New Apartment Toilet Quandaries
November 12, 2016 5:30 PM   Subscribe

I have moved into a new apartment and am highly suspicious of the toilet -- it has a weak flush and does this sort of ponderous overfilling (but not overflowing) and slooow swirling drain during the flush.

I asked maintenance to take a look, and he immediately tried snaking it out with an auger. There didn't seem to be anything to dislodge and he thought the lazy flush was normal for the building.

After some googling, I found out that the issue could be caused by a worn out wax ring -- there's a faint sewer smell from beneath the toilet as well, which is one of the possible signs of that issue.

Is that a thing you can ask maintenance to fix, particularly after they just said the toilet was fine? It hasn't technically broken yet, but the whole thing seems ominous and like some upsetting toilet drama is coming. Wax ring replacement seems to involve removing the toilet (!) but is otherwise quick and inexpensive (I think)... I'm not comfortable attempting it myself in a rented unit, however.

Also, is it possible I'm wrong about the issue/being paranoid? It's an old building so that could just be life with this place's plumbing, but it would be nice to fix it if it's fixable.
posted by space snail to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Typically if a wax ring fails you will have water on the floor. It seals the outlet of the toilet to the flange at the top of the waste pipe.
posted by rudd135 at 5:57 PM on November 12, 2016

Could be your fill valve or flapper. There are some resources online, which will help you diagnose. This does not sound like a wax ring issue (which is a leak, but not a bad flush)
posted by walkinginsunshine at 6:02 PM on November 12, 2016

There is a hole at the back of the down pipe in the ceramic toilet. Look for it. It is a siphon break, so the toilet water will drop fast enough to vacate. The hole might be just hard to see, but a screw driver will clear the minerals that fill it. This hole is usually 1/2 or less. Look at a schematic of a toilet to see where I mean. It is in the main basin on the way out. Be careful with the driver, because the porcelain can break if you use too much force.

The reason the little hole is there, is to let air release the suction so the waste water dumps quickly into the sewer line.
posted by Oyéah at 6:55 PM on November 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

What's the "down pipe?" Can you point it out on a labeled diagram?
posted by space snail at 8:22 PM on November 12, 2016

The down pipe is the exit in the bottom of the toilet, where the crap goes down. Just put this sentence in your uppermost search bar. picture of toilet siphon break hole then you will see a gazillion toilet bowls and among them you can see a half inch hole in the main toilet drain you look down, when you look into your toilet bowl.
posted by Oyéah at 9:02 PM on November 12, 2016

have you tried holding the lever down until it's fully flushed? does that make a difference with the overfilling?
posted by Amanda B at 10:25 PM on November 12, 2016

Another possibility to investigate is a scale buildup on the jets under the rim of the toilet bowl where the water goes into the bowl (this happened to me recently and it drove me crazy trying to figure out what was going on), especially if you have hard water. It makes the water come in slowly, and then drain very slowly with low pressure.

When it happened to me I cleaned them with a small stiff brush and white vinegar a few times, and used a small mirror to be able to see under and make sure I had removed all the scale. The internet offers a few variations on that advice (some say use a wire to poke each hole open, some say use regular toilet cleaner, etc.), but basically you just need to get the scale off.

Anyway, probably worth getting a mirror and taking a look to see if that might be the problem since it's a relatively easy fix.
posted by rafaella gabriela sarsaparilla at 5:17 AM on November 13, 2016

Thanks for the ideas so far!

Found the siphon break hole and tried clearing it but there didn't seem to be any significant deposits.

I saw a lot of sources online talking about the jets, but that didn't seem to fit the picture of the filling level being really high. To me, the fill seems fast and the flush seems slow. I checked them out with a mirror and they didn't look blocked to me.

Holding the lever seems to strengthen the flush but doesn't prevent it from filling nearly to the top before it flushes. It also runs for kind of a long time (in my opinion) after flushing, but not indefinitely. Could it be a flapper issue based on the fact that holding the lever down helps?

Some sites seem to recommend raising the water levels to strengthen the flush, so I am now wondering if the float level in the tank was set really high (intentionally) as a bandaid for a weak flush.
posted by space snail at 8:14 AM on November 13, 2016

space snail: "Wax ring replacement seems to involve removing the toilet (!) but is otherwise quick and inexpensive (I think)... I'm not comfortable attempting it myself in a rented unit, however."

While it is a relatively straight forward task 9 times out of 10 it can be a real nightmare the other times involving built up sewage, replacement of pipes, and repairs to the floor so definitely not something you won't to undertake on your own in an apartment rental.

rudd135: "Typically if a wax ring fails you will have water on the floor. It seals the outlet of the toilet to the flange at the top of the waste pipe."

Not necessarily; the geometry of the flange and toilet can mean water would need to back up in the sewer pipe to leak out the flange even when an incomplete seal is allowing sewer gas out.
posted by Mitheral at 8:43 AM on November 13, 2016

What type of toilet is it? Could it be one of those horrible older "low flow" toilets?
posted by radioamy at 11:51 AM on November 13, 2016

It's an "American Standard" and the tank says "F-4040" .. no idea if it's low flow.
posted by space snail at 8:06 PM on November 14, 2016

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