Why Is The Toilet Handle Hard To Push? 4 Problems & Fixes


A toilet that is not working properly can invoke a sense of panic. This fixture is used several times a day by every family member, so it must function properly. 

However, if you notice the toilet handle is giving you trouble, there is no need to worry. This issue can be easily addressed.

The toilet handle may be hard to push due to a malfunctioning part, typically related to the chain or flapper valve inside the toilet’s tank. A faulty float or jammed handle are other potential culprits. All these parts are easy to adjust or replace on your own to get your toilet handle working properly in no time.

4 Toilet Handle Problems And Fixes

To figure out the potential cause of a toilet handle problem, you need to do a little investigative work. Before you start you should refer to a toilet parts diagram to know what you are looking at when you investigate.

Diagram for a float ball-style toilet. Image: Portland.gov
Diagram for a vertical float-style toilet. Image: Portland.gov

Do an online search for your brand and model, but you will find that toilets generally have similar setups inside the tank.

If possible, look at another toilet and observe how the parts work together inside the tank. Then compare what you see with the toilet that has a hard-to-push handle.

1. Chain Problems

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Your toilet handle will be hard to push or move if there is an issue with the chain inside the tank. 

The handle is connected to a lift arm, which in turn is connected to a flush or flapper valve via a chain. 

This chain could become twisted or stuck with aggressive user operation or degradation of materials.

Before you take the chain off, take note of which hole it is clasped into on the arm.

When the toilet is flushed, the flapper valve should rise at an approximate 90-degree angle. If it is too short, the flapper valve will not seal, and water just goes down the drain. It might flush all on its own too, which can be a bit surprising. 

If the chain is too long, the valve will lift a little or not at all, which results in an incomplete flush.

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Look at the chain and ask yourself the following questions:

QuestionHow To Fix It
Is the chain stuck on other parts other than the lift arm or flapper valve?Untangle the chain, check for and replace any broken parts, and reconnect it to the lift arm and flapper valve.
Is the chain connected to the wrong parts?Refer to your model or instructional guide to connect them properly.
Is the chain twisted?Take off the chain, untwist it, and reattach.
Is the chain showing signs of wear and tear?If you see broken links or parts that will not straighten out, replace the chain.
Does the chain have slack in it, or is it too long?If you cannot adjust the chain to create a tight line, or have too much excess hanging off, you can trim it with wire cutters. Pinch the end links securely onto the connecting parts.

2. Flapper Valve And Seal

The flapper, or flush, valve is commonly made of plastic or rubber. As it gets worn with use, it can get stuck and need replacement. The seal where the flapper closes may also be worn and need replacement. 

You need a flapper valve that is the right fit for your brand and model of toilet. The wrong size can also cause malfunction.

Problems with the flapper valve can cause issues with the overflow tube as well, allowing more water in. This could lead to pooling or flooding water that pours out of the tank instead of into the bowl.

How To Fix It

To check the flapper valve, pull on the chain (not the handle or arm) towards the point of connection. If the flapper is hard to pull up, it is not sealing or releasing correctly to allow water to flow. Therefore, replace the flapper and the seal.

3. Poorly Positioned Float

When using the handle, if the flush is weak, the tank may not have enough water.

Adjust the float via the adjustable screw or dial so that it sits higher to allow more water into the tank. However, do not raise the float above the arm. Otherwise, you will have too much water that can put pressure on the mechanism, preventing it from operating easily. 

Ideally, the float should allow water to fill up the tank about one inch below the overflow tube or two inches below the fill valve.

If water still does not come into the tank for flushing purposes, there may be a blockage or issue with the flapper valve.

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4. Handle Issues

The handle lies in a horizontal position if all of the parts are connected and working.

If it is not horizontal or is hard to push, take the lid off of the tank and look at the backside of the handle. 

Take note if anything is preventing the handle from moving, such as a broken part or an issue with the chain, flapper valve, or float as mentioned above. Replace any worn or broken parts. 

You can take broken parts to the home improvement store to get an exact match of what you need.

If other parts appear to be working correctly, you can use an all-purpose lubricant to oil the handle’s joint mechanism. 

You can also adjust the handle if it is overly tight or too loose. Generally, toilet handles are reverse-threaded. This requires that you turn the nut clockwise for tightening and counterclockwise for loosening.

Tips For Working In The Toilet Tank

When replacing any parts, you can empty the tank for ease of repair. 

To do this, complete the following steps:

  1. Remove the tank’s lid and set it securely on a flat surface.
  2. Turn off the valve on the water supply line that comes out from the wall and connects to the toilet.
  3. Flush the water (using the handle, if possible) to drain the water from the tank into the bowl. This sends the water into the waste drain pipe. 
    • If you cannot get the water to move into the bowl, you will need to manually lift the flapper valve.
  4. Replace or repair any parts.
  5. Turn the water supply line valve back on, allowing the water to fill in the tank.
  6. Test the toilet and handle to see if they work.

If you have tried all of the suggestions in this article, and you still are having issues, contact a plumbing professional.

Tips To Keep Your Handle Working Smoothly

You can use a few strategies to keep your handle (and toilet) working well.

Use A Light Touch On The Handle

The handle is designed to work seamlessly with the internal parts to drain the wastewater and refill the bowl without much pressure from you.

Never force the handle to flush. 

If you feel resistance, stop pressing on the handle. Lift the tank’s lid and inspect the parts. In most cases, it will be a problem with the chain or flapper valve that needs replacing or adjusting.

Maintain The Tank

Clean the toilet tank twice a year to remove any mineral deposits and other buildups. 

Consider doing this when you change the batteries in your smoke detectors to help you remember. During this cleaning, inspect the parts for signs of degradation and replace them as needed.

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To clean the tank, gather the following:

  • White vinegar (2 to 4 gallons – enough to fill the tank as it mixes in with the existing water)
  • Rubber gloves
  • Towels
  • Toothbrush
  • Sponge

What To Do:

Clean the tank when you do not need to use the toilet for 12 hours, preferably overnight.

  1. Remove the tank’s lid and set it gently to the side on towels or a soft surface out of your way.
  2. Do not drain the water from the tank. Pour vinegar into it up to an inch below the surface of the tank’s rim. 
    • However, if your tank is very dirty or has an odor, you can drain the water and just put vinegar in.
  3. Let the mixture sit for 12 hours. Vinegar will naturally break down any deposits and works well on a larger variety of surface materials.
  4. Flush the toilet 2 to 3 times to move the vinegar from the tank into the bowl and wastewater drain pipe.
  5. Turn off the water service line that extends from the wall into the toilet. Flush the toilet once more to drain the tank.
  6. Use a soft toothbrush or sponge to scrub the parts, including the interior walls.
  7. Replace any needed parts.
  8. Turn the water line back on, and allow the tank to fill with water.

For stubborn spots, you can try the following:

  • Replacement: Replace the parts.
  • Commercial Cleaner: Remove the parts and rinse off the vinegar. Use a commercial cleaner that is safe for the material composition. Scrub, then rinse before putting it back in.
  • Muriatic Acid: Use muriatic acid in a 1-part acid to 10-parts water ratio. Muriatic acid is considerably stronger than vinegar in removing mineral deposits and grime. 
    • Keep in mind that it can be corrosive to some plastics, fabric, metals, and your skin. 
    • Follow all safety precautions when handling this acid, which include wearing gloves, masks, and ventilating the area. 
    • For toilets on a septic system, this cleaner is not recommended.
  • Tank Drop-In Cleaner: Purchase a commercial product made to drop in and let it clean the tank for a few months. Make sure it does not block any moving parts. Opt for non-toxic and bleach-free products to promote the longevity of the moving parts’ material compositions.

If you’ve tried all the above, but the toilet handle is still hard to push, you might have to replace the entire toilet tank.