe is to move air into the plumbing system to replace the air that is pumped with every flush. Toilets can't flush properly when this is blocked, which causes the toilet to overflow.

Fortunately, if you know what steps to take when the toilet doesn’t flush properly, you can quickly get the problem under control. The following emergency plumbing guide explains exactly what to do if your toilet overflows.

Step 1: Try to Close the Toilet Valve

To stop your overflowing toilet, you’ll need to stop the flow of water into the bowl.

Find the toilet’s main shutoff valve, which is typically located under the tank towards the back. Turn the valve to close it – if you can. Since the valve may have been untouched for years, it could be stuck in place.

As a proactive measure, to be prepared for a toilet overflow, give the valve a few turns every time you clean the bathroom. Doing so will help make sure you can close it during an emergency plumbing situation.

Step 2: Stop the Water Flow from Inside the Toilet Tank

If your valve won’t budge, you’ll have to stop the water flow from inside the tank.

Remove the lid and check the flapper, or the rubber disc that covers the hole at the bottom of the tank. If the flapper is open, close it.

What if the flapper isn’t open, or if it won’t stay closed? Lifting the toilet float, the cylindrical or ball-shaped valve that sits on top of the water in the tank, should work to shut off the water. To keep it off, you may need to prop or hold the float in place.

Step 3: Try to Unclog the Toilet

Next, you’ll need to address the reason for your emergency plumbing problem – the toilet clog.

Try the plunger first. If that doesn’t work, a plumbing snake or auger may be able to clear the clog. Don’t have an auger? A few squirts of dish soap, followed by a gallon of hot (not boiling) water, could dissolve the toilet clog. Or, use a wet/dry vacuum to remove the water from the bowl and suck out the clog.

Step 4: Call for Emergency Plumbing Repair

If you can’t stop your overflowing toilet, or you’re having problems clearing the clog, you’ll need to call for a repair. For quick help, contact a 24-hour emergency plumbing repair service, like American Plumbing Services.

Keep in mind – chronic toilet overflows may indicate a blockage in the external plumbing vents. And, an overflowing toilet can be a sign of a clogged drain line or sewer line problem. To repair any of these issues, you’ll need assistance from a professional plumber.

The professionals at American Plumbing Services are available for around-the-clock service in Utah and Salt Lake Counties. For a free estimate for your emergency plumbing repair, contact our Provo office today.