How to Replace a Broken Toilet Handle - Step-by-step Instructions w/Pictures

Fishing the broken handle arm and yanking on it to flush is not fun.
Fishing the broken handle arm and yanking on it to flush is not fun.

If you're like us, you're unlucky with toilet handles (also called trip levers or tank levers). We've had our toilet for 2 years now (an American Standard Champion - we love it) but we've literally gone through 3 handles so far. The plastic eventually breaks, forcing us to fish out and yank the broken lever in the tank to make it flush until we head down to the hardware store for a replacement.

Fortunately, replacing it and getting back into the flush of things is not really that difficult; you can do it in less than 5 minutes following the directions below.

What you'll need

  • a new trip lever (you can buy them at your local hardware store, or online)
  • a wrench

Yes, that's really all you need! (OK - maybe a towel, too, to dry your hands off with after you're done)

Instructions

1. Lift up the tank cover and set it aside.

2. Loosen the nut on the broken tank lever on the inside of the tank. You will probably have to use a wrench to do this. Hold the handle on the outside while you twist off the nut on the inside.

3. Completely twist off the nut and remove it from the remains of the handle arm.

4. Pull out the old handle arm from the front. If it sticks, it might be somewhat stuck in the tank hole; just wiggle it a little bit. You can also push in from the inside-the-tank side.

5. Take the nut off the new handle, and put it in through the tank hole just like you pulled the old one out in step #4. Make sure it's nestled in snug into the tank.

6. Put the nut on the inside-the-tank side, and tighten (but don't overtighten) with your wrench. Make sure the handle is parallel to the floor on the outside.

7. Unhook the chain that leads to the flapper/flush valve from the broken arm. Sometimes there is a pin that attaches it, so remove that carefully and keep the pin.

8. Attach the chain and pin assembly to the new arm. Usually there is one or two holes in the arm that you can push the pin through. Try pushing the pin through both of them and see which creates a better flushing experience. I've found choosing the hole that's closest to the handle without pulling too hard of the flapper is what's worked the best.

9. Give it a test flush and make sure it refills OK without continually running (loosen the chain or move the pin to a hole further out in that case). You're good!

Pro tips!

  • Try to get a replacement handle/trip lever that's made specifically for your toilet. Generic, one-size-fits-all ones generally do OK in most cases, but those made for your specific toilet model are guaranteed to fit in your tank without any modification.
  • When you attach the chain to the lever arm, make the chain as taut as possible in the neutral position (usually choosing the hole closest to the handle does this). This will make sure that flushing requires the shortest movement, minimizing the possibility that the lever will break.
  • When you do flush, you can reduce wear on the handle by pushing down gently at first until the water/air seal at the flapper has broken, and then pushing down completely. Breaking the initial suction by forcing the handle down hard can put a lot more strain on the handle, which is almost always made of breakable plastic.

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Comments 13 comments

Camille Harris profile image

Camille Harris 5 years ago from SF Bay Area

3 handles in two years?!? Oy!

Great step-by-step Hub on replacement (you're an old pro!).


livelonger profile image

livelonger 5 years ago from San Francisco Author

Yeah, well, that was before >ahem!< *I* took a stab at doing it. I suspect this one will last quite a bit longer. Thanks for the comment!


Robin profile image

Robin 5 years ago from San Francisco

Very useful, indeed! I've actually never had this happen on one of our toilets, but if it ever does, we'll know how to fix it for sure. I loved the pictures that show the process of replacing the handle! Thanks!


livelonger profile image

livelonger 5 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thanks, Robin! It's not very difficult, if you don't like sloshing around in a little toilet tank water! ;)


livelonger profile image

livelonger 5 years ago from San Francisco Author

Oops, meant "...if you don't *mind* sloshing around..."


Cardisa profile image

Cardisa 5 years ago from Jamaica

This is actually my favorite plumbing chore. I don't mind sloshing around a bit.


livelonger profile image

livelonger 5 years ago from San Francisco Author

What?!?! Actually, considering how relatively simple this is, maybe I agree with you. Replacing the whole toilet, especially seeing the underside of the old toilet, and seeing a miasma of sewer gases emit from the pipe, was considerably less pleasant... ;)


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

This is fantastic! Hahaa, I love the frowny face in the first photo. This is super helpful! If I ever find myself stuck with a broken toilet flush lever, I am going STRAIGHT to this Hub!


livelonger profile image

livelonger 5 years ago from San Francisco Author

Broken toilet handles make me sad! :(


Lyricallor profile image

Lyricallor 5 years ago from Croydon

This is such a useful hub!


TopUniverse 5 years ago

Fantastic hub to everyone facing the problem of how to replace a broken toilet handle. I love the pictures.


Lotus22 5 years ago

Great. I had no problems following the above and it took 5 minutes just like you said. Thanks!


gail641 profile image

gail641 3 years ago from Mason City

My toilet handle just broke this morning. I have to get it fixed and the handle has to be replaced. I thught about going to Menards to get the replacement handle as soon as I can. I'm glad I saw your hub! Its hard when you can't flush. I had to replace a flapper valve one time, but it was a lot more inexpensive than having a plumber do it. I should try the temporary fix for now. Nice hub and very helpful. It shouldn't be too hard to replace the handle and lever. The lever broke close to the handle.

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