You have just finished your business and pulled the handle on your toilet. The familiar swirling water begins, but nothing more happens. What is going on?

Your toilet likely just isn’t getting enough water into the bowl quickly enough to flush. Try upping the water level in your tank by raising the float on your fill valve. 

Then try pouring muriatic acid into the overflow valve and avoid flushing for 1/2 hour.  Wear eye protection, gloves, an apron, and have adequate ventilation.

How a Toilet Flush Works

Your toilet’s bowl has inlet valves that releases water from your tank into the bowl through holes on the lip. This happens every time you pull the flush lever.

This raises the water level in your bowl suddenly allowing the water to crest the P-trap. This is the up-curving pipe in the back of your toilet. It is also what holds the water on the bottom of your toilet bowl in place.

When the water begins to pour down into the sewer drain, it forms a seal against the air below. This creates suction drawing the water behind after it. This continues until there isn’t enough water in the bowl to continue.

The Problem

Toilet Swirls But Won’t FlushWhen your toilet cannot get enough water quickly enough, the water isn’t capable of getting enough momentum to create significant suction. Alternatively, the water could be incapable of exiting through the drainpipe quickly enough causing the same effect.

The swirl means some water is coming in. Also, if the water level isn’t raising this means the problem is from not getting enough water. 

When this happens, the water will simply pour over the crest in the pipe. You may remove some waste, but it may not create enough suction to remove all the waste in your tank.

If the water level raises and drains slowly or not at all, this means the problem is in your drainpipe. This means you need to remove clogs in the drainpipe.

Not Enough Water in the Tank

If there is not enough water in the tank, it could be due to several possible issues. The most common problems are explained below.

Float Ball Needs to be Adjusted

If the float ball is too low, you will not have enough water in your toilet tank. This could cause the toilet not to flush adequately. To fix this, you need to adjust the float ball. 

The steps to fix this are listed below.

  1. Remove the toilet tank lid. Set it aside.
  2. Check the water level in the tank. If there is no line, you will want the water level to be about an inch below the overflow tube. 
  3. Empty the toilet tank. First turn off the water shut off valve. This is located behind the toilet. Then flush the toilet; repeat flushing, if necessary.
  4. Examine the float ball. See if there is water in it. If it contains water, then it is broken, and needs replaced.
  5. Check the float ball. See if the float ball is located too high or low.
  6. Adjust. If the height needs adjusted, get a screwdriver. Then, turn the screw on the fill valve clockwise to increase the water level.
  7. Turn the water back on. Then, when the the tank fills, flush the toilet and see if the water level is correct.

Inlet Valves Are Clogged

If the inlet valves are clogged, it may be slowing down the flow of the water into the bowl. This may be caused by gradual mineral buildup. Your first and easiest solution is to safely pour muriatic acid into the overflow tube and wait a half-hour.

However, if you don’t want to use a harsh acid, or if it does not work, here is another method. 

  • Pour hot vinegar into the overflow tube. Heat several cups of vinegar to at least 120 degrees. Pour it into the overflow and do not flush.
  • Use a stiff wire to clear blockage from the inlets. Work from the inlets under the rim of your bowl. A wire coat hanger is perfect for this job, but a paper clip may do as well depending on how close the clog is to the rim.
  • To keep the problem from returning consider a water softener. These can lower the mineral content of you water preventing hard water buildup.

Clog in the Drainpipe

If there is a clog in the drainpipe causing the issue that can be solved in many ways. But we will address the most thorough way to solve this problem. 

  1. Fill a bucket with water. This should fill your toilet bowl and more; so, try for five gallons if possible.
  2. Pour it into the toilet bowl. You should try to fill the bowl with water without overflowing onto the floor. 
  3. Plunge the toilet. If the water does not break through the clog on its own, you can use a plunger to try to break through it.
  4. Use an auger. If none of this works, finish by using an auger. Push it into the drainpipe and rotate clockwise while turning clockwise.

Related Questions

Why Won’t My Toilet Flush Properly Unless I Hold the Handle Down?

This happens when the chain that lifts the flapper up to allow the toilet to flush is too long. When this happens, the toilet flapper begins to lift as you depress the toilet lever. However, the flapper closes too quickly because the chain is too long.

To fix this, the chain attached to the flapper needs to be slightly shorter. Follow these steps to adjust the chain.

  1. Remove the toilet lid.
  2. Turn off the water by accessing the shut off valve behind the toilet and turning it clockwise. Then, flush the toilet.
  3. Unhook the chain. There is probably a hook clipping it to the flush arm.
  4. Hook the chain back to the flush arm making it slightly shorter.
  5. Check to see if the toilet flushes properly. 
  6. If not, readjust the chain.

Why Will None of My Toilets Flush?

If none of your toilets will flush, your main sewer line may be clogged. If this is the case, you will probably find that several drains in your home are clogged. 

You will probably hear gurgling signs from the drains. Also, water will come up from one drain when you are using another drain. There are a few things you can do if this happens. Although, you should call a plumber since you could damage your pipes.

  • Discharge any pressure: First, find your drain cleanout. This is a capped pipe and will probably be in your back or front yard, but it could be on your roof. 
  • Drain cleaning tools: You could rent a sewer snake, or a sewer jetter to clear the objects blocking your sewer line. 
  • Use chemicals: This may work if tree roots are your problem. You could flush a root killing foam containing an herbicide down your toilet, but the clog may be slow to clear.

Ultimately, you may find it necessary to call a plumber since this is a difficult problem.