Have I breathed in something bad for me?
September 3, 2012 7:36 PM   Subscribe

Is my unseated toilet pipe going to kill me somehow overnight?

I'm stripping the wallpaper in my average American bathroom. I went to remove my toilet tank (after all proper drainage/prep steps were taken) and the shifting weight revealed a deteriorated o-ring. After setting tank down, I moved the stool to find that essentially 2/3 of it was rotted into a fine gunk.

Okay, I can replace that. But at current the hardware store is closed and the toilet is sitting to the side of the open pipe. I didn't think this was a problem for some reason and worked in the small-ish bathroom for a couple of hours until I got to the area near the toilet. It suddenly smelled 'off' and I realized that "Hey, this might be a problem."

I jammed a sacrificial towel into the hole but I'm worried that either I've inhaled some levels of badness or poison is seeping around the towel or something.

Googling doesn't reveal much, which I think is heartening. There are warnings about sewer gas, but that's... not this, right?

For what it's worth, I was doing fairly involved cooking work in the kitchen at the same time without incident. I feel my motor and reasoning skills are doing fine.

Am I going to die?
posted by unixrat to Home & Garden (11 answers total)
Best answer: IANAP (I am not a plumber) but this seems highly unlikely to cause any serious problems. Don't sleep with your head next to the open pipe.

Your post is ambiguous about what exactly the problem is. Is it that the O ring between the tank and the stool has deteriorated, or that the wax seal between the stool and the drain pipe flange has deteriorated? If the wax seal is still OK, you can put the stool back on it, tighten the bolts, and then fill the bowl with water from a bucket until you've re-established the water seal that keeps evil vapors from wafting out of the drain.

If it's the wax seal that's bad, you'll need to replace it, but I wouldn't be concerned about problems between now and tomorrow, unless you have the devil's septic system.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:46 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Nope, you did exactly what you're supposed to do. Towel stuffed into the opening, it will stink a little, but you're all good.
posted by shinynewnick at 7:46 PM on September 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It's sewer gas. On a toilet, the trap, which seals the system so sewer gas cannot enter into occupied spaces, is in the toilet itself. On sinks and showers, the trap is separate. At any rate, when you removed the toilet body from the floor, pretty much you have an open port to the sewer. Your sacrificial rag was exactly the right thing to do. There are plugs for more long term (albeit still temporary) situations, but if it's just for a day or a week, even the professional plumbers who work with me will plug a toilet that's getting replaced with any handy rag.
posted by notsnot at 7:46 PM on September 3, 2012

Best answer: You will be okay! But yeah the funky smell is probably some level of sewer gas. If you're in a single family home, this is a different situation than if you are in a multi-story condominium but if I am understanding you correctly it sounds like there is an open pipe that would usually have a water seal between it and you [see this diagram] and without that seal you can smell the sewer gas. Closing it up with a towel in the short term is fine.
posted by jessamyn at 7:49 PM on September 3, 2012

Best answer: You're going to be fine. Picture London in the high middle ages, open sewers and all. The "off" smell you're experiencing is probably one milliLondon worth of stench. (That's not to say open sewers are like some sort of public health advantage, but if it were automatically fatal it wouldn't have been a major city.)
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:49 PM on September 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Hooray!

Yeah, it's the wax ring. (I'll chalk that up to anxiety and not oncoming Sewer Gas Death.)
posted by unixrat at 7:56 PM on September 3, 2012

For further peace of mind, I believe the sewer gas is also generally heavier and would stay near the floor in any case. As stated above, don't sleep in the bathroom tonight.
posted by shinynewnick at 8:16 PM on September 3, 2012

Please put a flag in the waste pipe with the towel. Just a yard stick, or a dowel, or anything else that would prevent you from putting the toilet back... and forgetting to remove the towel!

You really, really don't want to leave it there.
posted by Marky at 10:44 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I didnt realise what a genius invention the modern toilet is until I went to parts of the world where a hole above an open sewer was the norm.

The smell may not kill you, but the stench may put you off your food...
posted by BadMiker at 4:00 AM on September 4, 2012

And if that deteriorated o-ring was a surprise, maybe I can answer an unasked question: never use Drano or the like to unclog as toilet, as it will destroy that o-ring.
posted by Grither at 5:28 AM on September 4, 2012

When we did this during a renovation, we tied a garbage bag over the opening. Seemed to keep almost all of the smell down.

Crack a window if you're really worried.
posted by schmod at 8:35 PM on September 4, 2012

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