Plumbing Concerns: Common Causes For Lazy Flush

Rather than replacing your toilet because it flushes poorly, try diagnosing the cause to find a remedy.

No one wants to deal with a broken toilet, especially one that will not flush completely. People assume that when "lazy flush" starts happening, it is time to buy a new toilet. However, there are several causes for this condition, most of which can be easily remedied in a day or less. If you find that your toilet bowl does not drain as it should, review the following suggestions to diagnose the cause. With this information, you will be able to return your toilet to proper working order.

A common cause for "lazy flush" has to do with the speed at which water flows from the tank into the bowl. Rapidly rushing water is necessary for the contents of the bowl to be carried completely down the pipes and into the septic tank or sewer. Otherwise, debris will momentarily disappear only to surface again once the handle is released. To find out if this is the problem with your toilet, begin by taking off the tank lid and looking inside. As you flush, the valve should stay opened until the tank is almost completely empty. If it does not, it is necessary to replace the flapper, ball, and chain. Once installed, make sure that the chain is only long enough to allow the flapper to close. A chain with too much slack will allow water flow to stop prematurely, resulting in a weak flush.

Within the tank, other problems can exist that will sabotage flushing. One such issue is the water level, which should be as high as possible without spilling over into the overflow pipe. Look at the back of the tank to find the appropriate water level mark, and adjust the float bar so that it sits at this level. This will allow the tank to refill more after every flush before draining of excess water begins. By taking these steps, you will likely fix the problem.



Many times, poor flushing is the result of the things we put into our toilets. As trivial as it seems, highly absorbent fluffy toilet paper is a common culprit. Once it enters the drain, it swells considerably, building up in layers until water can no longer flow through the pipes. Try switching to a thinner brand to resolve your problem. Alternately, certain sanitary supplies can hinder water movement. Blue tablets designed to sanitize water dissolve in the tank, thickening the water substantially. Thus, too little water flows out of the tank even when the flapper is working properly. Stop using these tabs and flush several times to see if your "lazy flushing" problem is solved.

Several flushing problems are linked to buildup of mineral deposits. Almost every home without a water softener is prone to this rock-like residue, which sticks to every surface through which water flows. Begin by using a small mirror to look at the water holes under the rim as well as the jet near the base of the bowl. If you see a gray rocky substance, you have mineral deposits that need to be removed. Turn off the water and flush the toilet to empty the bowl, using a sponge to remove any remaining moisture. Next, cover the rim holes and jet with strong duct tape. Now you can pour vinegar, which will break up the minerals, into the tank's overflow valve. Leave this to work for up to a day, removing the tape and turning the water supply back on when you are finished. Flushing the toilet again should result in increased water flow since the pipes will no longer be clogged.

Scale buildup, which looks like a dingy brown/yellow coating on the bowl, can also hinder flushing. While you can scrape it off where it is visible, it can also coat the pipes that are out of reach. For this reason, you may have to resort to using acid to remove scale. Plumbers recommend following the above steps to achieve a completely dry bowl. You can then use muriatic acid (a chemical commonly used for etching metal), pouring three to four ounces down the overflow pipe and the rest into the bowl. Cover the entire toilet with plastic wrap and allow the acid to sit for at least a day. Now you can turn on the water supply, and your toilet should work properly again. Remember to use extreme caution with the acid, following all of the manufacturer's directions to avoid injury.

If none of these suggestions solve your toilet trouble, it is possible that something has fallen into the bowl that is preventing proper drainage. Children love dropping toothbrushes and coins into the bowl, which can block the flow of water. If you find that a clog cannot be fixed with a plunger or toilet auger, this is likely your problem. Remove the toilet from the floor and attempt to pull out the foreign object. You will have to replace the toilet if the foreign object is out of reach. If it is not visible, look at the drain on the floor for possible blockages. Those that are not in view will need to be cleared by a professional. Tree roots often block up drains in this way, as they are strong enough to penetrate underground plumbing. Call your plumber to have them removed. If all else fails, request that they clear the main vent line, which runs from the roof down to the toilet, with a professional-grade snake.

In conclusion, resist the urge to panic if your toilet stops flushing as it should. While replacement is occasionally necessary, it is more often than not a cheap and simple matter to fix the problem yourself. In fact, only about fifty percent of the time is a plumber even needed to do the job. Take the time to find the source of your "lazy flush" before you run to the hardware store for a new throne. By diagnosing the cause, you can maintain your toilet so that it will last for years.

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