Toilet issues are never fun, especially when your in-laws decide to stop by for a couple of days and must share your only bathroom. What can you do when toilet tragedy strikes? Here are some easy strategies to employ when your commode is causing headaches.

To begin, turn off the water supply. The water supply valve is located near the back or bottom of the toilet. Turn it to stop the flow of water.

Fix a Clogged Toilet

If your toilet becomes clogged, the first step is to prevent the water from overflowing. Remove the tank lid and push the flapper down to stop the water from flowing into the bowl. Next, turn off the water supply and try a plunger to unclog the toilet. If that doesn’t work, use a toilet auger, or snake.

Feed the toilet auger through the throat of the toilet and start turning it to add tension to the cable. Be careful not to scratch the toilet bowl. You’ll feel the auger reach the clog and it will require a little extra tension to pierce the clog. You can go back to the plunger to help force through any residual material.

Fix an Overflowing Toilet

Resist the temptation to panic if the water in your toilet starts rising. The problem is likely caused by either a clog or a broken flow mechanism that should be regulating the flow of water. Remove the tank lid and pull up on the float (the part that moves freely up and down with the water level) to stop the bowl from filling. Use a cup to remove the water at the brim of the bowl and dump it into a bucket (you can flush it later).

Use a plunger or auger (as in the previous tip) to remove any clogs. Adjust the float mechanism so it is lower in the tank to keep it from overflowing. Make sure the chain attached to the float isn’t tangled and that the float is free to move.

If you have a septic tank, you may want to contact a plumber to flush your system.

Raise the Water Level in Your Toilet

If there isn’t enough water in your bowl to allow for a proper flush, the problem could be a clog, insufficient water in the tank, blocked vent pipes or a hairline crack. If the vent pipes are blocked, it might be time to contact a plumber. If the problem is a crack, it’s time to replace your toilet to avoid structural damage and a potentially large water spill. But if there is insufficient water in the tank, here are the steps you should take to fix the problem.

Remove the tank lid and check the water level, which should be about an inch below the opening of the overflow tube. If it’s a lot lower, there might not be enough water to fill the bowl. You can fix this by adjusting the float.  

If you have a fall-type float mechanism, screw the ball on the end of the float arm clockwise to shorten it, relieving the pressure on the valve and causing it to take longer to close. If you’ve got a cup-style float that fits around the overflow tube, shorten the adjustment strap to make the float rise higher to shut off the valve.

If you hear gurgling sounds when you flush a different toilet in the house or empty the bathtub, it’s likely the plumbing vents are blocked and you’ll need to contact a plumber. You should also immediately contact a plumber if you see water around the base of the toilet.