How a Toilet Handle Works
Pushing down on a toilet handle in order to flush the toilet sets off a domino effect of motion. The handle, when depressed, presses down on the flush lever (also called a lift arm) which in turn lifts a chain that is connected to the toilet flapper. A toilet flapper is a hinged seal that allows water to drain from the toilet tank and into the toilet bowl. When the water level is low, the toilet tank then refills with water. A number of issues can go wrong with the toilet handle causing it to be loose or floppy.
Plastic toilet handles break faster than metal handles. Both handle materials attract dirt, dust or lime deposits to build up around the handle threads and the interior nut that attaches the handle through the toilet tank to the working mechanisms inside. Clean the threads and nut with vinegar to reduce grime accumulation. A flush handle may be irreparably damaged if it is hanging in a vertical position. Check to make sure the flush lever and chain are attached and then check the threads or nut to see if the threads are stripped or the nut is missing. Stripped threads can only be fixed by replacing the toilet handle. A missing nut can be replaced by purchasing a new one at a hardware, home improvement or plumbing supply store.
Broken Flush Lever
When a toilet handle is loose it may be because it is either unattached to the flush lever inside or the lever is broken. The flush lever (also called the lift arm) is a small metal or plastic "stick" with a row of holes through it. A chain attaches through one of these holes and then to the flapper or seal at the bottom of the tank. A flush lever may become disengaged and fall into the tank or it may break, especially the plastic varieties. Replace the lever with a new one. Disconnect the chain from the old lever. Turn the nut connecting the lever to the handle clockwise to release the handle. Pull the handle from the toilet tank. Insert the new handle through the hole in the tank, attach the chain to the new lever and rescrew the nut to the handle to keep it all in place.
Flush Chain: Disconnected or Too Long
A loose toilet handle may be very easy to fix if the only problem is a disconnected flush chain. Remove the top of the tank and look inside. The chain should be hooked to the flush lever and to the flapper at the bottom of the tank. If either end is disconnected, hook the chain to the appropriate hole. A loose handle caused by a flush chain that is too long is also easily fixed. Lowes Home Improvement store recommends keeping 1 inch of slack to the chain. Remove the chain from the flush lever and move the chain end to a higher hole. Test the loose handle by flushing it. Continue to adjust the chain until you find the length appropriate to tighten the handle and successfully flush the toilet. If the chain is really long, use needle nose pliers to remove the necessary links to correct the problem.