Q. We have a problem with one toilet. Our house is 50 years old and as far we know this toilet is an original. When we flush the water goes down but if there are any solids in it then it overflows. So this toilet gets little use. We are on a well so our water pressure is not great but the other toilets in the house work fine. I think we might need a new toilet because I believe the intake pipes are fouled with mineral deposits that hold the water force back. As I say, the other toilets (newer) have good flushing power. Please give us your thoughts and then we will call a plumber to act on your suggestions.
A. My first suspicion is that you may have a plumbing vent coming off of one of the fixtures in that bath that was loose and possibly not glued from initial construction. Twenty five years ago the vent pipes would have been plastic as they are today. It could have been jostled loose and slipped a joint while the plumber was working on things.I too have experienced that helpless feeling one gets as you watch the bowl keep filling during a flush but going nowhere only to cascade over the rim onto the floor. It happened to me a few times before I learned the trick that if I saw it beginning to happen I would quickly take off the tank lid and push the flush flapper back down with my hand, stopping the water flow. Most don’t think to do that quickly enough or the toilet lid has become a storage ledge for all sorts of knick-knacks and they can’t remove them in time. There are a few of conditions that could be causing this sluggish flush and it's fairly easy to isolate the cause. If this toilet once upon a time flushed properly but over time has developed this condition we can assume that the problem is not in the design or installation. A 50 year old toilet will have at least three and a half gallons of water dropping from the tank into the bowl per flush. The first thing you want to demonstrate is that the sewer line is clear or that the venting is not blocked in some way which would slow down the flushing action. Take a large bucket and fill it with water. Pour the water from the bucket down the toilet aiming for the center of the flush tube at the bottom of the bowl. The result should be that the water level elevates somewhat in the bowl as you are pouring the bucket in, then flushes all the water away with that familiar glug-glug sound at the end of the flush. If it does that-- and I think it will-- then that means that water leaving the tank during a normal flush using the flush handle is not arriving in the bowl fast enough to create the sudden increase of weight of water in the bowl to effect a proper flush. You probably do have a build up of mineral deposits in the rim jets located up under the ceramic rim of the bowl which is part of the water delivery system for the flush. Take a hand mirror and a flashlight and look up under the rim to see what the jet's holes look like. You'll need to aggressively clean them using brushes and even old-fashioned pipe-cleaners-- like the ones pipe-smokers used to clean their pipes-- to open all of the jets. Using a bottle brush, don't forget to go after the main flush orifice down near the opening of the flush tube at the bottom of the bowl. It's humbling task but one that's necessary from time to time to keep things operating properly especially on well water. Some even advocate placing a chemical cleaner in the tank to flush through the jets but try the wire pipe cleaners first. Now, if the dumping the bucket of water down the toilet doesn't present the clear flush as described above then the problem lies not with the toilet but with the waste line and that might require the services of plumber or a drain cleaning company. I have pulled up a sluggish toilet only to find the wax ring had somehow become displaced and was partially blocking the waste line. But if you're not having problems anywhere else in the house and the toilet flushes with the bucket of water, I'll bet it's clogged rim jets. If you’re on-line, take a look at www.toiletology.com/cleantoilets.shtml. They have a toilet cleaning program that’s intense. If you decide to abandon this old soldier and buy a new toilet I have good news to report. The newer models are performing much better than the original 1.6 gallon per flush models that were mandated in the early 1990s. You can buy a basic toilet for less than $100. but what you really want starts in the mid $200s and up. I recommend elongated bowls and bowl heights referred to as “handicapped access” that are 17 inches off the floor, or about the seat height of a standard dining room chair.