When your toilet functions properly, the lifting chain pulls the flapper out of the flush valve whenever the handle is activated at the beginning of the flush cycle.

At the end of the flush cycle, the lifting chain allows the flapper to fall back into the flush valve. There, the flapper seals the flush valve closed until the handle is activated again. 

Frequently though, the flush cycle is disrupted, causing your toilet to not flush unless the handle is held down. If you’re finding your toilet with this problem, you may be inconvenienced by the handle or worried that fixing it will cost a lot of money. 

Luckily for you, this problem is super easy to fix. All you have to do is shorten the lifting chain attached to the flapper. It is that simple! To find out more, read on and learn how to fix this common pesky toilet problem. 

How To Fix a Toilet that Won’t Flush Unless You Hold the Handle Down

The most common reason that a toilet won’t flush unless the handle is held down is that there is too much slack in the lifting chain. If there is too much slack, it cannot lift the flapper high enough to fully remove it from the flush valve. 

As a result, the flush valve closes prematurely, shortening the full amount of water flow and stopping the flush. There should only be about ½ inch of slack. If there is more, then the flapper and lifting chain slack is almost certainly to blame. Here is how to fix the lifting chain slack:  

Step 1: Find the Flapper 

The first step to fixing a toilet that will not flush unless the handle is held down is to diagnose the problem. If you do not have any experience in toilet maintenance, do not worry. Diagnosing this problem is normally very easy and takes little knowledge or experience. 

Begin by removing the toilet tank cover and look at the large opening at the bottom of the tank. This opening is called the flush valve. There should be a rubber or vinyl flapper sitting in the flush valve. 

Step 2: Measure the Lifting Chain Slack 

Now that you see the flapper, look at the lifting chain attached to it. There should only be about ½ inch of slack. Use a tape measurer or ruler to approximate the amount of slack on the lifting chain. The measurements do not need to be ½ inch exactly, but they should be close. If your toilet won’t flush unless you hold down the handle, then chances are that the slack is too long. 

Step 3: Shorten the Lifting Chain So That There Is Only About ½ Inch of Slack

To fix your toilet, all you need to do is adjust the lifting chain so that there is only about ½ inch of slack. Once you adjust it, you may find that the excess line interferes with other parts of the toilet. If this is the case for your toilet, all you need to do is trim the excess lifting chain so that it does not interfere anymore. 

This should fix the problem of a toilet that will not flush unless the handle is held down. 

Test the Toilet 

Once you have adjusted the lifting chain and trimmed its excess, you should test the toilet to make sure that it is fixed. It is important to make sure that your handyman skills were successful, or else your toilet still may not work. Here is how to test your toilet:  

First, place the toilet cover back on. Then, flush the toilet. It is as simple as that! If the toilet flushed correctly, then you have fixed your problem, and the toilet will flush properly once again. 

What to Do if the Toilet Continues to Run Now

In some cases, you might find that the toilet continues to run after you have adjusted the lifting chain slack. This problem is very common and can cost you a lot of water. Luckily, this problem is easy to fix as well.  

If you now have the opposite problem as before, chances are that the lifting chain has too much excess and is getting caught between the flush valve and flapper, causing the flapper to not seal properly. All you need to do is trim the excess lifting chain so that it cannot reach the flush valve and flapper. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

What if shortening the chain slack does not work? 

If shortening the chain slack does not work, then you should try replacing the flapper. This toilet problem is nearly exclusively a problem related to the lifting chain and flapper. If tightening the slack of the lifting chain does not work, then your flapper is probably damaged. 

What if I have a toilet with a flush speed adjustment? 

Newer flappers sometimes have an adjustment that will allow you to change the speed of the flush. So, you can adjust the flapper to make the flush either faster or slower. This adjuster will align an air hole so that it is either straight up (faster flush) or to the side (slower flush). If you have a flapper like this, you may need to change the speed. 

What if my toilet will not stop running, and it is not because of the lifting chain? 

If your toilet will not stop running and the problem is definitely not the lifting chain, do not fret. There are two other common reasons for this issue: 

  • The flapper may not be properly aligned to the flush valve. If this is the problem, simply tinker with the positioning of the flapper on the flush valve until it works properly. 
  • The rubber of the flapper may be broken, causing water to flow through the flush valve. If this is the problem, you should by a new flush valve/flapper assembly.