Plugged Toilets

February 11, 2014 - Benjamin Dowson

Your toilet is like any other appliance you have in your home, in that it has a life expectancy. The life expectancy is determined by many factors such as frequency of use, hardness of water being used in the toilet, manufacture design and cleaning practices for your toilet. In this edition of Pesky Plumbing Problem Prevention Practices, I will be going over ways to prolong the life of your toilet and help prevent toilet backups.

Keeping it Clean

First of all, let’s get the dirty business out of the way: cleaning your toilet. Not to sound like your mom, but it is important to keep your toilet clean. This will help ensure prolonged enjoyment and use of your toilet. The water we have in Calgary and for that matter, many other municipalities, is very hard and has a lot of mineral content. After each flush, a small amount of this mineral content is left behind on the inside of your toilet bowl, and especially under the rim.

As it dries, it hardens and becomes rough, leaving it that much easier to collect more mineral build up (compounding the problem) and other unpleasant by-products from using the toilet. If this is left unchecked it can start to smell but it can also start to affect the flushing performance of your toilet. Underneath the rim of most toilet bowls are little holes that let water into the bowl when you flush the lever. This is where a lot of that mineral build up starts to collect. As it builds up, and if it is not cleaned off, it can get to the point where it starts to plug the little holes and not let water into the toilet bowl when you flush.

This in turn will not allow enough water into the toilet to give it a proper flush, and will either plug your toilet or not get everything through and out of your toilet, causing you to have to flush again. Another little tip that I have learned in my 20+ years in the plumbing industry, is that the little cleaning pucks you can put in the back of your tank can cause problems. Now this does not go for all of those pucks but I have found that over time some pucks can cause build up on those little holes or chunks of the puck can come off and get lodged in the holes causing the holes to become plugged as well.

Soften that Water

Along with cleaning your toilet, another way to combat against the hard water build up is to have a water softener installed. If you have a water softener already, make sure that it is softening the water that goes to your toilets. As recently as ten to fifteen years ago, it was common practice in the plumbing industry to not include toilets in the fixtures the softened water serviced in a home. The reason for this is that toilets used to use as much as 19 liters per flush! This put a huge burden on the water softening system so plumbers simply by-passed the toilets. The pros outweighed the cons. As we never actually touch the water that is in the toilet, it is not hard on our skin (the main purpose for soft water). Today however, the majority of toilets in homes are low flush and can flush a toilet with as little as 1.6 liters! Given the low volume of water that we now flush, it is more practical to include toilets in our water softening systems. This will reduce the water hardness build up and prolong the life of your toilet.

The Jet

The next tip also has to do with the hard water we use. In most toilets there is a hole at the bottom of the toilet bowl that we call a jet. This propels water into the bowl when the toilet is flushed causing a vacuum action that sucks all of the liquid and waste out of the toilet bowl. This jet over time can also get plugged with mineral build up. If this happens, the jet is no longer able to propel water into the toilet with enough force to create the vacuum action. This in turn will not allow the toilet to flush properly and will either leave waste in the bowl, not allow the toilet to flush at all, or cause the toilet to become plugged.

When the time comes to replace your toilet remember this: you get what you pay for. This is so true for toilets. If you purchase a $100 toilet, your toilet will flush like a $100 toilet. If you purchase a $1000 toilet your toilet will flush like a $1000 toilet. Most toilets look the same on the outside but it is what is on the inside that counts. The size of the inlet, the size of the outlet, the finish on the inside of the toilet that we can’t see, whether it is smooth or rough, the design and engineering , flushing mechanism and amount of bends or degree of bends, all determine how well a toilet will flush.

Did you know that the average person spends 159,870 minutes or 2664 hours or 111 days with a toilet in their lifetime? I hope these little tips and tricks will help you have many hours of enjoyment and use from your toilet.

Sincerely, Brham Trim Professor of Plumbing