Help Me Not Blow Myself Up With Sewer Gas
December 11, 2017 11:47 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to get a plumber, but no one is calling me back with an appointment any sooner than next week. Meanwhile, sewer gas is escaping from the toilet I tried to reinstall. What can I do in the meantime to lower my chance of doom? (or if I'm not doomed, reassurance greatly welcome!)

Things not working about toilet: definitely the valve and supply line are not connected. (found out the first was broken after putting the toilet on.)

Things possibly not working about toilet: I am not super confident about the seal, never having done it before.

Things I have done: poured a little water in the toilet bowl on someone else's advice. Panicked. Tried calling plumbers only for them not to answer or call back. Panicked more. Other people told me sewer gas is lifethreatening. Increased panic.
posted by corb to Home & Garden (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Clingfilm is an emergency solution I've seen deployed for instance to stop the bowl/u-trap from drying out - just cover the top and get plenty of overlap so you get a tighter seal. Clingfilm can also be wrapped around non-sealing junctions.
posted by unearthed at 11:53 AM on December 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

There is zero reason not to at least fill the trap with water. This will seal the opening to the sewer unless the floor seal is not sealed and even then it would only be a tiny opening.
posted by ftm at 11:57 AM on December 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

Stop panicking! Worst case open a window and close the bathroom door.

Gasses won't come from the supply line, only the drain. Toilets have a trap built-in, so if there's water in the bowl it's probably the seal. If you have another toilet in the house, and you don't want to attempt to fix it yourself, I would remove the toilet and just seal up the drain pipe with something until the plumber comes. Plastic and duct tape, maybe.

But I would try to fix it.

Go to Home Depot and get a new wax seal. Remove the old one thoroughly, clean the flange and everything around the seal with a wire brush, put the seal on and carefully lower the toilet onto the bolts so you don't "smudge" the seal.

Don't panic.
posted by bondcliff at 11:58 AM on December 11, 2017 [9 favorites]

Open a window if you can. When the plumber installed the toilet drain, but not the toilet, he just stuffed a rag in it. Use Question 2, or add to this question, some pictures and description of the installation. Do you know anybody who's a builder? They can help.
posted by theora55 at 12:00 PM on December 11, 2017

I would improve/secure the seal temporarily with duct tape, and pour enough water in the toilet bowl to fill the trap. Now your toilet is every bit as safe as it normally is. And if you keep a bucket of water handy to flush, you can also use it.

Getting a new seal is a further possilble improvement, and if you can do that, that would be even better. But for now, duct tape should be okay.

Sewer gas is VERY easy to detect by the smell. People can smell it in concentrations that are way, way too low for any kind of danger to occur. If you can seal and/or ventilate well enough that the bathroom doesn't stink, then you are very safe.
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:02 PM on December 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Send me a memail, I just went through a stupid toilet adventure recently enough that this is fresh in mind.
posted by nixon's meatloaf at 12:03 PM on December 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh, and listen to everybody about how sewer gas is a bummer but not instant death gas, tape (or a fucken towel) around your toilet seal and water in the bowl should prevent gas from getting up into your domicile at gnarly levels
posted by nixon's meatloaf at 12:04 PM on December 11, 2017

My husband (who has been doing renovation for a living for over a decade) recently redid our bathroom, and during the time when there were open sewer pipes in our bathroom, he just used whatever was handy to seal them enough to keep the smell out of our house: rags, duct tape, whatever. And they were open for a bit while he worked. So that says to me it's not really something to worry too much about.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 12:05 PM on December 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

corb, if I can do it, you can do it. You're much more badass than I am. You're going to be ok.

If you're that worried, pull the toilet off the flange again, and just use rags or press and seal or whatever you've got to seal it up. It isn't going to kill you. My friend's toilet wasn't properly sealed or bolted down, and the kittens that lived in that bathroom all survived!

If you have to reposition the toilet, I do suggest getting a foam ring instead of another wax one. Lots more margin for error, and even if you don't use it now, it never hurts to have an extra ring handy.
posted by monopas at 12:11 PM on December 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Things I have done: poured a little water in the toilet bowl

Just in case, you put it in the bowl, not the tank, correct?

Also, if you use anything to seal the drain pipe, make sure you do not lose it down the drain. Be very careful handing tools and other items around an open 4" drain. Ask me how I know.
posted by bondcliff at 12:12 PM on December 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

If there's no water seeping out the bottom, your seal is good enough for now.
posted by monopas at 12:13 PM on December 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sewer gas is not gonna kill you. It just smells like shit.

To seal the terlit, you're going to need a couple quarts of water in the trap. Hell, pour a gallon. That will keep the sewer gas at bay. If none leaks out around the bottom of the toilet, your wax ring is good, too!
posted by notsnot at 12:28 PM on December 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh, and if you're stuck going "what do I do with a toilet full of water if I need to take it off" - they sell little packets of gelatinizers that just go *shoomp* and your once messy toilet bowl full of water turns into a much easier to deal with toilet bowl full of gel.
posted by Kyol at 12:31 PM on December 11, 2017

Call Roto Rooter. They usually have contractors who can come the same day. At least, where I live that has happened.
posted by velveeta underground at 12:32 PM on December 11, 2017

It's not necessarily true that no water leaking indicates a good seal. The water will remain in the toilet trap without draining. The diameter of the drain in the toilet is smaller than the diameter of the floor opening, and the water is not under pressure. So you could essentially have a functioning toilet while still allowing gas to escape out of a faulty wax seal. It's unlikely that the bad seal would be bad enough to really cause harm, but it should still be fixed.
posted by bondcliff at 12:33 PM on December 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

I agree, bondcliff. A poorly done wax seal (along with one of the bolts not having been attatched) is why I pulled a toilet for the first time this summer. Youtube has a lot of good videos about pulling toilets.

I just meant for the moment it is good enough if the water isn't leaking. Assuming that the toilet isn't used in the interim. Which since the valve is non-functional, seems a good bet.
posted by monopas at 12:45 PM on December 11, 2017

And thirded - my basement toilet adventure this summer began when I noticed the floor mat was wet, even though the water level was nominally OK. I have heard that it might be worth buying two wax rings, so they mush down into a single working unit. I just went with the modern no-wax silicone model which seems to have worked, even with the lousy state of my closet flange.
posted by Kyol at 1:01 PM on December 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

And in my case there was no mistaking the possibility of sewer gas coming up out of the toilet flange. I've done plumbing past the trap a fair amount with no noticeable odor, but as soon as I took the toilet off the flange it was the very worst of Satan's halitosis.
posted by Kyol at 1:30 PM on December 11, 2017

Use another wax ring. By two, they are cheap. If you still cannot solve the problem, and you can pull up the toilet, stuff a loosely wadded ball of newspaper into the soil pipe. It will help block the gas and will dissolve fairly easily by when you can again flush.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 1:37 PM on December 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

If there's water in the toilet and you're still getting the odor, it's because the seal is faulty. I agree with those who say use 2 wax rings; a plumber had to do that at my house. If you don't want to add the second seal yourself, you can remove the toilet and block the gasses with a loosely wadded paper or rag.
posted by wryly at 1:59 PM on December 11, 2017

Side thing not related to gas safety: I've been told that the best easy way to get rid of bad bathroom smells is with wooden matches; friends who used to live with an outhouse kept a box of matches inside. The sulfur and smoke works well on sewer gases.

Not nearly as cheap is Ozium, which some hospitals use as part of their cleaning routine; it's a spray with tiny gel particles that stick to the odor particles and let them drop to the floor. Spray, get out of the way for a minute, and then re-enter the area.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 2:34 PM on December 11, 2017

I don't think it's the wax ring; I think the trap is not full of water. The trap is what keeps the gas out of your house, and it only works if it's full of water. If there is no water standing in the bowl, add more until there is.

My clue was your saying the supply line isn't working, and that you added "a little" water. A little is probably not enough. Unless the waste pipe is blocked, you can't add too much water to the bowl; once the trap is full, any more will just drain away. That's what happens when you flush.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:14 PM on December 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

Don't pour a little water in the bowl, pour enough in until it self-flushes. But, yeah sewer gas isn't gonna kill you, nor explode.

ProTip: You can stack 2 wax rings on top of each other if you're having trouble making a seal.
posted by humboldt32 at 3:32 PM on December 11, 2017

I had someone who was really highly recommended install a toilet for me. After taking the old toilet off he poured a couple gallons of water into the pipe and wadded up a bath towel and stuck it in the pipe while he was preparing to put the new toilet on. He warmed the wax ring in his hands over the course of a few minutes of kneading until it was a bit softened. Because my pipe flange was not quite even with the floor, about 1/8in low, he used a thicker wax ring than is standard. He told me that sometimes he uses two wax rings that he softens and fuses together when the floor and the flange height don't agree.

He also told me that the newer waxless seals work very well.
posted by bz at 3:46 PM on December 11, 2017

Okay guys, I have poured in gallons and gallons of water so that it has self-flushed multiple times. I have also closed the door. I will report back to you guys if this solves the sewer gas leak: I also cannot tell you how much I appreciate everyone, publicly and privately, telling me that I am not going to die and this is totally survivable until it can be fixed.
posted by corb at 4:09 PM on December 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

Er: closed the door so that the smell can intensify if it is still a problem, not because I think that it magically solves things. I feel the need to clarify. Thanks everyone once again.
posted by corb at 4:10 PM on December 11, 2017

Corb, we have all found ourselves dealing with situations outside our areas of expertise (in your case, considerable expertise). It doesn't help when well-meaning persons add to the anxiety by exaggerating the problem. In the situation at hand, the worst case is not so bad; you might have to hire a plumber. If you can get the supply line working, you probably won't need that help.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:31 AM on December 12, 2017

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