Toilet Troubles – Catching The Phantom Flusher
DEAR TIM: I am having toilet troubles. Every toilet in my house seems to have a different problem. The second floor toilet fills with water every 4 hours or so without being flushed. The powder room toilet just doesn't flush well. Once flushed, water doesn't seem to leave the bowl area quickly like it did when it was new. The basement toilet moans, groans, and whistles as it fills with water after each flush. Is it time to apply for a loan and call in the plumber? Veronica D., Crown Point, IN
DEAR VERONICA: Don't go to the bank just yet. Believe it or not, each one of those toilet problems can be fixed by a determined homeowner. In fact, I once helped a woman fix a toilet by just giving her simple instructions over the telephone. She succeeded and saved herself some significant money by not calling in a plumber. Keep in mind that a few states have exceedingly restrictive plumbing codes. I know it sounds crazy, but if you live in one of these states, you may not be legally permitted to perform simple repairs on your own toilets. Check your local building department to see if you are permitted to make minor toilet repairs.
Let's start at the top and work down. Your second floor toilet is often referred to as a phantom flusher. You think it has flushed because you here the toilet tank filling with water. No ghosts or goblins flushed the toilet. The ball cock valve in the tank turned itself on because the water level in the tank dropped. This happens because the rubber flapper valve in the bottom of the tank wears out or deforms and doesn't seat properly.
You can test for this problem very easily. Remove any sanitizing products from your toilet that may color the water. Flush the toilet once or twice so the toilet bowl water and tank water are perfectly clear. After the toilet stops running completely, add 10 drops of green food coloring to the toilet tank water. Check the toilet in 30 minutes and see if the water in the toilet bowl has a green tint. If it has, it is time to install a simple flapper valve repair kit. They are sold at virtually every hardware store, plumbing supply house, and home center.
The powder room toilet may have one or more problems. The sluggish flushing could be caused by a partial blockage in the drain line, a blockage within the toilet, or a mineral deposit buildup within the toilet bowl. Take a few moments and thoroughly clean the toilet bowl. Pour a bucket of water rapidly into the bowl. This will evacuate most of the water in the bowl. Wearing rubber gloves, use a sponge to remove the last traces of water from the toilet bowl. Place a small mirror in the bottom of the toilet so that you can see up into the toilet drain pathway. Look for plastic army men, rubber ducks, hair rollers or anything else that may be lodged at the top of the drain passage.
Watch this video on the Flapper Valve.
If you can't see any obstructions, the toilet bowl rim and the syphon jet hole at the bottom of the toilet bowl may be partially clogged with hard water mineral deposits. Remove the toilet tank lid and lay it flat on the floor. Using a large funnel, pour a gallon of white vinegar into the vertical overflow tube in the center of the toilet tank.The vinegar will dissolve hard water deposits in the small holes that are in the underside of the toilet bowl rim and the larger syphon jet hole in the bowl. Use a toothpick and a Popsicle stick in these holes to help loosen hard water scale. In severe cases, you may need to treat the toilet with vinegar several times over a period of days to see an improvement. If not, it is time to call the plumber for this toilet.
The basement toilet complains as it fills because the ball cock valve is probably past its prime. Older valves have a float ball made from plastic or brass. As the water level in the tank rises, the valve starts to slowly close. When the valves get worn, they start to get noisy. Newer toilet fill valves keep the water running at full capacity until the tank is full. These valves are easy to install and are made to fit just about any toilet. Don't be intimidated by toilet repairs. The insides of a toilet tank look confusing, but in reality they are child's play.