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Here's what to do when the toilet flusher won't flush

Awkward bathroom incidents are hard to handle because — let's face it — you're the one who has to solve the problem and you don't know squat about plumbing.

Fortunately, Jamie Smith, owner of Mr. Rooter in Baltimore, is more than happy to share a few DIY plumbing tips. Today's awkward plumbing situation: toilet flushers that don't flush.

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small bathroom with shower; Shutterstock ID 265469240; PO: TODAY.com

The most common cause for this problem, and the one that's easiest to fix, is a poorly seated flapper, aka a running toilet. The flapper is that part of the toilet tank that opens to let water flow into the toilet bowl, and then flaps down over the opening to allow the tank to refill. It's located at the bottom of the tank and is rigged to a chain that is connected by a rod to the toilet handle. Usually when the toilet handle is pushed down, it pulls on the chain that lifts the flap that allows the water to enter the toilet bowl.

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So, what can you do if you push down the handle and no water comes forth? If you hear water running but none is entering the bowl, that means the flapper isn't seated properly over the opening. That could be because the flapper itself is worn or the chain came unhooked from the flapper or worked its way under the flapper. Sometimes the flapper will re-seat itself if you just jiggle the handle a few times. You'll know it's working if you hear the toilet tank filling up.

If that doesn't do the trick, remove the cover of the toilet tank and locate the flapper at the bottom of the tank. If it's not seated completely over the opening, re-seat it. You should notice the water filling the tank.

If you don't, check to see if the chain has come loose from the flapper or has worked its way under the flapper. If it's come loose, reconnect the chain.

If it's under the flapper, lift the chain out of the way and re-seat the flapper. At this point, the tank should begin to fill. When it stops filling, flush the toilet. Make sure the flapper is seated properly, then replace the tank cover and give yourself a pat on the back. You just fixed the toilet.

If none of these correct the situation, then you have two choices. You can actually flush the toilet by pouring water into the bowl until it flushes. If there's a wastebasket that can hold water, empty it, fill it with water and pour the water into the toilet. If enough water is poured into the bowl at once, the contents will flush down the drain. If that does the trick, give yourself a high five. (Then be a good guest and notify the host that there is a problem with the toilet.)

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Alas, if there is no wastebasket or other large container in the bathroom, you have no choice but to inform the host — and depending on what's in the toilet, this can be pretty embarrassing.

Smith's last bit of advice? If there are several people in the house, you can always try to shift blame by telling the host something like, I'd like to use the bathroom but the toilet appears to be full. Yeah, it's a wimpy way out of a stinky situation but, after all, you did give it your best.

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