This Is How To Tell If Your Toilet Flapper Is Bad

Plumber replacing toilet flapper to save water and cut down on water bill

You probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about your toilet flapper (or the inner workings of your toilet in general), unless something starts going wrong.

At that point, this little mechanism that blocks water from flowing into the bowl until you flush becomes very important indeed, and you start to wonder, do toilet bowl flappers go bad?

There are a few ways that you can tell it’s time to replace your toilet flapper. The most common sign is a leaking or running toilet. There are a few ways you can test if your toilet flapper is the problem, for example the food dye test.

Needing to replace your toilet flapper every few years is normal as the material breaks down with frequent use. Here are a few more things to look out for if you’re deciding whether or not to replace your toilet flapper.

Signs Of A Bad Toilet Flapper: A Running Toilet

The most common sign that your toilet flapper is on its way out is if your toilet keeps running or flushing.

If you notice that your toilet is continuously running, or that it even flushes in the middle of the night when nobody is using it, the most common culprit is the toilet flapper. There are a few ways that you can troubleshoot a running toilet to tell if the toilet flapper is the real culprit or not.

For example, if you jiggle the handle and the running stops, that probably means there was just a temporary issue with the flapper chain.

However, if you notice continuous running water, then the toilet flapper is probably the issue.
The reason why a running toilet is usually a sign that there’s something wrong with the toilet flapper is due to the function of this little piece.

The toilet flapper is a small cap, usually 2-4 inches in diameter, that in most toilets covers the valve between the tank and the bowl. When you flush, the chain lifts the flapper and lets a rush of water through the valve, which takes your waste down the drain. Normally, the flapper is in place to keep the water in the tank.

If there is something wrong with the toilet flapper, such as improper fit or wear and tear around the edges, then that affects how well it fits over the valve. This allows water to flow through the valve even when you don’t trigger the flush mechanism, leading to the running and phantom flushing noises you’ll hear.

The Food Dye Test (Toilet Flapper Gone Bad)

Many blogs mention the food dye test when talking about how to recognize a toilet flapper gone bad. But how can a simple household ingredient teach you about the inner workings of your toilet?

Food dye helps you see if the toilet flapper is allowing water through the valve even when you don’t flush.

To conduct this test, remove the lid of your tank and put a few droplets of brightly colored food dye into the tank. Don’t touch the toilet for the next 30 minutes and wait.

After about 30 minutes, check the toilet bowl. If you notice traces of the food coloring in the bowl even though you haven’t flushed the toilet, that means your toilet flapper is letting water leak through.

Other Flushing Problems Common With Damaged Toilet Flappers

While leaking or phantom flushing are the most common signs that there’s something wrong with your toilet flapper, other problems with your toilet could also point to this little part.

For example, if you have to flush multiple times to take your waste away, that’s another sign that there’s something wrong with the toilet flapper. If the flapper becomes waterlogged over time, it doesn’t float in the tank and let enough water flow into the bowl. (Link)

How To Recognize Signs Of Wear And Tear On A Toilet Flapper?

Once you notice problems with the way your toilet flushes, you still may not be sure that the toilet flapper is the real culprit. Luckily, a visual inspection of the part can tell you if it’s damaged or not.

Open the lid of your tank and locate your toilet flapper, a small rubber disk or ball at the end of a chain connected to your toilet handle.

Look at the flapper, especially at the edges. Rubber and plastic, the most common materials for this part, degrade over time so you’ll notice flaking or cracking around the edges.

Another sign that the answer to “do toilet bowl flappers go bad” is a resounding yes in your case is your discoloration. If you notice that the flapper left a ring of color on the tank’s inner surface or even on your hands when you touch it, that means that the material is degrading.

Finally, if you still can’t tell if your flapper is due for a replacement from a visual inspection alone, touch it (this requires getting over your squeamishness at getting up close and personal with the inner workings of your toilet).

If you notice the rubber flaking or breaking off, that’s a definite sign that your flapper needs replacing.

How To Tell If Your Toilet Flapper Is Repairable?

Sometimes, your toilet flapper isn’t working properly, but it isn’t damaged enough to warrant replacing. If you don’t notice any visible degradation or breakage, you might still be able to fix it.

The flapper chain might be the problem instead of the flapper. (Link) If the chain is tangled or falls off the handle, a simple reset can get your toilet working again. If the chain isn’t the right length, you can easily adjust it by a link or two.

Before replacing the flapper, try cleaning it and the surface around it. Over time, mold and limescale build up, affecting the seal of the flapper.

You can also use silicone caulk to improve the connection between the flapper and the tank (only do this if you know you can leave the toilet overnight without touching it).

However, replacing a flapper usually costs $10 or less, so replacing it might be even easier than trying to repair it.

Consequences Of Not Replacing Your Toilet Flapper On Time

If you don’t feel like going out of your way to visit the hardware store, it’s tempting to just let your toilet flapper go. After all, how much damage can one tiny piece of rubber in your toilet tank cause, as long as you ignore the annoyance of the sounds of rushing water?

The answer is a surprising amount of damage. If there’s no flapper keeping the water in the tank, it could even leak out of your toilet and cause more damage. A flapper will also affect the quality of the flush when you do actually want water in the tank.

If water is leaking out of the tank constantly, then there might not be enough in there to generate a powerful enough flush when you do pull the handle, leading to an embarrassing situation. The biggest damage is to your water bill. A constantly leaking tank could waste several gallons of water a day, which will all add up to your bill and your carbon footprint.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some other things people usually want to know about toilet flappers.

How Long Do Toilet Flappers Last?

The average flapper usually lasts 4-5 years, although some can last as long as 10 years.

After that, the materials in the flapper degrade over time. Normal wear and tear cause the rubber or plastic to become brittle and start breaking down.

Certain actions can cause your flapper to break down faster than that. For example, if there’s a plumbing error that pumps hot water into your toilet tank instead of cold, that will degrade your flapper because heat breaks down rubber.

Most toilet tank cleaners (the tablets that you drop into the tank) also affect the longevity of toilet flappers.

What If I Replaced The Toilet Flapper And It’s Still Leaking?

If you’ve replaced your flapper but are still hearing rushing noises from your toilet, then the culprit is probably your flush valve seat.

The flush valve seat is the part of the flush valve where your flapper rests. If you touch it and it feels rough and pockmarked, then this part of your toilet has degraded and is causing an improper fit with the flapper.

You can install a new seat yourself, although it requires a bit of extra work.

The Final Word On Bad Toilet Flappers

If you notice that your toilet is constantly running or flushing even when nobody is using it, the most common culprit is a bad flapper.

There are a few ways you can confirm that the flapper is the culprit, for example by visually inspecting the part or by conducting the food dye test, but this is a common enough problem that you can trust your first instinct.

Luckily, changing your toilet flapper is a relatively easy, inexpensive DIY project, so you can have a properly flushing toilet again in no time.