Should I change my toilet?
February 17, 2019 6:16 PM   Subscribe

My guest bath's toilet, which we use infrequently, keeps getting clogged. Two different plumbers have found no obstruction, and are flummoxed. What can we do?

We don't flush anything down there that we shouldn't.

We've only lived in the house a few months, and have experienced this problem since the first week. All other plumbing seems fine.

The main difference between this toilet and the other one in the house (which doesn't have the same issue) is that it has a round, small-ish bowl, rather than an elongated shape, due to the compact size of the guest bathroom.

Mystery: it didn't get clogged when we had family visiting for two weeks who were using it regularly, which makes me wonder if regular flushing will help whatever the problem is.

Help me figure out (1) what we should be checking for that the plumbers may have missed and (2) if we should replace the toilet, and if so, which models we should look for to minimize clogging. What we have is a Gerber. No price limit.
posted by redlines to Home & Garden (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Buy a plunger.
posted by sanka at 6:26 PM on February 17, 2019

Response by poster: Just popping in to say we have a plunger, but using it every time is unpleasant, and it's also embarrassing when we have guests, so we'd rather just solve this problem.
posted by redlines at 6:31 PM on February 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

The toilet in the place I moved into recently has this problem, seemingly because it's a tiny (and low-cost) toilet with a correspondingly small-diameter passage from the bowl into the the pipes. A plumber recently made a small adjustment in the tank (I believe it was just to make sure the entire tank was emptying cleanly into the bowl with each flush--he may have shortened the chain in there) and that has helped somewhat--I don't have to plunge every time there's solid waste anymore, though I still need to occasionally. I'm under the impression that the only other option is replacing the toilet.

Also, I don't know if you were also using the toilet when your guest was visiting, or if was just your guest, but for whatever reason, my housemate doesn't seem to have issues with the toilet getting clogged. So I think some of it might just be about individual bodies/digestive systems and the nature of the waste we produce. (Either that or she always poops at school, she's quiet and doesn't seem like the kind of person to want to discuss bowel habits so I haven't asked.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:34 PM on February 17, 2019

The shape of the bowl isn't going to be the issue. Clogs generally happen well beyond the bowl.

Where is the guest toilet in the house? And is it in an addition, or was it original to the house? Do you have any trees or deep-rooted plants around your house?

Is the clog in the toilet mechanism itself, or slightly deeper down in the pipes?

Is the guest toilet a water-efficient "low flow" toilet compared to the others?
posted by erst at 6:35 PM on February 17, 2019

Possibly improper line slope from the problem toilet to the main sewer line for the house? I have a trouble guest bathroom that was added, I suspect this is the problem with it.
1/4" drop per foot minimum, 3" per foot max, unless it is vertical. If not used often, "things" may stop in the pipe and become attached to their new surroundings.
posted by rudd135 at 6:37 PM on February 17, 2019

Toilets have a little hole on the top of the main drain hole. That hole is a siphon release. Find that, sometimes that gets plugged then the toilet drains slowly and that causes a build up. That hole can be cleared with a screw driver, carefully so as to not damage the porcelain. I had a slow draining toilet for years, I thought it was just my regular bad luck, because I couldn't see anything, I even took the toilet up. But I noticed there was a mineral build up and this little place was partially closed, and it turned out it was all closed. Suddenly I had a fully functioning toilet for the first time in a decade. Yeah, so it might be that.
posted by Oyéah at 6:46 PM on February 17, 2019

For what it's worth, I had 2 toilets that clogged often. Replaced both of them a few years ago; neither has clogged since. In both cases, replaced a high water flow toilet with a low water flow. I assume the newer toilets have more efficient porting.
posted by coldhotel at 6:47 PM on February 17, 2019

Probably stuff from the toilet you mainly use is backing up just a little bit into the line from the guest toilet.

And that's the reason why it didn't clog when you actually had guests: regular use kept anything from building up.

Does the guest toilet connect directly to the larger sewer pipe or does it join the line from the main toilet before that hits the sewer line?
posted by jamjam at 7:03 PM on February 17, 2019

I recently replaced a toilet that clogged fairly often.

New toilet-- Kohler Wellworth round 1.28 gallon 11464-0-- I was worried that the 1.28 gal/flush would not work well. I was wrong. It has never clogged, even with a "full load". They've changed the flapper mechanism to get a high velocity flush and have redesigned the bowl/channels to get a better flush. I'm pretty happy with it.

Toilets aren't that expensive ($150 for the kohler at lowe's) and install would be a couple hours for a plumber, so, if no other answer it might be worth replacing the toilet.

My only second thought about this toilet is whether the tank hardware will be available in 10 or 20 years.
posted by H21 at 7:16 PM on February 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

seconding coldhotel. When we bought our place and moved in, our toilets clogged with unnerving frequency. And neither of us had ever lived in any home with toilets that clogged that often. But these toilets just clogged all time. But the prior owner had been in the place for 20+ years and the nephews who had inherited the place to sell it had done no re-habbing before the sold it--so we really had no idea how old the toilets were.

At any rate, our plumber could not find a problem with the line, so he suggested just replacing both toilets. We've had no clogs in the 8 years since. ¯\(°_o)/¯ The plumber said that, like most things, toilets eventually fail.
posted by crush at 7:24 PM on February 17, 2019

If you want to be pretty thorough....

1) adjust the flush assembly (depending on your exact model there are a bunch of different ways to do this; shortening the chain as mentioned above, adjusting the float, replacing the flapper, etc.). Make sure all the in-tank parts are well-functioning, clean, and properly adjusted. While you're at it, make sure the water outlets are all clean and clear (no mineral buildup). I would not necessarily assume a plumber looked at these sorts of things, so it's worth looking things over yourself, just in case.

2) if that doesn't help, get a roto-rooter style company to come out and clear your drain line, if you are allowed to do so (eg: if you have a condo, this won't apply).

3) if that doesn't help, and your toilet is more than a few years old, buy a new one. They've really really improved the hydrodynamics. Personally, I like Toto.

4) if that doesn't help, decide how much you care, because now it's probably the drain line slope.
posted by aramaic at 7:25 PM on February 17, 2019

I had a very similar problem. A plumber recommended using toilet paper specially designed for recreational vehicles (RVs). The toilet paper disintegrates in water. Ever since I switched to that toilet paper, the clogs stopped.
posted by alex1965 at 7:38 PM on February 17, 2019

In our case, the problem was that the low-flow toilet didn't have enough oomph to get the waste going all the way around the bends. We replaced it with the Toro brand which has a reputation for being designed to get more power per gallon than most. Problem solved.
posted by metahawk at 8:15 PM on February 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'd bet it's like a 20-30 year old low flow (1.6 gallon per flush) toilet. The new low flow toilets can be straight up great, but the first gen from the nineties were as foul as their contents. I'd make installing a new one my first line fix.
posted by wotsac at 8:17 PM on February 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

You might check and see if the vent stack is blocked. This is the pipe that goes up the wall behind the toilet and up through the roof. It's there to vent sewer gasses out, but it also allows air in so the dirty water can flow down freely. You have to go up on the roof to check this, I usually feed a garden hose in and flush the stack with water to make sure the pipe is clear. There is some info here, and how to clear it here.
posted by Marky at 1:12 AM on February 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Is it just clogging on first flush after sitting for a while? Water evaporates. If it's clogging after several weeks of not being used it could be a lack of water in the bowl when you flush. Flush it once a week to keep the water level up.
posted by COD at 5:02 AM on February 18, 2019

Replace it with a Toto. Not cheap but they work very well.
posted by jclarkin at 5:57 AM on February 18, 2019

You could try encouraging your guests to flush before they use the toilet as well as after. That way, if there's a clog then at least you won't be dealing with a bowl full of recent ejecta upstream of it while plunging.
posted by flabdablet at 6:09 AM on February 18, 2019

Before you spend any more money on it, just flush that toilet twice a day.
posted by Carol Anne at 10:47 AM on February 18, 2019

If you replace the toilet, go for the toilets meant to deal with flushing reliably.

We replaced our guest bathroom toilet with a nice American Standard Champion 4 some years back, which sports a 2 3/8" fully glazed trapway. This has worked out very well.

Look for units with a larger trapway, full glazing on the trapway, and if possible, a high velocity flush. All of this helps increase the reliability of ... things.
posted by jgreco at 11:16 AM on February 18, 2019

Not enough information to go on, and if professional plumbers have already looked -- and not had a solution, I am not sure how to help. BUT, I would start with cleaning the hole sunder the rim. Use a metal coat hanger ... if you can find one. Those holes get clogged with scale and help provide the water to help the toilet flush. I would also replace the fill valve. Both of these are inexpensive and easy things to try.

Good luck
posted by terrapin at 3:05 PM on February 18, 2019

« Older Philanthropic Organizations To Target For...   |   Seriously though, what do you expect from a junior... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.