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What should I try before I take the plunge and bring in a plumber?
June 11, 2008 9:58 AM   Subscribe

My toilet blocks repeatedly, what to do?

I'm a new home owner so I'm new to this sort of thing, so forgive me if I'm being dumb here. Just recently my downstairs toilet has been getting clogged about once a day. A quick application of teh plunger sorts it out but it's getting a little tiresome. My currnet theory is that there's some kind of partial blockage further down the pipe that is causing clogs to become more common. Is there something I should try doing about this before bringing in a (presumably expensive) plumber?
posted by Artw to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
You can try various chemical solutions. Drano and the like. Sometimes that will clear it right up.

Read the labels carefully and make sure the product applies to your application.

Also, consider switching to single-ply toilet paper. I know it's not the optimal solution, but I once lived in a place where when I used thicker paper it would clog consistently unless I was very careful with how much I used (I dunno, maybe I just use more than the average person?) That problem went away when I switched to thinner single ply.

Again, not the optimal solution, but maybe something to try in a pinch (heh.)
posted by wfrgms at 10:07 AM on June 11, 2008


Is it a low-flow toilet? Some of the older ones are very weak.
posted by doctor_negative at 10:08 AM on June 11, 2008


Pouring in a bucket of very hot/boiling water can sometimes help

Otherwise it's a Plumber's/Toilet Snake/Auger or Rods job... you can probably get hold of one but it can be a messy job. A plumber will probably used a compressed air thing as it's easier/cleaner for them
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:22 AM on June 11, 2008


Before trying chemical solutions (ick) you can fish around with one of these.

It's very satisfying, and it's the first thing a plumber would do..
posted by sondrialiac at 10:23 AM on June 11, 2008


And seconding boiling water.
posted by sondrialiac at 10:24 AM on June 11, 2008


In the past, I've been a natural toilet clogger, so I've studied the topic extensively.

Without bringing in a plumber you can...
-Use thinner/less toilet paper
-Pour a little dish soap into the toilet
-Eat more fiber
posted by drezdn at 10:28 AM on June 11, 2008


The auger will probably set it straight. For future issues all around, I strongly recommend The Virgin Homeowner, which has an explanation of just about everything you're likely to run into in your house and how to maintain it.
posted by plinth at 10:28 AM on June 11, 2008 [3 favorites]


The one-gallon-per-flush toilet is a bad idea whose time has come. Legislators make themselves feel virtuous by revising building codes to require them and forcing apartment building landlords to replace all the toilets, at a cost of hundreds of dollars each, in order to save 10 cents a year in water bills.

To flush at all, a 1 gpf toilet has to have faster water flow, which means smaller pipes, which, as you've found, means constant clogging.

The cure: flush after your first push and again after the second. Of course this means using all the water you're supposedly saving, but better that than leaning over a full bowl with a plunger.
posted by KRS at 10:31 AM on June 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


If you do end up having to call a plumber, locate your house's sewer cleanout first. It's an access hatch (usually and hopefully) outside, between your house and the city's sewer line which the plumber can drop in a bigger and longer snake to ream out any clogs. Your bill will be a little smaller if you don't make your plumber spend 45 minutes stumbling around in your landscaping looking for the cleanout hatch.

If the suggestions above don't work, it's likely tree roots invading the pipe.
posted by jamaro at 10:35 AM on June 11, 2008


Is this recent as in it just started happening, or recent as in you recently moved in? If it's the former, then you might have something partially clogging up the pipe, as I had for a while when a visiting friend accidentally dropped my fiancee's mascara tube into the toilet and didn't notice. So for a while we had to plunge almost every time someone dropped the kids off, but one visit from our super with a toilet snake thing cleared it right up.
posted by Grither at 10:55 AM on June 11, 2008


This is recent as its just started happening. We were prone to frequent blockages, but in the last month or so it's been almost daily.

$50 at Home Depot buys the 6' auger - is that likely to be enough?
posted by Artw at 11:05 AM on June 11, 2008


The house dates back to the 70s. As far as I know most of the plumbing does too.
posted by Artw at 11:06 AM on June 11, 2008


I just want to say that you don't have to live this way. You can have a clog free future. Just buy a new toilet. They are really not that expensive. I remodeled my home recently and installed two Toto toilets and they are the best money I have ever spent. They do not clog, even though they conform to new lower water standards. I believe Gerber also makes a really good flushing toilet. Here is a review. I bought the Drake toilet that it lists there. For $225 you will never have to worry about this again.
posted by bove at 11:34 AM on June 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


That price seems a little steep, but in my experience 6' would be fine, and they're nice to have around the house. I have a 4' one, it seemed to do the trick for a very similar-sounding clog.
posted by sondrialiac at 11:40 AM on June 11, 2008


If it turns out to be something beyond the reach of a 6' might it be worth trying something chemical? Or is it basiclally time to call a plumber?
posted by Artw at 11:44 AM on June 11, 2008


Liquid plumber type chemicals aren't going unclog anything that a 6' snake didn't already dislodge, those caustics get progressively dilute past the u-bend and lose effectiveness. Anything beyond the reach of a through-the-bowl snake is going to require a much longer snake dropped through floor flange (the hole that you see when you remove the toilet seat) or the cleanout outside.

If it is tree roots (and I'm stuck on tree roots because I have a very aggressive set of Italian Cypress which used to clog up my sewer line on an annual basis. The symptoms are a toilet—even fancy-schmancy brand new ones—which clogs more frequently as time passes), ask the plumber for a recommendation for a root inhibitor after his powered snake gnaws through the blockage. It's a liquid that you flush down the john periodically which discourages trees from sending in new rootlets. It's not a permanent fix but will make the plumber's visits less frequent.

BTW, we have a 25' snake. Plenty long but not powerful enough to rip through cypress roots.
posted by jamaro at 12:09 PM on June 11, 2008


Do you have a septic field? We had a daily clogging problem when our septic tank needed emptying. Unfortunately, if that is the case, you have to call in a professional. This is something that needs to be done every so many years, depending on your usage.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 12:36 PM on June 11, 2008


Not that much of a variation on hot water, but we had a short-term (but recurring) clogging problem that hasn't come back since we dumped a lot of water into it fast - filling a bucket and pouring it in in one big slosh, and repeating this a bunch of times. The pressure seemed to push on whatever was causing the blockage.
posted by carbide at 1:14 PM on June 11, 2008


I have roots growing into my main sewer drain that cause lots of clogs. I've had good luck with a device like this (I found mine at Home Depot) -- you put it on the end of a garden hose, run it a few feet down the sewer cleanout, then turn on the water. The bladder expands until it fills the pipe then starts shooting out bursts of high-pressure water.

So much easier than using the snake, in my experience... but maybe I just had a terrible snake.
posted by BaxterG4 at 5:15 PM on June 11, 2008


Have you recently installed any manner of "2000 flushes" sort of thing? Those change the viscosity of the water and lead to lazy flushes. I put one in because I liked the blue water- seemed both modern, sanitary and kitchey all at the same time- and my toilet quit working properly until I removed it.

Failing that, make sure all the guts of the toilet appear to be working- the flapper popping up all the way, and then staying up long enough to empty out most of the water?

If that seems to be working right, check out the water flow coming out of the holes in the commode. Good flow, or lethargic? (put some food coloring in the tank to see the flow properly, if you want) Does the toilet have one of those spouts near the main drain-hole that shoots water right down the drain to start the siphon? Is water coming out of that?

If you're not seeing good flow into the bowl, give it a good scrubbing with one of those brushes that are curved upward that will clean up under the rim of the bowl. And/or run a few tankfulls of CLR or Lime Away. Dump some in the tank, flush it, dump more in the tank and let it sit. Do this once or twice a day for a few days, and that should clear everything up.

If not, get a new toilet.
posted by gjc at 5:33 PM on June 11, 2008


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