Will this destroy my toilet?
February 8, 2021 9:04 PM   Subscribe

A few weeks ago, I picked up some in-tank bleach tablets for my toilet. They're excellent and I basically don't have to clean my toilet anymore, but the internet says this may destroy my toilet. Should I worry about this?

I can't find the exact type that I bought online, but it definitely contains bleach — the tablet is around 1.5inches in diameter and maybe ⅓ inch thick, and lasted around a month in the toilet tank.

Several sources (1, 2, 3) say that this is bad for the toilet, as it will corrode the gaskets and other internal parts.

I want to know how big of an effect this is — ideally, I'd love to know the effect of consistently using bleach tablets on the MTBF of the toilet, so I can make an informed decision.

Usually I have to clean my toilet every ~3 days or it will start getting gross, so it'd be very nice to only have to drop a tablet in once every month or so. I'm also renting, so I don't really have a financial incentive to care about the toilet breaking sooner, although it would be annoying to have to schedule a repair. If using these would probably cause the toilet to break within a year, I don't think I would use this, but if it's more like shortening the lifespan of the internal parts from four or five years to two or three years, that seems worth it to me.

Does anyone know how big of an impact these are likely to have?
posted by wesleyac to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Having moved into a house where the previous owners did this, we had to replace all the flapper and metal parts on three different toilets within the first year. But I don’t know if they had been using them for years or just started when they were trying to sell the house. I also don’t know how often they did it. So I guess this is not helpful except to say that they will definitely mess up the toilet eventually.
posted by Missense Mutation at 9:08 PM on February 8 [1 favorite]

You're renting? Fuck that toilet.

Worst case scenario shit breaks and you don't want anyone to come into your flat a new flapper/chain costs four dollars and takes less than 10 minutes to install, and I'm including the time it takes to watch a youtube video about how to replace your toilet flapper in that install time.

Get yourself a new toilet seat while you're at it. You deserve it, kid. If your toilet is old and funky (sounds like it) even the cheapest one will be a major upgrade.

FWIW single data point, we used one of those tank tablets in a previous apartment and had zero toilet breakdown problems in the 2 years living there.
posted by phunniemee at 9:22 PM on February 8 [22 favorites]

If you're renting, I am also inclined to say "fuck that toilet," but also it took me three years and a crying fit to finally get my shitty toilet replaced at my complex. What's your management like before you make this decision?
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:37 PM on February 8 [2 favorites]

The cleaners that clip on to the inside of the bowl (basically one of these tablets in a plastic cage) and are activated with the incoming flush water round the rim work almost as well, and will not affect the working parts of your toilet at all.
posted by xedrik at 10:04 PM on February 8 [9 favorites]

Best answer: I use these. My fancy, often-used toilet with plastic buttons has been fine for years.

My older, unused guest room toilet was destroyed after a year of stewing in bleach. The water turned red with rust, seeping down and staining the bowl. Metal scum rose to the surface. The metal chain on the flush even snapped. All internal parts need replacing and scrubbing. I'll get around to it soon...unless there's a tablet that can do it for me...
posted by Snijglau at 10:11 PM on February 8

Best answer: Your toilet won't "break" in the sense that OMG there's water all over the floor and it's cracked and I can't use it and I need landlord ASAP because I can't poop until they fix it. It may cause parts in the tank - especially the rubber flapper valve - to deteriorate quicker than normal, which will manifest as a small leak (leaking from the tank into the drain, not onto your floor) that causes your tank filler to engage from time to time in between uses. A $5 part, 2 minutes and some wet hands and you're good to go. There's nothing in there that would result from using these tablets that you can't fix yourself. I suppose it's conceivable that the rubber gasket that seals the hole where your filler pipe connects to the water supply might deteriorate to the point that it starts to leak, but again it's a simple fix and not a catastrophic failure.

I would, however, avoid the colored tablets. The blue just looks dumb, IMO.
posted by SquidLips at 10:14 PM on February 8 [5 favorites]

One year I thought it would be a really good idea to attach our toilet cistern to a pressure-switch-controlled garden pump drawing water from the swimming pool at the end of swimming season, so as to use up the pool water instead of just wasting it. It didn't even occur to me that pool water chlorinated gently enough to swim in could do anything bad to my toilet cistern, but it did. I had to replace every single rubber item inside the cistern within two months to stop the pump running almost continuously.

The effect of the pool water on the old rubber parts was to make their surfaces go soft and powdery and ruin their ability to seal. They left black streaks on my hands as I took the cistern innards to pieces.

So unless your continuously dissolving bleach tablets are adding less chlorine to your 10 litres of cistern water than a weekly small scoop of granules was adding to my 10,000 litre pool, which strikes me as quite unlikely, then yes, I expect you'll have to do something similar, and probably sooner rather than later. I think the cistern is the wrong place to put chlorine, and you'd be better off following xedrik's advice.

If anybody in your household is the kind of obsessive water saver whose motto is "if it's brown flush it down, if it's yellow let it mellow" then bleach tablets are potentially dangerous: bleach plus the breakdown products of nitrogenous compounds like urea makes chloramine, which is both more poisonous and more volatile than dissolved free chlorine. Not a mixture you'd want to leave sitting and brewing for more than a few minutes.
posted by flabdablet at 10:37 PM on February 8 [5 favorites]

It's not that bad for the toilet, but it poisons the water in the tank. The tank water (not the bowl) is an important source of drinking water in an emergency (like an earthquake), assuming you live in a place where the toilet supply line is potable (in the US it mostly is.)
posted by blnkfrnk at 11:20 PM on February 8 [4 favorites]

Also - you want to make _sure_ you don't have any animals that will drink from a toilet. If you get, say, kittens or a dog in the future, beware.
posted by amtho at 11:32 PM on February 8 [6 favorites]

Why, hello, me-of-one-month-ago.

I was finding the same information and faced the same hesitancy when I was facing an issue with mold in the tank leaching down into the bowl. I did consider going with a DIY approach of pouring white vinegar into the tank and letting that sit, and then flushing a few times, but then decided you know what, this will be a one-and-done fix, got a bleach tablet and dropped it in.

There was mold floating around in the water when I dropped the bleach tablet in, and I just looked and it's not there any more, and I probably have like a week or so left on the bleach tab and my toilet still works fine. I think if you use them constantly it may be a cumulative issue, but as an occasional thing I think you'll be fine.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:57 AM on February 9

A company called Fluidmaster makes a product that goes in the tank but bypasses most of the tank hardware, so it doesn't hurt that stuff. I used this product for a year or two, and it worked, but I got tired of buying the proprietary cartridges. I also learned that adding a bleach solution to a septic tank--which I have--is not ideal (they make a non-bleach version, but I was skeptical).
posted by baseballpajamas at 5:15 AM on February 9 [2 favorites]

I have used the bleach tablets continuously forever (in rentals). My toilet parts don't seem to need replacement very often, currently it's been 6+ years with no issues.
posted by jkent at 5:28 AM on February 9

Just want to mention it is worth checking your lease. I've had one that explicitly disallowed in-tank bleach tablets. Just the one, in basically a lifetime of renting in various places in the US and abroad, so I can't believe it's common, but I can tell you that it is a thing at least one management company in the Boston area has thought of.
posted by solotoro at 5:40 AM on February 9 [1 favorite]

Been using the Fluidmaster stuff for more than 20 years, on two bathrooms.

The Fluidmaster stuff works very well, though the refills are more expensive than the "tablet" solutions. They're consistently used up within a month, so we have an Amazon Subscribe that orders a new set of two every month, and we replace them as they arrive. They also make a conventional "blue" non-bleach cartridge.

If you are worried about emergency drinking water, buy a five gallon jug designed for the task and fill it with filtered water. Optimize the toilet situation for the specific needs of a toilet.
posted by jgreco at 6:13 AM on February 9 [1 favorite]

It's not that bad for the toilet, but it poisons the water in the tank. The tank water (not the bowl) is an important source of drinking water in an emergency (like an earthquake), assuming you live in a place where the toilet supply line is potable (in the US it mostly is.)

Water in jugs is nearly free. I would not drink toilet tank water. The walls get a film, even in the regular use circumstances, the rubber from the flapper and other parts degrade.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:02 AM on February 9 [5 favorites]

How about a teabag or pellet type thing on a string that goes in the overflow tube and clipped onto the side? A small amount of water flows into the overflow tube every flush in order to refill the bowl. The bleach would never touch anything inside the tank but go directly into the bowl. Feel free to patent this invention.
posted by JackFlash at 9:32 AM on February 9

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