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How to Fix a Gurgling Toilet

  • Transcript

    LESLIE: Alright, well something funny is going on with our next caller. Brad in Florida has a situation: when you flush the toilet in the back of the house, the toilet in the front of the house gurgles back to say hello.

    Brad, what’s going on?

    BRAD: It started about six weeks ago. We – let’s see, this house was built in 1957. We don’t live in Pensacola proper; we live out [well, the west area] (ph) they call the county and we’re on a septic tank.

    TOM: OK.

    BRAD: And situation is it started about six weeks ago. When you flush the toilet in the back of the house – there’s two bathrooms; one front, one back – there’s a delay. I mean the toilet in the back starts to fill up; then, all of a sudden you hear a gurgling. It’s not only coming from the toilet in the front; it also comes from the tub. That’s where you get the real deep reverberation. (Leslie chuckles)

    TOM: It’s the sympathetic gurgling problem. (chuckles)

    LESLIE: “Oh, I feel your pain” – gurgle, gurgle, gurgle.

    BRAD: The reason why it’s kind of bothered me is we got a wonderful housewarming gift. We moved in in April of 2003. The house had been vacant two years.

    TOM: OK.

    BRAD: And we went to flush the toilet and I remember that gurgling noise. But then that gurgling noise turned into sewage backing up everywhere; filling up everything.

    LESLIE: Oh, wow.

    TOM: And what was the housewarming gift?

    BRAD: (chuckles) The sewage.  (Tom and Leslie laugh)

    TOM: That’s not a very nice gift.

    BRAD: But you know, it’s not – there’s no sewage backing up but I remember the first …

    LESLIE: But you’re afraid it might be.

    TOM: Well, I think you’re actually close to the solution here – the source of the problem, I should say. Now when a plumbing fixture gurgles, it means one thing and one thing only and that is that it’s starved for air. When you flush a toilet …

    LESLIE: Well, you would think it’s the opposite. Because the gurgling would seem like it’s too much air.

    TOM: No, the water goes out and then air from the vent pipe is replacing that space in the pipe where the water ran out.

    BRAD: OK.

    TOM: Now, if you’re not getting enough air because the vent pipe is clogged or obstructed in some way, then you get this sucking, gurgling sound as a result.

    BRAD: OK.

    TOM: And you could have a partial clog or, for some reason, have obstructed part of a vent pipe somewhere, if it’s a fairly new problem. Because I’ve got to tell you, plumbing systems that were from the 50s and 60s are pretty darn reliable. I mean not much really breaks down with them. It’s usually something manmade that causes them to go awry, like a clog. So you might need to get those lines snaked out by a drain cleaning service to try to determine where the obstruction is because I’m fairly certain that that’s what’s going on here, based on your description of the problem.

    BRAD: Well, I was thinking snake but I shouldn’t attempt that myself.

    LESLIE: No.

    TOM: No, probably not. You know, and a drain cleaning service can actually put a drain cleaning camera in there as well. There’s actually a product called a SeeSnake – it’s made by the Ridgid Company; they make a lot of plumbing tools – and they can actually see inside the pipes and figure out the exact location. It could be a broken waste line somewhere as well and you could determine it with something like that and that’s something that a professional would do. But the good news is that once you identify the problem, it should be fairly easy to fix.

    LESLIE: Yeah, and you don’t want to try snaking it yourself because the snake is such an aggressive tool that if you don’t handle it properly and it hits a turn the wrong way or you drive it down the wrong pipe, you could really do a lot more damage than you would if someone who knows how to use it did it. So just lay off.

    TOM: Yeah, and trust her, Brad, because the last time Leslie tried to clear a drain in her house (Leslie chuckles), she blew the drain apart. (Tom laughs)

    BRAD: Yeah, OK.

    TOM: It was messy.

    BRAD: Yeah, I’m very familiar with the snake. I have snaked toilets before that have been on public service water – you know, from the city.

    TOM: Right.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm.

    BRAD: But I’m thinking, “Well, we’re on the septic tank. We are treating it.” We don’t know when the last time it’s been cleaned.

    TOM: Get it cleaned out. Get the septic system cleaned as well.

    BRAD: I mean we use the RID-X faithfully every month, watch our paper intake, et cetera. So – and don’t use any bowl cleaners, bleaches, or anything. I mean we clean our toilets, of course (Leslie chuckles) but we don’t give – someone told us …

    LESLIE: Yeah, the bleach is actually quite bad for the toilet parts, so you need to be very cautious with what you clean it with.

    TOM: Yeah, it causes a lot of corrosion to the toilet parts as well.

    BRAD: Yeah, they told us don’t use those blue tablets and things like that.

    LESLIE: They make the water pretty but they ruin just about everything else.

    BRAD: Yes. And we’ve already replaced a bunch of parts in the front one, so – you know, the flapper and everything else. Probably it’s going to be due to come off the floor because the wax seal I think is giving because the toilet is starting to rock. So …

    TOM: Well Brad, there may be a place that you can access the toilet through a vent pipe or through a cleanout without actually removing it. And then you could have – the pro would actually insert the snake there and check the drains and get them cleaned out and figure out where that clog is and you’ll be good to go. OK?

    BRAD: OK. Well, I know a service that we use.

    TOM: Alright, Brad. Thanks so much for calling us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

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