Fix Your Toilet With Aluminum Foil

The guy who writes Debt Sucks Blog and I had something in common. Both our toilets were broken for several weeks, and both of us are too frugal/stingy and busy/lazy to get out to a store and buy some replacement innards.

Luckily for me, the other guy managed to scrounge up a solution that satisfied our similar needs: Rather than bust out the credit card, then the tools, the anonymous blogger just tore off a huge wad of aluminum foil and MacGyver’d the broken part to the piece that connects to the flusher. Please forgive my highly technical terminology, all those who aren’t as knowledgeable as I am about toilet repair.

I followed in the blogger’s footsteps and now am the proud owner of a toilet that works.

What’s the cheap, unconventional home repair you’ve made that you’re most proud of ?

Quick And Cheap Toilet Repair [Debt Sucks Blog]

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  1. Cheap Sniveler: Sponsored by JustAnswer.comâ„¢ says:

    It works, yea, but it’s totally a temporary fix. Ten bucks for parts and under a half an hour and it’s fixed – it’s not difficult at all. I just replaced ALL the innards in my tank with high quality parts in 25 minutes last month for $12.

    If you’re in an apartment and your landlord doesn’t fix it for you, fine. If it’s your house and toilet, the spend $10 – or less.

    • RandomHookup says:

      I think the key descriptor that Phil mentions would be “lazy”.

      • Clyde Barrow says:

        Are you surprised? I am seeing this more and more and I think it’s a direct result of our throw-away society and broken homes from divorces. It’s easier to purchase something than to fix it. With children coming from broken homes, no dads are present to teach their daughters and sons how to fix things so in turn, it’s easier to just buy and replace it. Businesses love this as it increases profits and it is marketed this way too. Why cut your grass? We can do it for you. Why change your oil? We can do it for you. Why fix your computer? We can do it for you. And on and on and on and on, etc.

        • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

          On the subject of this article… It’s way cheaper to fix a toilet than it is to replace it.

          • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

            +1 Bad rant to a situation that doesn’t apply. With toilets, either it’s a cheap fix, or you probably HAVE to replace it (such as cracks). Not much in between.

            • supernummy says:

              Or when your kids somehow flush a fist sized rubber ball down the toilet. Even though they somehow got it IN, there is absolutely no way to get it out short of smashing the toilet open and getting a new one. Smashing a toilet open is rather fun though.

        • RandomHookup says:

          Can you fix your DVD player in the same way your dad could fix your old tube TV? Can you simply listen to the latest high tech engine on your car and know where the problem is? We’ve specialized and complicated our lives. It’s cheaper to replace than repair. It’s one of the prices of progress.

        • Back to waiting, but I did get a cute dragon ear cuff says:

          I beg to differ. This is not a fix. All they did was put a band aid on a cut artery. You can not buy the individual part of the valve that they need to fix this, it is an integrated unit. Buying the $10 part is the part you need to fix a $150 toilet. As soon as the valve finishes breaking, if you are lucky, you will have a toilet running at full flow volume.

          As far as the rest of your comment, you are lumping 2 very different things together. I come from a broken home, my parents divorced in 1963 when I was 5. My father was involved, but never taught me stuff because he was not handy at all. As an example, he worked for a large electronics firm as a salesman, he could sell anything. You can teach product knowledge, you can’t teach sales. When he applied, they asked him if he ever fixed a lamp socket. After 6 months, his boss asked him the same question but added successfully to the end. I’ve learned to repair stuff by research and trial and error. And I am teaching my daughters how to fix things.

          As to the throw away society, there was a recent thread here about repairing a DVD player costing more than replacing it. Not many people can do surface mount component soldering as fast and as cheaply as a machine, not to mention having the expertise to diagnose a blown capacitor on a circuit board. Would you pay someone a living wage (including shop overhead, insurance, training, etc), which legitimately comes to $75 hour with an hour minimum, to repair a DVD player that cost $50 to replace? If so, I want your job.

          To respond on my own about your let someone else do it for their profit, well, here is my situation. I own a small business and work 6 days a week, 50+ hours as a minimum. Do I change my own oil? No, The 3 hours it would take me to do it (Start to finish, including running the used oil to the county recycling center is not worth saving the $5-10 over what the local shop charges. Fix my own computer? Yes, and assemble them from parts that I get from various companies that leave them behind when we buy the furniture, except for my Mac Mini.

          Everyone has specialties that they can do better than other people. That is why they are hired by companies and hire other companies to provide them goods and services. Most people (besides the I ___ my own ____ at home meme crowd here) are not 100% self sufficient. Almost everyone realizes that there are somethings best left to others.

          Yes, I possibly could have learned how to replace my own gas furnace at home when my 25 YO unit died. But the risk and consequences of a possible mistake FAR outweighed what I could have saved.

          • Wrathernaut says:

            I came from a broken home too, but it cost more to fix it than replace it, so I did.

            I also make my own broken home at home.

          • physics2010 says:

            The government plans to fix this problem by making all of cheap crap much much more expensive.

        • HogwartsProfessor says:

          They don’t make stuff repairable anymore. It’s all cheap throwaway plastic crap. It costs more than the thing is worth to fix it. That’s why no one does it now. Also, you can’t find anyone who DOES know how to fix the older stuff. I like to buy stuff like furniture used. But unless it’s something I can fix myself, I make sure it won’t need repair any time soon, because there’s no one to do the job.

          • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

            this is in large part why i collect old things. i have a lot of vintage stuff that’s taken abuse way better than modern counterparts. including appliances.

        • JulesNoctambule says:

          It’s cute how you think that women don’t know how to fix things.

          • kujospam says:

            It’s also cute to think just because you have a father that means anything. I didn’t want to work on stuff with my dad because he would yell at me for doing it wrong and get upset with me, and then later say it takes time and skill to get it right. Which of course he never gave me in the first place. Which is funny, because I basically went into his field computers and fixing them, but ask me to fix other house hold stuff, and I’m an idiot. Luckily for me, there are books, and I can borrow his tools when I need them. Also my dad is a completely changed man from what he was. Truely people can change. Not saying it was all my dads fault either, I was young and lazy, but what do you expect at 8 years old. Sigh, I’ll shutup.

    • There's room to move as a fry cook says:

      Man, I hope my landlord doesn’t read Consumerist. That’s just the type of cheap patch up job he’d go for.

    • RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

      Now show me a whole working toilet tank MADE out of aluminum foil, and I’ll be impressed!

  2. KlueBat says:

    It’s hard to know what the issue was without pics or video, but he may have only needed a new rubber tube that connects the fill assembly to the overflow tube. I know on my toilet that has a tendency to pop off once every few months. If that part was damaged or missing the repair cost would have been less than a dollar and required no tools.

  3. physics2010 says:

    Penny-wise, pound foolish. This is in the realm of being ridiculous. Pay the $10 for the replacement assembly which is very easy to install. Avoid this very, very temporary patch, because out of sight is out of mind until the valve gives out completely. If you’re lucky you’ll just end up wasting water down the overflow tube. If you’re unlucky you’ve just flooded the bathroom.

    • Rachacha says:

      Agreed, This is a temporary fix you make at 11:00 Saturday night when the hardware store is closed, won’t be open until 11am the next morning and you have only one toilet and a bunch of friends over. This is not a permanent fix.

      I have done a similar MacGyver fix on the plumbing vent stacks where they exit my roof. There is normally a rubber gasket that goes agound the pipe to prevent rain water from coming through the roof, but many years of sun exposure and a hard winter with lots of snow caused the rubber gasket to fail during a heavy rain storm. I temporarily took a plastic trash bag, cut a small hole in it, and slid it over the vent stack, I then wrapped some duct tape around the bag and the vent stack until I coulg gather all of the proper replacement parts and make the proper repair. This temporary fix stopped further damage from happening to my home.

      • faislebonchoix says:

        At 11pm on a Saturday night I’d just turn off the water going into the flush box and poor a bucket of water into the stool to flush. The foil trick is just ridiculous.

  4. ninabi says:

    Toilet repairs are pretty straightforward and parts are cheap- ten bucks and twenty minutes later you can be hero of the household.

    On the list of 10 Repairs You Can Easily Do, this is one of them.

  5. chiieddy says:

    When I first bought my condo the gasket failed on my toilet. I was single and had no idea what to do. I called my Dad and he told me what to buy at the hardware store down the street. It was WAY less than $10. I replaced the gasket and all the innards.

    • backbroken says:

      Good thing you weren’t from a broken home.

      • IWanaGoFishing says:

        What does a broken home have to do with it? Go to any hardware store, describe the problem, and they’ll tell you how to fix it.

        • chiieddy says:

          They’re complaining because I called my Dad. It was 10 years ago. I’d owned the place for a week. I was 26. I panicked.

          • backbroken says:

            No, actually I was referencing the ridiculous comment by JW Pepper, who claimed that people can’t fix things because divorce is rampant.

            The dotted line is REALLY dotted there.

            I didn’t mean to criticize you in any way.

      • RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

        I’m from a broken home! It’s terrible!

        Actually, being from a broken home meant I learned to fix things. My dad was the fixer in the family. When he left, I learned to fix a lot of things. A toilet is the simplest of them. I’ve installed water heaters, outlets, faucets, can change my own oil and a whole host of other things.

        (In case you missed it, the person who started this thread was referring to a post a few threads up from JWPepper, stating that these kinds of cob-jobs are a sign of broken homes.)

      • Michaela says:

        I agree. Gosh, my mother left my emotionally abusive father, which left me without any possible means of learning anything about house keeping (because, you know, my mother spent all her hours barefoot and in the kitchen). Because I was not stuck with that dirt bag, I had to learn how to fix toilets by going to the store with the broken part and telling the man “I need one of these. Get me one now, please.”

  6. Slave For Turtles says:

    One of the legs of our cat tree became loose, and the structure became wobbly. I wedged pennies where it’s supposed to be tightly fitting against a horizontal piece, and it got better. It’s not something I could fix with a screw or something, or else I would have tried that. It held for a long time, and my cats were pleased enough to ignore me.

  7. DaveWW says:

    Years ago I fixed a leaky water heater connection with dental floss (didn’t have teflon tape at the time). My furnace is currently running with one of the limit switches jumped/by-passed with a paper clip (it broke last week, and I received the replacement part two days ago, but just need to put it in). A month ago I fixed a broken flexible heat/ac duct with a plastic waste-bin as an inset, then duct-taped it all back together (cut the bottom out). Fixed a broken screen door handle spring by replacing it with a quarter inch of weatherproofing strip material. The list goes on and on… but yeah, buy the parts for the toilet and do it right when you get the time; they’re cheap. A “fix” is whatever works with what you have on hand immediately, and sometimes it’s good enough for permanent, but more often than not it’s temporary. It’s the permanent “fixes” that stick in your mind though.

  8. ParingKnife ("That's a kniwfe.") says:

    Laptop screens are easy to replace yourself. Yet many people see it as the death of their computer.

  9. Clyde Barrow says:

    Look, being stingy and cheap can go a long way like buying a couple of steaks and a six-pack and cooking at home rather than hitting a restaurant. But this? It’s not value-added to do this. It’ll never last and the time that it will take to re-fix this over and over will cost more than the few dollars it will take to just replace the parts. I think this dude spent all his money on beer. lol.

  10. milrtime83 says:

    Looks like it belongs here: http://thereifixedit.failblog.org/

  11. megs says:

    Don’t get me wrong, Rube Goldberg is our patron saint around here, but toilet assemblies are cheap. Even tho we rent, I plumb.

  12. Suaveydavey says:

    Fix anything to do with a leaky toilet properly and promptly. One astronomical water bill will convince you of that. We couldn’t figure out how the bill jumped over 40%, until a re-read of the meter proved although nothing was on/running, the gently gurgling toilet was using gallons a day. All for a $6 flapper.

  13. sirwired says:

    A brand-new FluidMaster fill valve is something like $7. While this is fine for an overnight fix; a real fix is trivially cheap and easy to install. A monkey wrench, a towel, a sponge, and ten minutes is all it takes.

  14. larrymac thinks testing should have occurred says:

    After doing some toilet work last month, I just want to emphasize that when the instructions say “hand-tighten” they mean to use your hand. Put the wrench down.

  15. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    Aluminum foll is also great for mouse control. They hate it. Use it to block holes or gaps and put under doors.

  16. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    Aluminum foll is also great for mouse control. They hate it. Use it to block holes or gaps and put under doors.

    • Cheap Sniveler: Sponsored by JustAnswer.comâ„¢ says:

      And it can also be fashioned into an attractive hat to shield the brain from such influences as electromagnetic fields, or against mind control and/or mind reading; or attempt to limit the transmission of voices directly into the brain.

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      We must have stronger mice where I live. They can dig through virtually anything. However, it will stop bats (actually, steel wool works better) since they can’t/won’t dig through an obstacle.

  17. mrscoach says:

    Um, I do my own toilet repairs 99% of the time, and with the plastic insisdes of a toilet you either replace parts or live with broken, unless you come up with a temporary fix. Sometimes to fix something means to replace it.

  18. Hoss says:

    Last month one of our laptops was on the floor resting upwards on its side when I knocked over a water glass. There were no issues with the keyboard, etc, but water seeped into the screen. I waited days for it to dry but it never did. So I did what I’m sure I’m not supposed to do — I took the screen apart removing each layer of the plastic-like sheets. Then I used a can of air to dry everything. Luckily it worked perfectly and saved about $150 on an aftermarket screen.

  19. Fubish says: I don't know anything about it, but it seems to me... says:

    Got a two-holer. Never will have this problem.

  20. Brunette Bookworm says:

    Um, if you have hard water wouldn’t the foil quickly degrade?

  21. evilpete says:

    Ummmm, toilet rebuild kits are around $20 or $30 at most hardware stores, and their installation takes less time then it would to write and post to most Blogs

  22. Portlandia says:

    Saving up for a new TV Phil?

    Seriously though, the parts of toilet costs like $10 bucks…

  23. Reading_Comprehension says:

    I replaced my wife with a bowl of warm oatmeal

  24. MeOhMy says:

    Maybe he spent himself a half hour of “labor” but it sounds like he spent more effort “brainstorming” than if he had just done it the right way.

  25. neilb says:

    RE: “What’s the cheap, unconventional home repair you’ve made that you’re most proud of?”

    Things fixed easily and permanently with Permatex gasket maker.

    I use it to fix all sorts of leaks. This is the gasket maker that I have used to seal engine heads and they are still sealed and supple after years of use, so you had better bet that it is sufficient for a simple environment like a water line.

    It has fixed my leaky toilet lines (particularly the one with a diaper sprayer system), gas grill lines with bad fittings, and washer hose lines. (It would likely seal a bad flapper, but a $5 repair kit makes more sense to me.)

    Likewise, Loctite thread sealer is awesome for those duct/fixture/window treatments that MIGHT need to be moved some day but that you want to stop the screws from backing out. Elmer’s glue does a good job on those too.

  26. 24NascarDude says:

    One time, I had a tripod stand for an artificial Christmas tree. One of the legs partially broke. Due to the way it was designed, I was able to fix it by putting 3-5 pennies under the broken leg and wrapping all three legs in duct tape. I did this 4 years in a row…..

  27. Bodger says:

    There are cable programs about hoarders. People watch them and think “yes, I live in a tip, but at least my tip isn’t that bad”. There are network and cable programs about fat folks. People watch them and think “yes, I’m fat, but at least I’m not that fat”. This article is meant for the terminally slothful. People read it and think “yes, I’m lazy and cheap, but at least I’m not that lazy and cheap”.

  28. HogwartsProfessor says:

    Don’t know if it’s that unconventional, but I backed into my trash can in the rain and knocked off my driver’s side mirror. It worked, but was dangling. I didn’t have the money to replace the mirror. I duct-taped it but the tape kept coming off and looked horrible. So I got some of that epoxy putty and stuck it back on. The putty is black and it looks the same as the plastic the casing is made from. Now all I have to do is get all the tape residue off my car.

    Oh, my water line on the toilet broke one evening and I turned off the water and went to the hardware store the next day and replaced it myself. I was pretty proud of that.

    • Rachacha says:

      Goo Gone for the tape residue. I have not tried it on duct tape residue, but it works on just about everything else. I have yet to find an adhesive residue that it has not helped me to remove.

  29. MaytagRepairman says:

    “What’s the cheap, unconventional home repair you’ve made that you’re most proud of ?”

    I remember “fixing” my brother’s VCR years ago. It was sitting precariously on top of the tv and fell off. After that, it stopped working. Everybody in the family wrote it off as junk. I popped the case open and found a loose connector. Pushed it back in and it was good to go.

    A few things are simpler to fix than we think. If you don’t have a friend or family member who can help you, a good place to go in many situations is a local hardware store such as Ace Hardware. They often have people who can explain what you need to do and show you the parts you need. If they show you two parts and one is like a dollar cheaper than the other you are often best just to spend the extra dollar.

  30. Thorzdad says:

    Geez…replacing the toilet innards is one of the cheapest and easiest DIY fixes you can do in a house. If you can’t be bothered to tackle that one…

  31. TheoSqua says:

    I fixed a broken door knob by wedging a dime in between the wooden cutout for the door and the little broken plastic piece that pulls the center part of the handle when turned. The door wouldn’t open/close before and it still works fine 4 months later.

  32. cyko79 says:

    “What’s the cheap, unconventional home repair you’ve made that you’re most proud of ?”

    I’m not sure proud is the word I would use… My dome light in my car fell down, I something broke off and I couldn’t stick it back in, so I bought some velcro, sewed it to the roof, glued it to the dome light, and voila, removable dome light.

  33. Rachacha says:

    When I was in college, the headliner on my 16yr old car seperated from the roof. I tried some spray adhesive to re-attach it with no luck. I went to an auto repair shop, and they said they would fix it for about $250. I opted instead to go to the hardware store and purchase a couple of tubes of liquid nails, some foam insulation and a couple of yards of indoor/outdoor carpeting that matched the interior of my car. I glued the insulation to the roof (installing temporary wooden braces until the glue cured, and then glued the carpet to the insulation. A little trimming and shoving the carpet in the trim pieces,a nd I had a nice finished look for under $25.

  34. Garbanzo says:

    Cheapest fix ever? I took care of the hot water running out partway through a shower by turning up the thermostat on the water heater. My housemate thought I was some kind of wizard.

  35. majortom1981 says:

    I had a walmart 5.1 home theater system that was $60 a was better sounding that some $500 receivers. Unfortunately they were sold for literrally only 6 months and the bigger mnaufacturers told them to take it off market. Mine died. I thought i would have to get a new one.

    I opened up the case and it only turned out to be a fuse that was by the power supply. I fixed 2 montiors also this way.

  36. gman863 says:

    Most cheap home repairs are actually more expensive in the long run.

    Unless you’re planning to move soon, buying the cheapest model of something usually means you’ll have to replace it again in a few years or less (faucets, carpet, garden hose, etc.). Buy the cheapest toilet and you’ll be stuck with something that clogs anytime you attempt to flush more than 5 sheets of paper. Cheap paint may require 2-3 coats; better paint usually covers in one.

    I bought my current home 4 years ago. It was a rental that was “flipped” using the cheapest materials possible – most of which I have already had to replace.

  37. JohnJ says:

    We recently had a water leak, and couldn’t get a plumber for a couple days. I temporarily plugged the leak by pushing two wood toothpicks into it.

  38. JohnJ says:

    We did a toilet repair similar to the one in the photo. We used an old wash rag, and the repair lasted for years.

  39. FrankReality says:

    I fix all sorts of things (I have a large inventory of various glues/sealants and a lot of odds and ends in my shop), but the vast majority of stuff I fix is by the book using replacement parts.

    The creative fixes are done for temporary things while awaiting the parts to arrive or for permanent things where replacement parts aren’t available at all or at a reasonable cost.

    One of the strangest was a cracked circuit board where the copper traces were split at the cracked. I soldered jumpers across the break for each trace.

    Another was an electric clutch that had a separation in the coil, which I fixed by removing a few windings, then soldering the broken wires together and sealing it with epoxy.

    I overhauled a B&S Vanguard 18.5 HP V-twin engine for out of pocket of $150 including tools. The small engine technician wanted $2000 to do it. It runs fine four years later.

  40. tooluser says:

    I did the exact same thing! My toilet had broken where the toilet still worked, but sprayed water up from the valve at high pressure, and from there out along the lid and on to the floor. I got 6 months out of a tin foil deflector shield, and no one was the wiser. It’s a low-boy tank, so the valve is more expensive and was harder to find than for regular height tanks.

  41. Cantras says:

    Cheap trick for windows:
    I had a dorm room window that hard an arched bit at the top. Of course the blinds and curtains were on the regular rectangular bit of the window, not the arched bit, and the sun shone through the top of the window RIGHT INTO MY FACE bright and early. The wall there was more or less spackle over cement and I couldn’t tack up any covers, and they wouldn’t let me hang a blanket or anything off the sprinkler pipes. I had desperately duct-taped a folded blanket in place over the window, when my mom visited and saw.
    She went and she got some scrap black fabric and some fabric starch. Cut the fabric to fit the arch-shape, soak and shake out with starch, smooth fabric out against window. It sticks and then at the end of the year it just peels off, leaving the window clean.
    Magic.

  42. physics2010 says:

    I fixed my leaking water heater last month. Water kept leaking out of this extra pipe so I just soldered it closed. Voila, no more leaking hot water. Between that and jumping the breaker that kept tripping on it I figure I’ve saved at least $300.

    /s