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Flushing a toilet has not always been a convenience in my life. Fortunately, I did not live every day of my life without indoor plumbing However, as late as the early 70’s, I recall having used an out house. Not the same outhouse every time. Not even the portable toilets the sanitation companies drop at carnivals and out door concerts. A few family friends of my mother and father had out houses on their property. So long ago, I don’t recall all of them. I just remember having used them. Hard to believe, much of the reason those awful things remained in the latter part of the 20th century is due to people having resisted the concept of bringing the toilet indoors. Sewage disposal may seem a natural concept. However, much thought has gone into bringing us modern sanitation amenities. The Roman Empire built great bath houses and coliseums with public facilities. There was not a lot of privacy. Just one seat after another with a hole under it that dropped to a trough of running water. The running water is easy enough to understand without going into too much detail.

Today, our society can not function without the indoor toilet and our sanitation systems. However, what do we do when our toilet just will not flush well? Do we need a new toilet?

Let’s begin our discussion on the poorly flushing toilet by starting with old toilets. To begin with, they are old. That in itself is reason to get rid of it. However, understanding how a toilet works and the various components of the toilet can help anyone make an old toilet flush like new.

Toilets in use prior to 1994 used more than 3 gallons per flush. They used a lot of water. Because of this wasteful practice, people would put bricks and objects in the toilet water storage tank, in order to conserve water and reduce their water bill. However, this practice lead to many toilets and sewer lines becoming blocked. This still occurs today. That has not changed. Except, now, it is due to older sewer systems and the mandatory act of all manufactures of toilets being made to reduce water usage from 3 gallons per flush to 1.6 gallons per flush.

1.6 gpf is adiquate if your sewer line is made of pvc or abs pipe material. However, this was not taken into account when mandating the change in engineering a toilet to reduce water consumption. This leads us to one of the popular problems plumbers and drain cleaners encounter. Toilets that do not permit adequate water to flow from the flush valve. Most of the time, this is due to a defective flapper. Or, the design is missing a float or some sort of device to hold the flapper open longer. And again, there are people who feel they are saving water by having a brick in the water storage tank. (Don’t do this. The toilet is already designed to save water).

Toilets built in the last fifty years, all work pretty much the same way.

  • Water is stored in a tank
  • When the trip lever is pulled or pressed, a valve opens and the water from the tank creates a syphoning through jets in the toilet bowl.
  • Start with the tank. The tank has a trip lever, a flush valve and a fill valve. When using the trip lever as it is designed. the flush valve opens by having the trip lever attached to a flapper. The flapper is engineered to permit only so much water to leave the tank before being overcome by the siphon power of water passing under the flapper as it leaves the tank, on its way to the bowl.
  • The fill valve is tasked with keeping the water storage tank filled with the required amount of water, as specified by the design and engineering of the toilet.
  • The flush valve is just what it sounds like…it is responsible for flushing the toilet. The water passing under the flapper as we read earlier. Water leaves the storage tank through a 2″ or 3″ valve. Head pressure is created and pressure shoots through orifices in the bowl’s rim and a main jet in the trap of the toilet. In unison, the action causes water to be quickly overflowing the trap in the bowl. The swirling created by the jets in the rim and the main jet push the water over the trap and a siphoning effect is created, which draws waste out of the bowl, into the sewer system.

and the main jet push the water over the trap and a siphoning effect is created, which draws waste out of the bowl, into the sewer system. If any of the above toilet components (jets, fill valve, flapper, flush valve, trip lever…, etc. fail to work as they are designed, the toilet will not flush properly.With hard water and age, the jets in the rim of the bowl develop blockages due to hardened calcium or minerals from the water supply. Once the jets are restricted, the water pressure needed to create the siphon becomes weak and the toilet will not flush properly. The jets can be cleared with patience, technique and chemicals. CLR is a very effective chemical for dissolving hardened minerals in the bowl of the toilet. Getting the CLR to sit against the blockage in the jets, long enough for it to have an effect is up to you, depending on what type of toilet you have and what you can imagine will work for your situation. If the flapper or the seals in the tank are leaking, water can not remain in the storage tank. The fill valve may not come on until the water level drops more than an inch. Therefore, many times, the toilet will not have enough water in the tank to flush the waste out of the bowl. So, be sure your seals and flapper are in serviceable condition.In this brief post, you learned much of what you need to know in order to keep your toilet working well. There are occasions for toilets to be of a different build and not contain all of the parts identified here. But, for those, you should be able to find a trouble shooting guide on line, from the manufacture of the toilet.

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