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Common Toilet Problems, Part 2

Last week, I talked about a common plumbing problem Boston homeowners may face, the venerable clog. Most clogs are caused by attempting to flush too much material through the trapway. These kinds of clogs can be relieved with plunging. In other cases, an object becomes lodged in the trapway and can cause problems with slow flushing and clogging.

Today, I’ll talk about another common problem that can cause poor flushing performance: mineralization. If you’ve ever looked at the inside of a toilet (and most people haven’t) you’d see small openings around the top rim, along with one larger opening near the front of the bowl. This opening is also under the rim and isn’t very visible if you simply look in the toilet while standing over it.
These outlet ports, along with the larger rim hole allow the fresh water from the tank to drain into the bowl during the flush cycle. The ports are small to ensure that fresh water flows all the way around the toilet bowl throughout the flush cycle.

Normally, the ports are pretty effective, but mineralization, a build-up of naturally occurring calcium and lime in the water, can clog them. The result is a slow, ineffective flush. Regular cleaning under the rim can prevent the outlet ports from becoming clogged, but occasionally the ports will clog no matter what you do.

Cleaning the rim hole and outlet ports will often restore the quality of the flush. You can do this mechanically with a stiff brush. Mineralization build-up is hard so you may need to work at it a bit to dislodge it. You can use a wire brush, but be careful, since the wire can damage the porcelain.

Other “home” remedies can also remove mineralization but they don’t tend to work well in the toilet. You can make a thick paste using baking soda and a little water. Apply the paste under the rim to the outlet ports and let it sit for a few minutes. Flush to clear the outlet ports. You can also rescrub the outlet ports to see if the mineral build-up has softened at all. Vinegar is also good at dissolving mineral build-up, but it takes longer to work (15-30 minutes) and holding vinegar in the rim for that long is an unlikely proposition.

Some people suggest using muriatic acid to clear the ports, but this isn’t a safe prospect. Muriatic acid is very strong, it can burn your skin and the vapors are harmful to your lungs. You’d need a significant amount of protective gear, including clothing and hand protection, safety goggles and a respirator mask to work with this solution in a small space. You’re better off scrubbing.

If you’re having problems with a toilet and can’t seem to get to the bottom of it, contact us as Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating anytime at (617) 288-2911.

In my next post, I’ll talk about piping materials that you may find around your home.

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