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Best Way To Clean Your Toilet? Read This!

No one likes cleaning the toilet. Let’s face it; it’s an unpleasant job. The in-tank toilet cleaning products might seem very attractive, especially if you’re looking for a way to save time and avoid having to clean the toilet. Boston homeowners should consider this when selecting toilet-cleaning products: not all toilet cleaners are created equal, and what saves time might end up costing you more money in toilet repairs and wasted water.

Most toilets use a flapper mechanism to flush material into the waste pipe. Tank based toilet cleaners, which include very harsh chemicals, tend to deteriorate the flapper valve of a toilet, reducing its life expectancy by as much as 75%. A leaking flapper valve will increase the amount of water being consumed by the fixture and will reduce or eliminate any water-saving the toilet design might otherwise offer.

Toilet flapper valves are made of rubber, which cannot withstand the chemicals used in in-tank cleaning products. If you don’t mind replacing the flapper valve every few years, these products may save you a few minutes, but without regular maintenance on the flapper valve, you’ll increase your water consumption and end up spending more on water over the life of the fixture. If you’ve paid more for a water-saving toilet design, you’ll also increase the amount of time it takes to recover the cost of your investment.

The biggest offenders among tank-based cleaners are the slow-release, drop-in tablets that have become so popular. Chemical-related flapper valve failure is not a recent discovery. Toilet manufacturers have known for at least 20 years that cleaning chemicals that are dispensed from the tank will significantly reduce the life expectancy of a flapper valve.

Valve manufacturers responded by making flapper valves that are more durable and better able to resist the damage caused by tank-based cleaning chemicals. That would be good news for consumers, if the companies that make tank-based cleaning products hadn’t also improved their products! Even with improved flapper valve materials, testing revealed that none of the newer materials could withstand a particular type of tank-based toilet bowl cleaning tablet (Vanish).

Consumers also may contribute to increased water usage when they attempt to correct a leaking flapper valve. Replacement flapper valves don’t always come from the manufacturer, which means that the replacement parts may not provide the same water-saving performance that OEM parts do. The results of using an incorrect replacement flapper valve may be somewhat surprising. Using the wrong valve may correct the leaking problem, but it may also double or in some cases nearly triple the water consumption per flush of a low-flow fixture!

The lessons here are two-fold. If you have a water-saving toilet (one that uses 1.6 gallons per flush or less), and it has a flapper valve, consider the use of tank dispensed toilet bowl cleaners carefully, as they have been shown in some cases, to degrade the durability of the flapper valve significantly. Second, if you have a low-flow toilet and you want to replace the flapper valve, choose your replacement carefully! If you can, purchase an OEM flapper valve that’s made specifically for your toilet model. Doing so will help preserve the water-saving quality of the toilet – which may have been the reason you chose your particular toilet in the first place!

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Replacing The Wax Ring On Your Toilet (Buy Two)

Removing and replacing the toilet sounds easy enough, but homeowners often have difficulty getting the wax ring properly seated. A bad seal is a disaster, so this part of the repair has to be right!

Toilets can be very heavy and difficult to maneuver. You won’t be able to see the soil pipe while you’re moving the toilet and may not know exactly where to put the toilet down. In short, it doesn’t take much to goof up the wax ring when you’re trying to reseat the stool. That being said, my great DIY tip for replacing the wax ring is “buy two.” If the flange bolts on your toilet were rusty or you had to cut them to get the toilet away from the floor, buy a new set when you buy the wax ring(s). (They’re standard and they’re inexpensive.)

The wax ring goes on the toilet. (Don’t try to seat the wax ring in the soil pipe and then set the toilet on top of it.) Press the wax ring in place with the neoprene funnel pointing toward you.

Put the new flange bolts in place. You’ll find slots in the flange where the bolt heads should slip in. Use the plastic “washers” that come with the bolts to hold them in place while you position the toilet.

The base of the toilet is heavy (50 pounds or more) and it helps to have a second person around to guide you while you position the toilet on top of the new bolts. If you don’t have a helper, use some kind of indicator on the floor to help you see the flange bolts. The indicators could be string, screwdrivers, chalk marks, pencils … just something to point the way. Line your markets up exactly where the flange bolts exit the flange, but far enough away from the flange to stay out of the way. If you’ve capped the soil pipe with a rag or other cover, remove it at this point.

Maneuver the toilet into place. Do not set the toilet down anywhere but on the flange bolts. The wax on the ring is exceptionally soft. If you set the toilet down for any reason or you miss your mark, you’ll goof up the wax ring and you’ll need to start over. (Remember: “buy two.”)

Once you have the toilet in place and on the flange bolts, carefully sit on the toilet. Your body weight will press the wax ring around the flange. Shift your weight carefully to ensure a good wax seal around the flange.

Tighten the nuts around the flange bolts slowly and carefully. Work on both sides of the toilet by tightening one nut gently on one side, then shifting to the other side to tighten the other nut a little bit. Alternate sides until the fixture is securely bolted to the floor on both sides. There’s no need for power here so take your time and tighten the nuts gently.

Flange bolts are much longer than they need to be. Use your hacksaw to cut off the unneeded length of the bolt. You may need to check the nuts after you’ve sawn through the bolts to verify that they’re still tight. Put the plastic bolt caps back on.

Reconnect the tank and the water supply, check for leaks and fill the tank. Flush the toilet and check again for leaks around the floor. If you have none, you’re done!

You can apply bathroom caulk around the base of the toilet, but don’t completely seal the base. Leave a little discreet opening somewhere. This will allow any leaking water to escape and reveal itself before significant damage occurs.

Leaking Toilets 2 (or "Grouchy Homeowner, Hidden Water Damage")

In my last post, I tackled the subject of leaking toilets. No one, including plumbers, likes a leaking toilet. The “good” leaks are ones that involve the tank. Making adjustments or replacing simple hardware can often repair them. Best of all, you’re dealing with clean water.

Now for the messy leaks:
A leak can also occur if the tank cracks or if the connection between the tank and the stool is broken, cracked or not sealed properly. On a two-piece toilet, you can replace just the cracked tank, however many people choose to replace the entire toilet. If the bowl is cracked, you’ll need to replace it, even if it isn’t apparently leaking. A cracked toilet stool is unsanitary, unsafe to sit on, and poses a health hazard. New toilets range in price from about $100 to thousands of dollars, so choose a toilet that fits both your budget and your bathroom.

If the toilet isn’t cracked, but seeps water from underneath it when you flush, the wax ring on your toilet may be deteriorated, broken or dislodged. The wax ring may also need to be replaced if your toilet constantly emits a sewerish, foul odor. Wax rings are inexpensive and can be found at hardware and home improvement stores. The wax ring, which may include a neoprene “funnel”, seals the toilet fixture to the soil pipe. It’s an integral part of most residential toilet designs. You can’t get by without one, and you can’t reuse an existing ring.

To replace the wax ring, you’ll need to shut off the water and flush the toilet to drain it. You may need to use a plunger to get the rest of the water out of the bowl. Disconnect the supply lines from the toilet. Unbolt the toilet from the floor. If the flange bolts (sometimes called “Johnny bolts”) are rusted, that may be a telltale sign of hidden water damage. If you can’t get the toilet unbolted due to rust, you may need to use a hacksaw to cut the bolts apart. Lift the stool off the pipe. You can “cap” the soil pipe with a rag or overturned bucket while you have the toilet fixture removed.

Remove the old wax/neoprene ring on the bottom with a putty knife or something similar. You’ll need to remove all of the old wax to ensure a good seal. Likewise, remove any old wax from the soil pipe.

Examine the floor around the toilet. Use the tip of a screwdriver or your putty knife to check for softened wood. If the leak has caused a lot of water damage, or has been active for a long period of time, you’ll need to repair the floor before you re-install the toilet. Depending upon the extent of the damage, you may need to replace the surface flooring, the underlayment or even the subfloor! Check the integrity of the floor joists around the damaged area to determine whether they’re still sound. Complete any floor repairs before trying to reset the toilet. Be sure to extend your flooring right up to the soil pipe.
In my next post, I’ll discuss replacing the wax ring and repositioning the toilet on the soil pipe.

Spotting Hidden Water Damage, Part 3: Leaking Toilets

In the last couple of posts, I’ve written about hidden water damage from faucets and drains. There are other sources of water damage from leaks. Today’s post will look at leaking toilets

Spotting hidden water damage from a leaking toilet can be a bit more difficult, depending upon what’s leaking and where the water’s going. When you’re lucky, the toilet tank may be overfilling, In this case, the excess water is shunted down an overflow tube and into the soil pipe. No water damage, but you’ll want to adjust the float in the toilet tank to shut off the refill flow sooner, mainly to avoid wasting water. If the flush mechanism isn’t sealing the bottom of the tank properly, you may need to replace a valve, the flush chain, or make a few adjustments inside the tank.

Water can also condense on the outside of the toilet tank causing water to drip on the floor. The condensation is a product of a large difference in temperature between the water in the tank and the air temperature in the bathroom. The condensation can add to an already-damp atmosphere. It can also soak carpets and cause water damage to floor tiles and other flooring surfaces.

There’s not much you can do about the temperature of the water filling the tank, but you can insulate the tank itself with a tank cover to inhibit condensation. Be sure to use a cover that’s designed to fit your toilet and make sure the tank is covered all the way to the water line. Use an exhaust fan to circulate the air in the bathroom. This may help reduce the difference between the outside air temperature and the inside water temperature. Finally, consider using a small dehumidifier to draw moisture out of the air.
In my next post, I’ll tackle the messy leaks – those that involve removing or replacing the wax ring or repositioning the toilet on the soil pipe.