Do you have a Ghost Flushing your toilet

toilet-aerial-leslie (2)


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I have had more than a few customers state that their toilet is flushing by itself. Some folks go as far as to suggest they think they have a Ghost. This is not an uncommon problem with toilets and contrary to some beliefs, the explanation and resolution is far from the paranormal.

So how do we get the “Paranormal” Ghost flushing toilet, back to just a “Normal” flushing toilet.

There are three simple steps to take, in order to answer why the toilet is turning on by itself. Once we know the answer, the simple solution is soon to follow.

  1. Check the water level in the tank.
  2. Check water pressure
  3. Listen for the sound of running water at the fill valve where the water enters the tank.


  1. Checking the water level in the tank:
  • Remove the Tank cover or lid being careful not to drop it as these can easily shatter when bumped with something that is harder than the china it is made of.
  • With the lid removed, flush the toilet and wait for the water to fill to the point when the Fill Valve shuts off the water. Sometimes this may take up to 5 minutes but with most toilets newer than 10 years of age, the fill cycle will be less than one minute. Note that if the water never shuts off completely, we need to proceed to step #2 and #3.
  • With a pencil, mark the level of the water in the tank and watch to see if the water level drops. In most cases, if there is a leak, you will see a drop in the water level in less than  two to three minutes however in some cases this process may take up to 15 minutes in order to see any noticeable water level change.

If your results of ths test prove the water level to be dropping to the point where the fill valve turns on, hense “Ghost Flushing”, we have at this point narrowed down the problem to be one of three things; Back siphonage, High water level, or a faulty flapper /tank ball seal.

Back Siphonage:

  • In most cases there will be a small tube coming from the fill valve to the Flush Valve which is located in the center of the tank. If this tube, called the refill tube, is inserted too far into the “Overflow” tube of the Flush Valve, water will likely syphon from the tank, down this tube, causing the water level to drop in the tank. To properly solve this problem, re-possition the end of the refill tube to the top of the Overflow tube of the Flush Valve with an appropriate fastening clip. With the end of the refill tube above the water level inside the tank the possibility of back siphonage has been eliminated.

High Water Level

  • If the water level in the tank is above the top of the Overflow Tube, located on the Flush Valve, then the Fill Valve will either continuously run or cycle on and off. Resolve this problem by adjusting the water level on the Fill Valve to a point aproximately 1/2″ to 1″ below the top of the Overflow Tube (see fill valve manufacturer for adjustment procedures). Note that for toilets where the tank and the bowl are one molded piece,  in liu of a smaller refill tube, a larger “Rim Wash” Tube, approximately 3/4″ in diameter will be installed from the Fill Valve to the back of the bowl. The water level in the tank needs to be adjusted to a level below that of the insertion point of where the Rim Wash tube enters into the back of the bowl.

Flapper/Tank Ball

  • The Flapper and/or the Tank Ball are one of the more common culprits of Ghost Flushing. They are both located on the flush valve which is usualy located in the center of the tank. Check the Flapper/Tank Ball at the bottom of the tank. The Flapper/Tank Ball is connected to the tank lever with either a strap, a chain, or maybe a brass wire, and is located at the bottom of the tank. To check the Flapper/Tank Ball, rub your finger along its edge. If, due to deterioration, the material of the flapper comes off on your finger, we know at this time the Flapper/Tank Ball needs to be replaced. In some other cases this seal may be located at the bottom of a column located at the center of the tank. Either way, it is this seal that holds the water inside the tank up, until someone presses that lever. So whether it is a Flapper, Tank Ball, or some other type of seal, if the material comes off on your finger when you touch it, it needs to be replaced. One last thing regarding this seal, some of the materials used can be of a poly urethane material in which case, even if they have failed, the material will not come off on your finger. To check this type of seal it must be removed and then visually inspected. The seal should be flat and without any ripples. If you see a ripple on the bottom side of the seal, replace it with a new replacement seal of similar type. When replacing a flapper be sure to pay attention to the adjustment in length of the chain, strap, or brass wire. An adjustment that is too short will create a symptom where water either continues to run or the Fill Valve will “Ghost Flush”. An adjustment that is too loose will create a symptom where the tank level will need to be held down for the entire cycle of the flush because it does not lift the Flapper/Tank ball up high enough in order to allow it to float.

2.   Water Pressure

  • High water pressure conditions can cause a good Fill Valve to act as if it is not functioning properly. The call I often get is one where a customer has replaced their old Fill Valve with a new one, they replaced their flapper, they have adjusted the water level below the overflow tube, they mounted the refill tube to the overflow tube with the supplied clip, and the new fill valve still cycles on and off. “High water pressure” I tell them, with assurance. What happens here is after a Pressure Regulator has failed, the water pressure in the house increases to full city supplied pressure when no other water is in use. We call this “Static” pressure. No, throddelingthe valve down at the main water shut off will not solve the problem, because at a static water pressure condition, (without any water being used in the house), the pressure is just as high as if you had the valve closed off to the level of a drip. To clarify, by Throddeling the main valve down you have adjusted “Volume”, not “Pressure”. Adjusting the Pressure Regulator at this point will not solve the issue either. To explain this, a Residential Water Pressure Regulator, when functioning properly, will not exceed 80psi. Therefore if the water pressure is above this point, we know at this time the regulator has failed and needs to be either replaced or rebuilt.
  • To confirm  the water pressure condition, first you will need a Water Pressure gauge, a commonly stocked item at our Redlands Showroom and Warehouse supply. With the Pressure gauge connected to a hose bib location, after the incoming water supply to the house and after the existing pressure regulator, turn the hose bib on in order to read the water pressure at this point. Keep in mind that we are looking at checking the regulated pressure after the existing pressure regulator.
  • With the pressure Gauge reading the “Static” Water Pressure, assuring there is not any water in use at this time, record this reading. While monitoring the pressure at the gauge, have someone flush the toilet in question. The water pressure will likely drop to a point below the set pressure of the existing Pressure Regulator, usually between 50 and 75 psi, (even with a faulty Pressure Regulator). When the toilet attempts to shut down, looking at the Water Pressure Gauge, you will see the water pressure rise to just below that of the level of incoming water supply pressure.  At this point the Fill valve of the toilet will be forced to relieve the excess pressure at which time you will see the pressure on the gauge drop down, due to the relief of excess pressure when the Fill Valve is forced to turn back on, and the cycle will then keep repeating itself until the Fill Valve has reached the point where it can shut down at the full city supplied pressure.

With exception to the Flapper/Tank Ball test, because of the direct relation of Water Pressure to the fill cycle of the toilet, it is suggested that you perform this Pressure test before any of the other attempted diagnostics, in order to avoid the unnecessary replacement of any of the toilet parts.

3.   Listen for the sound of running water at the fill valve where the water enters the tank.

  • With the exception of a faulty Fill valve or high water Pressure condition, we have pretty much covered the solutions to a running water condition. If after checking all of the other conditions the fill valve continues to leak water, the fill valve will need to be replaced. Follow manufacture guidelines in order to properly install the new Fill Valve

Posted Under: DIY, Plumbing | , , , , , , , , ,


  1. tracey

    sitting by myself toilet flushed didn’t think anything , checked kids were asleep , ten minutes later full flush again . No one there .

  2. Jorge Gonzalez

    I have my master room toilet that overflows from time to time. I have replaced several types of valves and have adjusted down the main water pressure valve at the meter coming to my house. I have relatively low pressure at the rest of my house but my bathroom I think is at the beginning of the main supply. if I lower the pressure at the main then I loose usability of the other faucets due to low pressure. my question is Is there any regulator valve I can use ONLY at that toilet?.

    Thank you in advance
    Jorge Gonzalez.

    • Wes

      No need to install a regulator at the toilet, the one at the main coming into the house does not need to be adjusted any less than 75psi. Also, don’t restrict the flow to the house by minimizing the flow through the shut off as this does nothing to decrease pressure, rather it only reduces “Volume”, and they are two very different things. The test that needs to be done is to install a test gauge at the hose bib using a gauge that has what is called a “lazy hand”. This will run less than $20 at your local plumbing shop and what it does is records the highest pressure for the period of time you have in installed, (usually 24hrs). When you go back to check your gauge the following day, if it shows that the pressure exceeded 80psi, your regulator will need to be replaced. In addition, you may need what is called a thermal expansion tank which will absorb the increased pressure caused by the “normal” process of heating the water at the water heater.

      If when you check the pressure the following day the reading is less than 80psi, the problem with the toilet Ghost Flushing is internal within the toilet tank, (Flapper, tank ball, or refill tube alignment).

  3. Lucy

    My tenant of 3 months is telling me the toilet flush by itself and the kitchen water faucet also starts running on its own??? What can be the problem. She is suggesting paranormal activity! I think there is a problem with the water pressure. I will check and follow your instructions with the toilet but what about the kitchen faucet.? Please give me some suggestions. Thank you very much

    • Wes

      Regarding the Kitchen Faucet, depending on the type of faucet you have, a faulty stem can cause the faucet to either turn off or on, seemingly by itself. What happens is the internal component of the stem may be stripped, meaning it does not securely maintain a closed position. The solution in this case would be to replace the faulty stem.

      Fluctuating water pressure can cause faucets to drip but high pressure will not usually cause a faucet to turn on fully. To check to see if your plumbing problem may be pressure related, pick up a water pressure test gauge at your local plumbing shop or hardware store. This gauge needs to have what is called a ‘Lazy Hand”and what the Lazy Hand does is shows you the highest pressure reached over a period of time. The gauge is installed on a hose bib coming out from the house and left over night. Make a note of what the pressure is when you initially install the gauge and again on the following day, record this pressure reading at that time. You will see on the Lazy hand reading, whether or not the gauge ever exceeded the 80 lb mark.If the pressure reading indicated an increase of pressure over 80 psi, the regulator has failed and should be replaced.
      Sometimes people are looking for the least expensive fix and requires some diagnostics f which I hope I have helped with here today. Sometimes people want the sure fix no matter what the cost. The sure fix is to replace the faucet and the Pressure regulator with new replacements.

      Wes Livingston
      Service Manager

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  5. Larry

    Thank you much for the explanation on using a pressure gauge with a lazy hand to determine whether to replace the pressure reducing valve. This is a practical approach to check out. Working on a home on city water, averaging 70-72 psi during the day in the home, that has had high water bills in recent months ($200-$300/2-months). No fixtures leaking inside. So suspecting the city water pressure is rising when there is no usage during the night. When no water usage in the home, and shutting the valve off next to the pressure valve, the water meter still showed a minor flow of 2-4 cubic feet/ hour (or 30 gallons/hr). Any other suggestions to try?

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