Toilet Troubles: Curing Common Toilet Problems

Toilets give years of dependable and often maintenance-free service, so when problems arise, some homeowners don’t know what to do. Mechanically speaking, toilets are pretty simple devices, which is why they don’t often develop serious problems. Here are a few common toilet problems Boston homeowners may encounter, and what you can do to solve them.

Clogs. Most residential toilets use a traditional gravity fed design. The water pressure from the tank on the back of the toilet fills the bowl and pushes the waste material down a trapway and into the soil pipe. If the toilet is clogged, the bowl may not clear properly, or at all. In this case, use a toilet plunger to clear the obstruction. The plunger will put additional pressure on the material in the trapway and force it into the soil pipe. You shouldn’t have to plunge more than once or twice to clear a simple clog.

If the trapway is clogged because an object has become lodged in it, you have a couple of viable options. If you don’t care about the lodged object, you may be tempted to try to push it through to the soil pipe, using a plunger or a toilet snake. Keep in mind that you may be setting yourself up for a clog in your soil pipe or worse, your main drain.

If the object is something you want back, (like your car keys) or something that simply won’t budge (like a toothbrush or a razor), you’ll need some tools and a new wax ring because you’re going to take the toilet off to remove the obstruction.

To remove the toilet, turn off the water supply and flush to clear the water from the bowl. Using hand tools, detach the fresh water tank and set it in the bathtub. Any excess fresh water in the tank will drain in the tub, and will reduce the cleanup.

To remove the stool, loosen the bolts near the floor that hold the toilet fixture onto the flange. Again, you’ll only need common hand tools. Be careful not to turn the bolt the wrong way. If you do, you may overtighten the bolt and damage the toilet, the bolt or the flange.

Carefully remove the toilet from the flange. Remove the old wax ring. (Don’t attempt to re-use this.) Locate the stuck object and remove it. Position the new wax ring on the bottom opening of the toilet’s trapway. The wax side goes against the toilet, and the neoprene seal will go into the soil pipe. Reposition the toilet over the soil pipe and line up the screw holes with the flange. You may want a helper at this point to reposition the toilet properly. Also, toilets weigh about 50 pounds. If you can’t dead lift and control that much weight, you’ll definitely want help!

When the toilet is in position, gently sit on the toilet to press the wax seal against the flange. You may want to rock the fixture slightly while you’re sitting on it to improve the seal. Stand up carefully and avoid moving the fixture. Replace the flange bolts. Replace the tank and reconnect the water. Flush the toilet to check for leaks around the soil pipe. If it leaks out the bottom when you flush, you may need to start over with a new wax ring.

Next week, I’ll talk about other common flushing problems and how to resolve those.