6 Common Reasons Your Toilet Handle Is Malfunctioning (and How to Fix It)

Kyle Schurman
Written by Kyle Schurman
Updated April 18, 2022
A view of a bathroom
Photo: Marlene Ford / Moment / Getty Images


  • A broken toilet handle causes the toilet to run constantly.

  • A running toilet can greatly increase your monthly water bill.

  • A handle that hangs loosely signifies a problem.

  • Some handle problems are as easy to fix as tightening a loose nut.

  • A toilet handle replacement kit can cost $10$25.

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A handle that doesn’t stay in place often leads to a constantly running toilet. As more water enters the bowl, it has nowhere to go but down the sewer. It can feel like your money is, well, leaking down the sewer too. A constantly running toilet can waste 200 gallons of water a day and increase your water bill by $70 or more per month.

Don’t let a broken toilet handle keep you up at night worrying about water bills or listening to that annoying running toilet noise. Here’s a look at six common reasons your handle might be malfunctioning, and how to fix it. 

1. Nut Is Loose

A woman repairs a toilet
Photo: Klaus Vedfelt / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Lift the lid off the toilet tank and look where the handle connects to the mechanism inside the tank. You should see a large plastic nut. If this nut is loose, the handle will dangle and will not function properly.

Start by hand-tightening the loose nut. If this seems to tighten the loose handle, you can then use a pair of pliers to tighten the nut a little more and hold the handle firmly in place. Do not overtighten this nut, or you could crack it or even crack the toilet bowl, causing a far greater problem.

2. Handle Is Backward

If you or someone else recently replaced the flushing mechanism in the toilet, it is possible the handle is backward. This may explain why the handle is firmly in the down (or flush) position. 

This happens more often than you may think. You may have to disassemble the installation and take another crack at it.

3. Nut Is Cracked

Because the nut inside the toilet consists of plastic, it’s not quite as durable as a metal nut. It is possible that the nut has a crack in it, leaving it unable to secure the handle in the proper position. The threads on the inside of the nut could strip as well, leaving the nut inoperable.

If the nut breaks or wears out, you will need to purchase a replacement handle kit, which will contain a new handle, nut, and handle arm. 

When purchasing a replacement handle kit, pay attention to where the handle mounts on the toilet tank, which could be:

  • Front left

  • Front right

  • Side

Buy the kit that matches the position of the handle on the tank.

4. Handle Arm Is Cracked

An overhead view of a toilet tank
Photo: Lost_in_the_Midwest / Adobe Stock

The nut connects the handle to the handle arm that’s inside the toilet tank. The arm is a long plastic rod that extends from the handle to a chain in the center of the tank.

With a cracked handle arm, it will not hold the chain taut that’s attached to the flapper. If you notice damage to the handle arm, you may need to buy a replacement handle kit. 

5. Chain Needs Adjusting

If the handle arm is only slightly bent, rather than cracked, you may be able to fix this problem. When you press the toilet handle down to flush, the chain should become fully taut and lift the flapper upward. If this isn’t happening because of the slightly bent handle arm, try making an adjustment to the toilet chain

You can move the chain upward or downward a few links where it attaches to the handle arm to shorten or lengthen it as needed to try to fix the issue and allow the handle to begin working properly again.

6. Chain and Flapper Are Malfunctioning 

A malfunctioning chain and flapper mechanism in the center of the toilet tank could make it seem as though you have a broken flush lever. A broken flapper or chain could leave the handle too loose or dangling downward. Consider replacing the leaky toilet flapper with a kit that includes a new chain and flapper.

How Do I Recognize a Broken Toilet Handle? 

To function properly, the toilet handle should hold firmly in place. You should have to push on it to make it flush the toilet, and it then should snap back to its original place on its own. If it is dangling or if it won’t snap back, it is not working properly.

When the handle is dangling, it leaves the toilet flushing mechanism inside the bowl hanging loosely. This can cause a loose flapper seal, allowing the slow leak of water from the tank into the bowl and eventually down the sewer.

If you have a broken handle mechanism, you’ll have to DIY the fix or hire a plumber in your area to replace it. The cost to repair a running toilet with a plumber ranges from $100 to $400, depending on the problem. A simple handle replacement should be on the lower end of that range.

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