Is Your Toilet Overflowing? [7 Steps to Fix the Problem]

By: Diana Rodriguez-Zaba
Updated on: July 31, 2023

You jiggle the handle, but it doesn’t help. The toilet won’t flush. Water rises up, fills the bowl and spills out onto on the bathroom floor.

You’re dealing with an overflowing toilet.

How do you handle this mess before it floods the bathroom? Each day, we help homeowners in Chicago homes recover from these types of issues, so we’re happy to share our expertise!

Read on to find out exactly what you need to do!

How to Fix an Overflowing Toilet: A 7-Step Guide

toilet overflow

If you’re not sure about how to fix a toilet that’s overflowing, you’re in good company. The problem isn’t a typical DIY situation. If you know what to do before it happens, it’s much easier to solve.

Follow these seven steps to stop the overflow, eliminate the cause and safely clean up the mess.

1. Resist Flushing Again

It’s usually an automatic reaction. When a flush doesn’t do the job, you try again. However, if the first flush causes water to rise in the bowl, resist pushing down on the toilet trip lever a second time.

Activating this simple mechanism fills up the tank.

When you’re dealing with a toilet clog, that extra flush can make things worse by increasing the amount of water flooding out of the clogged toilet and onto your bathroom floor. Resisting that extra flush can head off additional toilet overflow damage to walls, floors and cabinets.

1. Turn Off the Water

toilet shut off valve

2. Turn Off the Water

You want to stop water from spilling out of the toilet bowl as quickly as possible. If you’re on your own, move fast.

If possible, enlist an extra pair of hands to turn off the supply line valve while you stop the water flow inside the tank.

  • Turning the Water Off By Yourself – Locate the shut-off valve on the water supply line behind your toilet. Turn it counterclockwise until it’s completely closed. You may still need to remove the tank lid and pull up the float. If the water continues to run, turn off the main supply line coming into your home.
  • Turning the Water Off With Help – Remove the tank lid, reach down inside, and push down on the flapper. Hold the circular rubber valve in place while lifting up the float mechanism. This prevents more water from entering the tank. Meanwhile, your helper can shut down the supply line by closing the shut-off valve, as described above.

Power Tip: In some situations, it helps to stabilize the float so that it doesn’t allow the tank to fill back up. You may want to secure it in place until you’ve finished unclogging the toilet.

3. Prep Before You Unclog

If you’re dealing with excessive water on the floor, use a wet vac to mitigate water damage from the toilet overflow.

Next, put old towels around the toilet base and across the wet floors. This catches overflow that results from unclogging the toilet. It also reduces the chances of slipping and falling while you work.

Bail a few inches of water out of the bowl before you start working. Clear as much water as you can from the toilet tank too. The wet vac can make quick work of transferring tank water to the tub or sink.

Be sure to prep yourself. Keep long-cuff rubber gloves handy, and wear work boots with slip-resistant soles. Place a bar of soap within easy reach so that you can wash and sanitize hands as needed.

3. Use the Right Plunger

Make sure you’re using a toilet plunger. Its center flange creates a tight seal around the toilet drain opening.

Coat the plunger edges with petroleum jelly, position it over the drain, and start slowly. As you work, increase downward pressure and speed until the clog breaks up.

Water should begin flowing down the drain after several tries. Repeat plunging as needed until the toilet seems to be draining again. Give it a flush to make sure, but stay clear.

There might be residual blockage that could push water back into the bowl. If this happens, move on to Step 5.

Power Tip: Avoid using a plunger in a toilet while the water is still overflowing as that makes the situation worse.

5. Snake Stubborn Clogs

If a plunger doesn’t clear the problem, use a toilet drain snake. This tool is designed to snag clogs and pull them out of the bowl. Ease its hook into the toilet’s S-shaped trap by turning the auger’s crank clockwise.

As the snake pushes through the drain, apply a little pressure. Keep it up until you can feel the obstruction. Try to work the snake through the clog. This should allow the water to start draining. Give the hook half a turn in several directions, and then carefully reel it back in.

Dump the clog in your mop bucket, and snake the drain several more times. Finally, turn the water back on, and flush twice to clear the drain and line. If you don’t have any luck with the auger, it’s time to call a plumber.

Power Tip: Be ready for the next toilet overflow emergency by storing a plunger and snake in the bathroom closet.

6. Clean With Caution

drying equipment for bathroom water damage

6. Clean With Caution

Be careful cleaning up a flooded bathroom after a toilet bowl overflow. Clearing a clog usually results in additional water on the floor, so be ready to mop up or run the wet vac a second time.

Keep in mind that toilet water is contaminated with dangerous bacteria, so follow the best safe practices as you clean up the bathroom.

Be sure to keep your work gloves and boots on while sanitizing all affected surfaces and materials. You can make your own disinfectant by combining 1 cup of bleach with 1 gallon of warm water.

Power Tip: Don’t use bleach-based disinfectants on porous surfaces. Instead, treat them with antibacterial spray products, and always follow package instructions.

7. Set Up Drying Equipment

Now, you’re ready to dry out the bathroom. Regular fans help speed up the job, but you want to reduce moisture levels in drywall and floors as quickly as possible.

These tips can help dry out water-damaged materials and reduce the risk of secondary water damage and mold problems.

  • Run several heavy fans and a dehumidifier inside the bathroom for at least two or three days.
  • If it isn’t humid or cold outside, leave a bathroom window open to increase air circulation.
  • Open cabinet doors, pull back the shower curtain, and move floor mats to another room.
  • Monitor the progress of your drying efforts by checking bathroom walls with a moisture meter.

Power Tip: If you aren’t making progress drying out the bathroom, call in restoration pros, like ServiceMaster by Zaba, who specialize in structural drying.

What Causes a Toilet to Overflow?

causes of toilet overflow

It’s good to know how to unclog a toilet, but it’s easier to prevent the problem when you understand why it happens. These are the most common causes of toilet backups.

1. Clogged Toilet Traps

The S-shaped trap in a toilet base prevents sewer gases from backing up into the bathroom. Its shape also makes it a prime spot for catching things that shouldn’t go down the toilet such as cotton balls, dental floss, facial tissues and even too much toilet paper.

2. Clogged Drain Pipes

The same things that clog a toilet trap can migrate through the system into the drain pipe. Clearing this type of clog isn’t a DIY project. If you suspect drain pipe blockage, call a licensed plumber.

3. General Fixture Failures

A flooding toilet might be the result of a broken handle. A toilet overflowing from the tank is usually caused by a faulty float or fill valve. Broken fixtures can generate a constant water flow that eventually spills out of the bowl or the tank.

4. Low-Flush Toilets

They conserve water and hold down utility bills, but low-flush toilets are prone to clogs and overflows. Thanks to design improvements, newer models aren’t as susceptible to backups as older low-flush toilets.

However, they can create problems in busy households.

5. Clogged Sewer Laterals

If the toilet overflows for no reason and the bathroom smells bad, it might be a clogged lateral between a city main and the house. A lateral line clog can push water into the basement and up through drains in tubs and sinks.

Chicago currently offers repair options for homeowners with lateral problems, but check with your specific city government for details.

6. Old Pipes and Connections

Eventually, metal pipes in older homes age out and corrode. This results in rust accumulation that weakens plumbing connections.

A breakdown in old drainage pipes or the sewer line can cause a backup and result in a toilet overflow that floods the bathroom.

Why Is Toilet Overflow Cleanup Dangerous?

toilet overflow restoration

Stay safe by assuming that water spilling out of an overflowing toilet is dangerous. It may not contain raw sewage, but it is contaminated with microorganisms. Exposure to parasites and bacteria in toilet water can cause serious illness.

Before you start working on a clogged toilet, minimize the risks with basic protective gear. Always wear rubber gloves and goggles. When you’ve finished the job, disinfect your tools, and wash your work clothes. Safely dispose of old towels and rags used during cleanup.

If you have any concerns about doing it yourself, contact a water damage restoration company, like ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba. Industry-certified technicians take care of the dirty work with these services and more.

  • Restoration teams clean and disinfect all bathroom surfaces and materials.
  • They repair and replace soggy ceilings, soaked drywall and damaged flooring.
  • Mold problems are eliminated with specialized removal and remediation techniques.
  • Heavy-duty air-moving equipment and dehumidifiers greatly reduce drying time.

How to Prevent Toilet Clogs

A clogged toilet isn’t always preventable, but there are simple bathroom routines that can make a difference.

Reduce the chances of a toilet overflow in your home with these easy tips.

  • Assume that products claiming to be flushable should always go in the trash instead.
  • Keep a small trash can next to the toilet, encourage its use, and empty it often.
  • If children share the bathroom, post a kid-friendly list of things that should never go in the toilet.
  • Consider using a toilet seat lock to child-proof the fixture and keep little ones safer in the bathroom.
  • When one bathroom visit involves excess toilet paper, avoid buildup by flushing several times.
  • Keep countertops and shelves near the toilet clear of small objects that might accidentally fall into the bowl.

Dealing With an Overflowing Toilet in Chicago, IL or Suburbs? We’re Here to Help!

When bathroom water damage turns into more than mopping up, you need help right away. The mess left behind from a toilet overflow can leave long-term damage in walls, baseboards and flooring.

We’re proud of our standing as Chicago’s leading water damage restoration experts, and we’re here for you with a 24/7 response. Our staff can also assist with filing your homeowners insurance claim.

When you need help with a water-damaged bathroom in Chicago, call us right away: 773-647-1985