"One toilet won't flush right"
Column #868 10/15/11
On The Level
Q. We have a problem with just one toilet in our house. As far we can recollect this toilet in the master bedroom is the original. The house was built in the 1960s. When we flush the water goes round and round and eventually goes down but if there are any solids it overflows onto the floor. So this toilet gets little use. We are on a well so our water pressure is not great but it’s never been good and the other two toilets in the house work fine. We think we need a new toilet because I believe the intake pipes are encrusted with mineral deposits that hold the water force back. As I say, the other toilets have good flushing power. Give us your opinion and then we will call a plumber to act on your suggestions.
A. I, like most, have experienced that helpless feeling one gets as you watch the bowl keep filling during a flush but going nowhere but only to cascade over the edge 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 flow. Most don’t think to do that quickly enough or the toilet lid has become a storage ledge for all sorts of things they can’t remove 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 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 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 probably wont like what you see.
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.
If dumping the bucket of water down the toilet doesn't effect 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 clearing 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 the clogged jets. If you’re on-line, take a look at www.toiletology.com/cleantoilets. They have a toilet cleaning plan that’s intense.
If you decide to abandon this old soldier and buy a new one I have good news to report on the toilet front. The newer ones are performing better than the original 1.6 gallon per flush models that were out in the early nineties. 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 height of a standard dining room chair.
Keep the mail coming. If you've got a question, tip, or comment let me know. Write "On The Level," c/o The Capital, P.O. Box 3407, Annapolis, MD 21403 or e-mail me at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.