Plumbing Tips: Fixing The Slow Flush

Causes of a slow flushing toilet, along with symptoms of each and tips for fixing the problem with simple at-home solutions that may save you the time and money of calling a plumber or buying a new toilet.

At one time or another, virtually every homeowner will experience the frustration of a slow-flushing toilet. Symptoms of this irritating dilemma include a toilet that requires the handle to be held down for the water to completely drain out, a toilet that simply flushes slowly with "burping" at the end of the flush as water fails to refill the basin, and slow refilling of the bowl after flushing. While this problem may seem without remedy to aggravated do-it-yourselfers, don't give up hope yet. There are many possible causes for the problem and just as many simple at-home solutions that may save you the time and money of calling a plumber or buying a new toilet.

This article cannot cover every possible cause of a slow flush, but it does touch on the ten most common causes as well as the methods for fixing each. If you find that none of these match your particular toilet's symptoms, it might be time to contact your local plumber. Also, if the solutions offered seem to in-depth for you or if you feel uncomfortable getting elbow-deep in your toilet, don't feel pressured to do the job yourself. Your plumber is only a phone call away.

The Ten Most Common Causes of the Slow Flush:

1. If you use blue toilet cleaning tablets that create a blue coating on your toilet bowl, you may be unpleasantly surprised to find that these little guys are the cause of many toilet problems. When placed in your tank, they dissolve and settle on the bottom, changing the density of the water and preventing its normal flow. While it may seem impossible for such a small thing to create such a big problem, there is no end to the number of people who have found their toilet bowl cleaner to be the culprit! The way to fix this is to empty all the water out of your toilet's tank, using a sponge to soak up the remaining residue on the bottom. After this, let it fill back up and flush several times. This should get your toilet back to normal. Also, if your cleaning tablet attaches inside the bowl itself, chunks and large particles of it may break off and clog inside the angled water inlet holes under the rim. The solution to this can be found in the next cause.

2. The toilet bowl is filled with water after flushing by means of small angled inlet holes under the rim. These holes commonly become clogged by the buildup of calcite and other mineral deposits over time. Also, they can become stopped up with material that was in the bowl, such as cat litter, cotton balls, or anything else which should not be flushed down a toilet. Fixing this problem is as simple as cleaning out the holes. Often, prodding them with something hard or sharp will do the trick. For more serious clogs, it might help to use white vinegar to dissolve the buildup.

3. Proper flushing takes place when enough water fills the bowl as quickly as possible after flushing. This quick rush of water creates a siphon which carries waste down and out of the bowl. Often this does not happen because the toilet tank is not full enough. Make sure your tank if full of water at least up to the fill line (which should be clearly marked) and as high as possible without flowing over into the overflow pipe. You can raise the water level by raising the float ball arm or making modifications to the clip on the refill valve cup.

4. Scale builds up over time on the surface of the toilet bowl as well as within the water passages that cannot be seen, minimizing the space within which water can flow and slowing the flush. While it is easy to clean away buildup in the bowl by chipping it away, it will most likely be necessary to employ the aid of muriatic acid to clean the inside passageways. Be sure to read all instructions carefully and take proper precautions, such as wearing goggles and protective gloves. Then turn off the water supply, empty the tank of water by flushing it, pour a few ounces of the acid down the overflow pipe, and then pour the remainder of the acid into the toilet bowl. Cover the tank and bowl with plastic wrap, allowing them to sit for 24 hours. After this time, turn the water back on and flush the toilet. Flow should be returned to normal.



5. Another necessity for proper flushing is that water enters the bowl quickly enough. This process may be inhibited by either the flush ball or flapper within the tank. Test them by watching them operate as you flush the toilet. If either one closes too quickly, allowing too little time for the majority of the water to leave the tank, they will need to be replaced. This is a delicate job, so you might feel more comfortable having a professional handle it. However, if you are up to it, there are many easy-to-follow books on the subject. Once installation is complete, remember to adjust the length of the chain so it is just long enough to let down the flapper. Any longer and it will not have proper tension; any shorter and it will not close completely.

6. Probably the most anticipated and most frequently encountered of toilet problems is a clog within the toilet bowl caused by something too big getting stuck on its way down. This is why the two most necessary tools for toilet repairs are a plunger and a toilet auger. When using the plunger, be sure to vigorously and repeatedly plunge, using proper force both while pushing down and while pulling back. If your best efforts are unsuccessful, use the auger by snaking it down into the toilet to dislodge the clog. And if your clog is caused by a larger object, it will probably be necessary to remove the toilet from the floor.

7. If you have removed your toilet from the floor, you will want to look into the drain underneath for the obstructing object. This is the only method of doing the job yourself; an electric auger would be used by a plumber to remove any large object lodged within the drain.

8. A last resort problem may be a clogged main vent line. To determine if yours has a problem, quickly pour a large pot of water into the bowl and flush. If it flushes normally, the vent line if fine; if not, you will want to seek professional help for this difficult and potentially dangerous job.

9. A common urban myth of toilets is that a brick placed in the bowl will save you water by decreasing the amount used per flush. While it's not exactly a lie, there's another side that hasn't been so widely circulated. The brick crumbles away over time and can block the flow of water into and out of the toilet bowl, ultimately ruining it. The only remedy for such clogging is to replace the toilet altogether.

10. While the general rule of toilet paper seems to be that "thicker is better", this may not be the case when it comes to the health of your toilet. Many people have found that a thinner, lighter toilet tissue leads to easier flushing and better toilet function in general. While it might not be the number one factor in your toilet's laziness, it might help perk up its performance in the long run.

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