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Common Plumbing Issues: How to Fix a Wobbly Toilet and Stuck Faucet Handle

This Old House plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey helps a homeowner handle two very common plumbing issues.

Plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey takes us on a house call to knock a couple of items off a homeowner’s punch list. With a wobbly toilet and a sticking faucet handle on the schedule, Richard digs in. He shows the homeowner the potential issues and solutions for that toilet wiggle, including the different types of flanges and seals, and also gives them a solutions for the stuck faucet handle.

How to Fix a Wobbly Toilet

  1. Start by shutting off the water supply valve on the left side of the toilet and removing all water from the tank and bowl. With the water off, flush the toilet so all the water empties from the tank and into the bowl. Then, remove the water from the bowl and disconnect the supply hose from the bottom of the tank with the pliers.
  2. Use a wrench to remove the nuts holding the toilet to the ground floor. It may be necessary to hold the bolt with a set of pliers and loosen the nut with the wrench if the bolt keeps spinning. Once both sides are off, stand over the toilet and lift it off the floor. Carry it somewhere nearby and put it down, preferably on a towel.
  3. Clean any wax remnants from the floor flange the bottom of the toilet. A bit of mineral spirits will usually remove the residue.
  4. If the flange is damaged, use a repair flange to fix the issue. Install the new flange overtop of the cracked one and secure it to the floor using stainless steel screws.
  5. Place the new closet bolts in the floor flange, and place the wax seal on the flange. Note: some wax seals slide over the bolts, while others simply sit on the flange.
  6. Place the toilet on top of the wax seal, being careful to align the closet bolts with the holes in the bottom of the toilet base. A helper to guide one bolt while you align the other can be helpful.
  7. Tighten the toilet to the floor using the nuts that came with the closet bolts. Be sure to tighten each side evenly, alternating from side to side while tightening.
  8. Reattach the hose, turn on the water, and check for wobbles and leaks.

How to Fix a Stuck Faucet Handle

  1. It can be a lot easier to find replacement parts if the parts supplier has a picture of the faucet. Take a picture and bring it to the local supply house to order a replacement valve. They might also be able to locate and copy the owner’s manual.
  2. Shut the water off at the wall, either behind the sink or in the cabinet below it. Despite only one handle sticking, shut off both the hot and cold water. Else, water can spray into the air if the faucet is accidentally turned when the valve stem is loose.
  3. Remove the handle from the faucet stem. This is often a set screw in the base of the handle, or a screw through the top of the handle. In some cases, the handle might have a screw-on base holding it to the sink. Loosen the base.
  4. With the water off, find the proper size socket to fit down inside the faucet body and over the stem unit. Use the socket wrench to loosen and remove the steam unit.
  5. Place the new valve stem inside the faucet, and carefully use the socket to start tightening the steam unit. Be careful not to cross-thread the valve stem. Once threaded, tighten the stem in place by hand.
  6. Place the handle back on the faucet stem and tighten it in place. Do not use pipe dope unless the manufacturer suggests it.
  7. Turn the water back and check to ensure the handle is now working properly.