Number 1 all fun - Number 2 don't do!
October 22, 2007 5:43 PM   Subscribe

FlushFilter:Toilet has a lazy flush (i.e. going down slowly) - I think the problem might be a clog that is bulding up, but a plunger and closet auger (i.e. a snake) don't seem to do the trick. What now?

- I get a "lazy flush" - that is the water goes down rather slowly.
- When it does eventually get down, it gurgles or burps repeatedly but slowly, rather than quickly
- The water level in the tank is as high as it can be
- I tried the 5-gallon test several times, but I don't get any siphoning action, although the bowl doesn't seem to overfill either.
- this toilet is on the 2nd floor. We have another toilet in the basement that seems to be in the same place (i.e. it might be using the same pipes), and it flushes properly
- the other drains are draining well

All of these symptoms are making me think that a clog is building up in the upstairs toilet - however I tried a plunger; it didn't work. Then I tried a closet auger - that didn't work.

What else can it be? What else can I try before I need to call the plumber?
posted by bitteroldman to Home & Garden (18 answers total)
I'd check the vent.
posted by Floydd at 5:54 PM on October 22, 2007

Do you use any toilet "drop ins" - those white or blue cakes in the tank?
posted by tristeza at 6:07 PM on October 22, 2007

As this Wikipedia link illustrates, there are two basic types of common plungers. The results you get when plunging a toilet will be tremendously better with the black cupped toilet plunger on the left, than with the red flat sink plunger. For one thing, the black type cup plunger has a much greater internal volume, and thus ejects more water with each plunging stroke than does the flat sink plunger, which makes it a better match for the larger diameter of soil pipes leading away from a toilet. Second, the black cup type plunger will seal into many toilet bowls far more effectively than will the flat sink plunger.

When using a toilet plunger, there are two things to remember:

1) Water is essentially incompressible, but air is compressible. To achieve the maximum action, you need to first "burp" as much air as you can out of the plunger cup, basically by filling the toilet bowl with water from flushing, before sealing the cup extension down the bowl drain, and beginning to plunge. You need to keep the bowl filled with additional water, by flushing or pouring in more water, as your plunging efforts push water from the bowl down the toilet. Don't lose your air seal, or you lose a lot of your plunging action.

2) When plunging, it is the momentum of the column of water your plunging effort is moving, rather than the pressure you are exerting, that really clears most clogs, particularly with partial clogs and slow drains like you have. Thus, steady, full strokes, which try to move a column of water through the toilet trap and down line smoothly, will be more effective than quick, shallow strokes. You may even be able to get alternating flows of water moving if it's the down line that's constricted, which can really move an obstruction quickly. But you have to think of it as if you were moving a 6 or 7 foot long 2 inch diameter column of water, to get the most effective rhythm.

If standard plunging doesn't work after 15 to 20 minutes of effort, you can go for high pressure devices like the KleerDrain gas cartridge system, although such devices can cause leaks in wax seal rings and packed joints in older toilet installations, if used incorrectly.
posted by paulsc at 6:31 PM on October 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

posted by horsemuth at 6:35 PM on October 22, 2007

I wouldn't think drà„no or a plunger would get anything that a snake wouldn't...

Is water going from the tank to the bowl as rapidly as usual (if it's slow, it could keep the siphoning action from working right)?
posted by hattifattener at 7:50 PM on October 22, 2007

Guys.. please no Draino, or other chemical clog-busters (could the resident plumber please back me up here.)

The reasoning is they will break down the wax seal on your toilet, and you really need that unless you want the contents of the toilet all over the bathroom floor.
posted by TravellingDen at 8:05 PM on October 22, 2007

Response by poster: Floydd: I was worried that I would have to do that

Tristeza: There is none of that stuff in my tank - I know that it can thicken the water and affect the rate at which the tank is empties and thus affect the flushing.

Paulsc: Thanks for the advice, it will be handy in the future as well.

Horsemuth: What TravellingDen said

Hattifattener: No, the tank is emptying normally. I also tried emptying a 5 gallon bucket directly into the bowl. If anything that should have triggered the siphoning action, but it didn't, hence my suspicion that it is a clog

TravellingDen: Yeah, I heard the same thing.
posted by bitteroldman at 8:38 PM on October 22, 2007

Are you on a septic system or sewer?
posted by greenskpr at 9:07 PM on October 22, 2007

Don't use chemicals. They frequently don't work, then you have to fix the clog while swimming in a toxic solution.
posted by recurve at 12:47 AM on October 23, 2007

Clogs come in organic and inorganic. If it's organic, it will get better after a few days, and pouring hot water through the plumbing will accelerate the process a little, usually. (Because it dissolves things, and because the bacteria can work on it faster.) If it's inorganic, it will not go away or get better until you retrieve The Object in the pipe. If a closet auger isn't long enough, you can buy a 15' thingie at the hardware store that comes with the rod in a housing and a little hand crank. If that won't get it, you need a plumber. Chemicals are bad. If it's inorganic, it won't help, and the plumber may charge you for combat duty.
Disclaimer: Our resident object turned out to be a hose clamp that fell out of someone's pocket.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 5:42 AM on October 23, 2007

The black cup plunger really does do amazing things if your problem is a clog that can be moved (rather than buildup or a really tenacious foreign object). Keep in mind that you're not just pushing, you're also pulling with the upstroke, basically wiggling whatever's in there back and forth until it shifts and fits the pipe enough to go away.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:36 AM on October 23, 2007

If it is an increasingly lazy flush and you've already snaked my bet is either (a) vent, or (b) foreign object in pipe like a toothbrush that slowly picks up debris as it washes by. I'd say (a) if you have pigeons, or (b) if you have kids or frequent house guests. Both cases require a plumber unless you feel (a) comfortable on a ladder and (b) taking a toilet off its seal.

Good luck.
posted by mrmojoflying at 7:24 AM on October 23, 2007

Look here: for good advice on toilet problems.

Sounds to me like your flapper valve inside the tank may not be sealing tightly.
posted by OilPull at 7:39 AM on October 23, 2007

If the guts of your toilet are behaving (sounds like a flapper valve issue to me - water is just not pouring out fast enough to do the job), one doomsday scenario could be that the problem is out at the sewer.

If you have large trees, a root may have busted in your line and is causing issue - it shows up in the toilet and the outside drain first.

I'd try fiddling with the insides, unbolting and seeing what's in the trap if you're brave, then calling a plumber.
posted by beezy at 8:27 AM on October 23, 2007

Response by poster: greenskpr: we are on a sewer system. I don't think it is a sewer problem, because our basement toilet works fine.

I have just tried the hot water to no avail. If things don't improve by the end of the week, looks like I will have to call a plumber!

thanks for all your help (but keep it coming if you have any other insights!)
posted by bitteroldman at 4:13 PM on October 23, 2007

Should have said: If you do hot water, you have to dump a wastebasket full down there every time you walk past for a few days. If it doesn't improve, it's most likely inorganic.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 5:28 AM on October 24, 2007

Is your tank filling up completely before you push the handle? Sounds more and more like somethings gone wrong inside the tank whether flapper valve, water fill float, etc.
posted by greenskpr at 5:40 AM on October 28, 2007

Response by poster: Ok it finally works! I tried a combination of the snake, hot water, and plunger, and I guess whatever was there finally loosened up.

Thanks to all for your help!
posted by bitteroldman at 6:31 AM on October 28, 2007

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