Much to the world’s chagrin, overflowing toilets are a daily (or even hourly) irritating occurrence. Most likely, everyone has had it happen to them at one time or another. And in the moment, we often freeze in panic and watch it happen instead of quickly jumping into action. Sometimes this is due to not knowing what to do for an overflowing toilet. So today, we’re going to take you step-by-step through the process of what to do when a toilet overflows.

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We’ll focus especially on what action to take if your overflowing toilet has caused damage to your bathroom or other parts of your house. So let’s get started! 

How to stop an overflowing toilet

First things first, you need to know how to stop an overflowing toilet in the fastest way possible. There’s a simple hack that will often nip overflow in the bud: shutting off the water.

1 – Shut off the water supply

Usually, a toilet has a little valve on the pipes behind it. If you see that your toilet is about to overflow, quickly turn the valve to the off position to shut off the water flow to the toilet and avoid a mess. If your toilet doesn’t have a water shut off valve behind it you can snatch the cover off the tank, and position the float so that water doesn’t keep filling the tank. One of these two options should work on almost any toilet, and subsequently will help you avoid a historic flood in your home. 

2 – Remove wastewater

If your toilet does decide to overflow, your next step is to clean up the overflow water as quickly as possible. The longer water sits on a floor, the more likely it is to do large amounts of damage. No matter how long the water has been sitting – minutes, hours, days, or even weeks – mopping it up is your first priority. 

A wet-dry vac, and/or towels are probably your best option for soaking up water. If there are large amounts, start with your wet-dry vac, and move on to towels once you’ve removed the majority of the standing water. 

Keep in mind, for your health and safety, you must treat the overflow as contaminated water. Use rubber gloves if you have them, and be sure to properly disinfect your floor and any other contaminated surface with bleach or a bacteria-killing cleaner. Remember to also keep your hands away from your face and mouth and to wash them thoroughly when you’re done cleaning. 

Cleaning with rubber gloves

3 – Check for damage

Step three for what to do when your toilet overflows is to check the area for damage. Look around to see how far the water went, and check the room (or basement) on the floor below for water leaking. If there are rooms right off the bathroom with carpeted floors, look and see if they’re dry. If they are, you’re spared from a large headache! But if not, you may need to pull the edge of the carpet up, let it dry, and decontaminate.

When the Phillips family suffered from an overflowing toilet, they stressed the importance of removing the padding from underneath the carpet. They said it “soaks up water like a sponge!” Not removing it may cause mold and mildew problems. 

If the water from your toilet fills up your room more than an inch, you’ll need to check on your baseboard and the bottom few inches of the wall. If these two things get wet, and stay wet, they may end up rotting, smelling, and sometimes causing structural integrity problems. 

4 – Remediate damage

The next step is remediating any damage that did occur. For some, this may be as simple as mopping up water and cleaning surfaces. For others, it may involve ripping out carpet, flooring, baseboards, and sections of walls. It all depends on how much your toilet overflowed, and how long the water sat unattended to. 

The best thing you can do after you’ve cleaned up the water is to use large industrial fans all over the wet rooms of your house. This will help air circulate and in turn, help everything to dry out faster. 

Stainless steel fan

If you’re unsure how much damage has actually been done, calling in a professional to assess the damage, and possibly take care of it for you is your next best option. Professionals can often tell you what steps you need to take and how deep to go in fixing damage. 

What to do when the toilet overflows – Turn off that water!

To make sure water doesn’t sit for long periods of time in your house, be sure to always turn off your water before you leave for a trip or vacation. This will ensure that pipes won’t leak or drip and that a toilet you flushed while heading out the door won’t flood the house in your absence. We certainly hope you don’t come head-to-head with an overflowing toilet at any time. But if you do, we’re happy that you now know what to do when your toilet overflows. And if that overflowing toilet really has you in over your head when it comes to water damage, check out how to successfully file an insurance claim for water damage to help you handle things with your insurance company!