A hard luck tale of hard water
September 5, 2009 3:23 AM   Subscribe

London has hard water, so I've got some questions about my water closet.

While on the plus side, London's water, with about 109 mg of calcium per litre provides about 12% of the recommended daily allowance of that mineral, it seriously causes problems with our appliances.

Its not too difficult to descale appliances using various OTC citrus based products. Typically you dissolve the granules in water and run the mixture through the appliance in question once or twice and its as good as new.

However our water closet is completely different. I purchased this flat in 2001 and the English woman who resided here previously (and hoarded here and went crazy here and died here) never did any maintenance.

The tank in the water closet is now taking almost an hour to refill between flushes. Its not an issue with water pressure; the water closet is on the second floor which is served by dedicated tank hidden away in our study (common for flats on this era, as the East End's old Victorian mains didn't have sufficient pressure to drive water much higher than one story). Also, the shower & sink in the adjoining bathroom, also on the second floor, work fine, if a little slowly - but their inlet pipes are much wider.

I'm competent in woodwork and basic electrical work (since acquiring the flat I've refinished all the floors, laid laminate, built a couple of walk in closets, etc) but know precisely nothing about plumbing, and I don't really have the time to learn unfortunately.

So what can I do to clear presumably clogged water pipes leading into our toilet's tank of limescale?

Just to clarify; I've already seen this question, which deals with limescale in the bowel. I scrub the toilet bowl weekly, use gel dispensers on the sides and "big blue blocks" in the tank so the bowel is very, very clean. Mrs Mutant is very happy with the state of the toilet bowl - it's the tank we're having problems with.

I've popped the lid and taken a look / see, and I'm kind of thinking we're approaching total replacement time here but, being frugal, I'd really rather not.
posted by Mutant to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You are going to break the MeFi translator with this question and your use of the term water closet. Do you mean the cistern tank on top of the toilet or do you mean the holding tank in the airing cupboard?

So what can I do to clear presumably clogged water pipes leading into our toilet's tank of limescale?

If you lift the lid on the loo's tank and fiddle with the lever attached to the ball, you can see if you can improve the flow rate. If that's it, it's a very simple part fix (we just did this). If the flow cannot be improved, then you're going to just have to suck it an call a plumber to see if you need to have your pipes replaced.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:24 AM on September 5, 2009

Best answer: One thing you can do to reduce the limescale problem inside the pipes is to get yourself something like one of these or these, that you fit to the incoming cold water pipe to your flat. It basically keeps the calcium in suspension, so it doesn't deposit as much, and the water is safe to drink. You just wrap the wires round the pipe, so no plumbing required. It does sound rather bonkers (and I'm normally very wary around what sounds like quack science as an engineer), but they do actually work, I know several that people that swear by them down 'ere in limescale dorset.

You can also get chemical softeners using tanks etc so that water goes via them on the way to the rest of the system that swap the calcium ions for sodium which are significantly more effective for mains water (and expensive in the long run), but you're not supposed to drink that water, and you need to replace the tank resin or filter on a regular basis - and you may well need a plumber unless you fancy modifying probably copper piping.

Either system will eventually clear up your tanks and pipework, but it'll take time to disintegrate a large build up; so you may want to some kilrock directly in your flush toilet pressure tank (in your study) and let it sit for a good while. Don't do that if that tank also is used for any drinking water taps though, obviously.
posted by ArkhanJG at 4:35 AM on September 5, 2009

If you really want to throw the big guns at it, something like this water softener is another option (another variation on the chemical treatment approach).
posted by ArkhanJG at 4:46 AM on September 5, 2009

Just to help others who might be able to assist, and to inform the OP - a 'water closet' is simply a toilet, not any particular part of it.
posted by different at 6:19 AM on September 5, 2009

Best answer: Yep. Take off the top of the cistern and monkey with the valve a bit. Pushing the ball down should unleash a torrent. If it doesn't, adjust it by way of the screw. If that doesn't help, it could just be the pipes.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 6:23 AM on September 5, 2009

Best answer: Seconding the previous comment - it may not be a blockage but the valve instead. Here in Oxford we have the same water as London (ugh, terrible) and our cistern was taking 20 minutes to fill. It turned out to be a ceased up valve which a plumber replaced for £10 (yes super cheap, a good honest plumber is a rare find here). I always thought that mineralization was mainly a problem when water is heated, eg kettle or washing machine (although IANAPlumber so that could be totally incorrect)
posted by hibbersk at 6:42 AM on September 5, 2009

Best answer: We have a cal problem here on the island. The cheapest way to decalcify anything is the cheapest vinegar you can buy. Its acidic and calcium build up gets dissolved.
You need to clean either the valve or the pipe. My betting is on the valve. My wife regularily cleans the kettle, showerheads, iron , tap filters etc with vinegar. It works!.
posted by adamvasco at 11:21 AM on September 5, 2009

Response by poster: Ok, this is sort of embarrassing but I'm nothing if not honest.

Of course I'd looked inside before and even pushed down on the balloon when the tank was full. Sure enough, water would come out just not at a high volume.

But today after reading the first batch of responses I looked inside again and, this time, cycled the toilet. When I did so I noticed the ball moved down very, very slightly, about one quarter of an inch. Water dribbled out at a rate that would insure the toilet tank would fill (as we'd noticed in about one hour).

While examining the mechanism I then saw there was a lot of stuff built up on the balloon and the tank wall, and it seemed like this crap impeded motion. I pushed down on the balloon really hard and it broke free. The toilet filled up in about two minutes.

I'm a clean nick and like my toilet bowl sparkling white. Cleaning and scrubbing a lot, I also use two blocks of that stuff that turns the water blue (and prevents in bowl limescale) a month, and a lot of bluish crud had accumulated over the balloon and tank walls. The crud was thick enough to stop the balloon from dropping its full arc.

I drained the tank, cleaned the balloon and tank walls and now its working fine (even if the mechanism is corroded as hell). When flushed the balloon drops the full length, and the toilet refills in about two minutes.

Thanks all for the tips. Especially so for those electrical limescale preventative devices; I might try for our kitchen as looking at their price and what I pay for the OTC citrus descaler, break even for their cheapest device is about one year of limescale buildup.
posted by Mutant at 12:10 PM on September 5, 2009

If you are a toilet bowl cleaning freak (can't believe I typed that) these things from Lakeland do a pretty good job and are cheap.
posted by Megami at 12:45 PM on September 5, 2009

Just coming in here as a soft-born northerner, who had no idea that hard water was the destroyer of worlds until I moved to London, to recommend vinegar as a descaler. I have even used it in the toilet bowl. If you can't submerge the effected item in vinegar (such as taps (facets)), you can soak a j-cloth in vinegar, wrap it around the item, and then cover it with a plastic bag, and hold it in place with elastic bands. Works a treat.
posted by Helga-woo at 5:22 AM on September 7, 2009

1. Move to Boston.
2. Buy a condo(flat to you) with a 1928 13 gallon per flush Enduro toilet from Daly Plumbing Suppy(included with purchase).
3. Enjoy the excess.
posted by Rafaelloello at 11:41 AM on September 7, 2009

I've heard that the blocks of the blue stuff tend to clog up the works and aren't recommended.

For actual hard water problems in our dishwasher that vinegar didn't seem to touch, a cycle of phosphoric acid solution (from the hardware store) followed by a rinse or two really made things sparkling clean.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 1:11 PM on September 8, 2009

« Older Stumped dude tries google. Fails. Asks...   |   A bag for all seasons Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.