How do I treat a toilet that won't be used for months?
December 25, 2014 6:12 PM   Subscribe

Toilet not being used for months. How do I keep it from getting gross?

We have an in-law apartment in our new home where my parents live. They're going to Florida for the rest of the winter and their toilet will not be used for 3 months.

We noticed that during the two weeks that our house was unoccupied before we moved it, the pink slime ring (with some black spots) showed up pretty heavily and it took a near act of God to get rid of it.

Is there anything I can do to ensure that this doesn't happen to a much worse extent while they're gone for 3 months? Would pouring marine anti-freeze into the tank and bowl help?

I don't want to necessarily try to drain it. The gaskets in the tank will dry out and it's really not possible to drain a toilet bowl completely...
posted by Thrillhouse to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Since you're not worried about freezing, you're worried about mold growth, I would consider bleach. However, bleach is corrosive and sitting in your plumbing for months could cause problems. My preferred solution would be that when you go in once a week or so to water their plants or take in their mail, you pour in some bleach on your way in and flush the toilet on your way out.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:16 PM on December 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm not completely certain but maybe pouring bleach in the water will prevent the ring.
posted by BeSumr at 6:17 PM on December 25, 2014

Yup, bleach. Cheap and cheerful. A quick splash in the bowl (the tank...well, look at your tank, it's kind of yukky too.)

Flush and go.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:21 PM on December 25, 2014

I'd go with vinegar in the tank if you're worried about that, bleach will eat the rubbery bits. A cup or two of white vinegar in the bowl would probably work, too, although the smell will be pretty strong.
posted by dilettante at 6:32 PM on December 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

Turn off the water valve, flush the toilet and drain the tank...then pour a bucket of water into the bowl to flush it should pretty much stay empty at that point...clean the bowl and turn the water valve back on when you're ready to use it again... (edit...oops, didn't read that you didn't want to drain it..but...That's what I would do, and what a lot of folks around here with summer cottages do every winter...)
posted by HuronBob at 7:46 PM on December 25, 2014

I'd toss some bleach into the bowl, would not put it into the tank.

You could probably use some other kinds of sanitizing agents besides chlorine bleach, but it's by far the cheapest, and at the concentration you'd be using I don't think it'd be a hazard to the plumbing. When in the bowl it'll only contact the ceramic anyway. (If it's a colored toilet I suppose it might bleach it a bit, but your water is likely chlorinated anyway so if that was going to happen it would probably have happened already. I've seen it in some older toilets but I think modern toilets don't have that issue.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:47 PM on December 25, 2014

What about throwing some denture tablets into the bowl and cistern.

They are recommended for cleaning stains - maybe they could help prevent them?
posted by insomniax at 8:07 PM on December 25, 2014

Don't put bleach in the tank! It will break down the flapper if it's rubber and create a slow leak (background: My house is empty for 3 months every year and I have had to replace all my flaps after a bleach/tank learning experience). I have a friend come by to check on the house and flush every 3-4 weeks to keep all the seals moist and happy since I live where it's hot and dry so the water will evaporate. I have asked him on occasion to run a brush and cleaner around the bowl, but I feel bad asking someone to clean my toilets, so mostly I come home and have to throw every cleaner at it to kill the pink and black mold in there.
posted by cecic at 8:45 PM on December 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Make sure it's clean when they leave. Then, flush it once a week. You'll see pretty quickly if it's getting gross. If so, just bring some bowl cleaner and a brush and leave them in there.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:14 PM on December 25, 2014

Marine anti-freeze is really if you want to keep pipes from freezing. I deal with this a few times a year (vacation house I deal with that has ... seven toilets ... and is empty for months at a time) and here is what I heave learned.

- clean it well after the last person has left
- keep lids down to keep mice and other critters out
- no bleach, bleach eats seals
- might as well turn the water off just in case there's a slow leak if you pay for water
- your tank is gross, don't bother trying to clean it at all
- if it's right next door just flush the toilet every week or so and resign yourself to a thorough scrubbing once folks get back and ignore it the rest of the time

My feeling is that it's easier to just scrub the hell out of them when I get back than it is to do basically anything else as intermediate steps. YMMV of course.
posted by jessamyn at 9:45 PM on December 25, 2014

>Would pouring marine anti-freeze into the tank and bowl help?

Yes, that would work for all the problems you cite, and one more: it will also prevent water from evaporating from the bowl and trap, and keep the toilet gas-tight against infiltration from the sewer.

For the killer cleaning problems on toilets (hard water, mold, algae, etc), you cannot beat a pumice block. Pumice completely removes the job from the realm of gods and ensures success for diffident primates.
posted by the Real Dan at 9:56 PM on December 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ok, so, I may be reading this question differently from everyone above. From my reading, the in-law suite where said toilet is located is, in fact, in your home. Where you live. And where you will be able to, once a week or so, go and flush. Why not just do that?
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 10:00 PM on December 25, 2014 [7 favorites]

Pumice sounds like a good way to damage the finish on a toilet. I would only try it as a last resort.
posted by ryanrs at 3:01 AM on December 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

White vinegar is a great way to kill many kinds of mold, and it does no damage to the toilet or tank. I'd go with that.
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:13 AM on December 26, 2014

FYI, I wasn't recommending leaving bleach in the tank, or even putting it in. Just saying that lots of tanks have some mold.

But my plumber told us not to use 2000 Flushes in the tank because it has bleach and it will eat the rubber in there.

Sorry if I was unclear.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:52 AM on December 26, 2014

Don't do anything to the tank.

What you got in the bowl was mold and probably a touch of algae, from water sitting still with no airflow. A small amount of bleach or toilet cleaner swished into the bowl water will probably hold you for a couple weeks at a time.

Since this place is attached to your house, you need to go in there and make sure nothing's leaking or catching on fire periodically anyway. Flush the toilet and give it a squirt of cleaner when you do.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:20 AM on December 26, 2014

Ryanrs, the pumice block sold specifically for cleaning porcelain does not damage the finish on modern porcelain toilets.
Reassuringly, the block is very soft, and the pumice is ground rapidly into a fine, dark powder as you scrub.
I use something like this, but cheaper and without the handle. Someone please ask me how hard my water is :-)
posted by the Real Dan at 12:27 PM on December 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am away from my home in freeze-y Maine. There is marine/ rv anti-freeze in the toilet. Walmart has it.
posted by theora55 at 8:26 AM on December 27, 2014

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