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I've been in my new house for a few months now, and I end up plunging one of our two toilets about once a week - they tend to swap turns on which one gets to be finicky each week. Is there a more serious cause behind this, or do I just have 'crappy' (hehe) toilets? I don't know if it could be an issue with my septic system. The previous owners weren't too into home repair, so I have no idea if it's ever been pumped, but the house is only 7 years old.

While I have managed to refine my plunging technique to an art, I'd appreciate any advice that will let me take a break.

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I have started a bounty because I have the same problem but the top two answers are 'get a new toilet'. Hmmm. I rent. What steps could I take before getting a new toilet? –  David May 15 '11 at 19:13
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@David Renting? Call your landlord. –  aphoria May 16 '11 at 17:51
    
@aphoria as this is a DIY site ... Basically, my landlord is out of town and I have a good relationship with them such that they trust me and will reimburse me to fix such problems. –  David May 16 '11 at 17:57
    
@David That's cool, but generally, if it's a rental I would let the landlord handle it to keep yourself out of trouble. –  aphoria May 17 '11 at 12:23
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11 Answers 11

up vote 10 down vote accepted

It's probably the toilet that is the problem and nothing later in the line. I highly recommend the American Standard Champion4 Toilet. I installed this when I remodeled one of my bathrooms and two years later it has yet to clog (compared to the other two toilets in my house that clog on a regular basis). The advertisements show it being able to flush golf balls and although my kids have not tried that (at least not yet) I bet it really could handle it. You can find it at both Lowes and Home Depot.

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Doresoom mentioned that he has a septic system. In that case, I'd actually recommend the American Standard Cadet 3 toilet, as it has the same flush power, but only uses 1.28 gallons per flush (versus the Champion 4's 1.6 GPF). We have the Cadet 3 here, and like the Champion 4, I think it could probably flush a whole pack of golf balls. –  MarkD Sep 14 '10 at 2:57
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From your description, I'd guess it is the toilets themselves. If it is the septic system, you would expect to see slow flowing drains/backup in all of the drains on the lowest floor of the house. If it is only one toilet that is experiencing this, I'd guess it is a cheapo low-power model installed by the builder. Do you have the brand/model and stats of the toilet?

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Unfortunately, it's one of either of our toilets that backs up. They are the same model though - not sure what it is off hand, I'll have to check. –  Doresoom Sep 13 '10 at 22:39
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So both toilets back up regularly (one at a time)? Or only one of the two ever backs up? –  MarkD Sep 13 '10 at 23:08
    
Yeah, they both back up regularly. –  Doresoom Sep 14 '10 at 0:13
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Then I think my original answer still stands- it sounds like the toilets you have are not effective flushers. Replace the toilets, and you'll probably fix the problem. –  MarkD Sep 14 '10 at 2:58
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Have you tried pulling up the toilet and seeing if there is an object stuck in trap (the S-shaped portion of the toilet)?

I had a similar issue and someone had dropped a toothbrush into the toilet, which got lodged sideways into the drain area. I took off the floor bolts, detached the water source, pulled up the toilet, looked up the toilet drain pipe, and the problem was immediately evident. You might need to buy a new wax ring to reinstall the toilet onto the floor.

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It's both toilets that back up - so I doubt an obstruction is in both pipes. –  Doresoom Sep 17 '10 at 3:50
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Check the cleanout going to your septic tank. If the water level is high there then you may have a clogged pipe at the tank or it may be time to get it pumped (I had a root ball grow into mine a few years ago). Another thing to check is your vent stacks. There should be one no more than a few feet from each toilet. Running a snake through those can help sometimes. Good luck.

@David: Make the owner fix it.

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@user2492 'make the owner fix it' is not useful on a DIY site. I'd like to troubleshoot what I can first. –  David May 16 '11 at 18:00
    
As a renter it is almost always easiest to force the owner to make the needed repairs, as is their responsibility. Since you seem to have a good relationship with the owners and insist on tackling the problem yourself, please see my post above. I'd start there before ripping out toilets. –  electricsauce May 17 '11 at 0:03
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This sounds terribly obvious, but have you tried snaking it?

Depending how long the run is to your septic tank, you could have a blockage further from the toilets, at a point where the pipes join, and the plunger just gains you a little time by shoving crap into the other end of the "Y".

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Upvoted. Snaking, checking for obstructions, etc. is the inexpensive and easy option. –  Freiheit May 16 '11 at 17:02
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Are there tree's near-by? Especially "Fruitless Mulberry", they stretch out in search of water like no other.

I once had a similar problem, upon removing the toilet I found that our tree discovered that there was water there and started rooting in the pipe. The tree's roots had come up from the floor and pushed their way through the seal and then started working down the pipe. To my knowledge they didn't break through the pipe (I hope) just came up an over, it was very strange to see. A simple matter of pulling out the 10 feet of roots and we have had no more problems with that toilet.

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I bought a house recently, and one of the toilets kept getting clogged. A plumber showed me the reason this particular toilet backed up. The toilet was one of the first water efficient models to come out, and had a cylindrical dam that reduced the amount of water that flushed. He said most people break the dam and get better water flow, but that as a licensed plumber he wasn't allowed to do that. So I broke the dam barrier, and it has fixed the problem.

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You've not described in detail what you call 'backing up'.

If that means the toilets just aren't flushing properly all the time anymore, you may have mineral buildup in the channels around the rim. My 6 year old low-flow decided to stop flushing completely every time. No amount of plunging or snaking, or adjusting of flappers and floats helped. What fixed the problem was a couple of cups of Muriatic acid (HCl) down the overflow-pipe. That pipe flows into the top rim of the toilet. I let it sit for an hour, and gave the toilet a flush. All sorts of mineral scum came out and the toilet is now flushing first time, every time; just like it did when it was new.

HCl is corrosive stuff. For your own safety, look up how to do this procedure safely before trying it. This is a bad idea for those on septic systems, unless you disconnect the toilet from the system first.

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Ohh, yes.This is a Bad Idea for those on septic systems. Unless you disconnect the toilet from the system first. That'll convert a possible quik fix into a major chore. –  Wayfaring Stranger Dec 29 '11 at 19:05
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Get a bucket of water - About 2 gallons.
After dropping the kids in the pool (Thank you BMitch for that euphemism), dump the entire bucket in the bowl.

If it flushes ok, then your problem is that there's not enough water in the toilet tank. (Look at adjusting the float level)

If it doesn't, the problem is further down the line. Contact the Landlord.

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I think installing a new toilet just because one or more toilets back up is rather a big money waster; there's no proof a new toilet won't do exactly the same thing. Better to find out why it backs up and then fix the problem. In my mind, exchanging the bowl does nothing except remove good money from your wallet.

Try the simple approach first--liquid plumber. If there is a simple blockage, it'll take care of it. If it doesn't them you could rent a snake from your local rent-all.

If this doesn't do the job then do what you should have done: call a plumber and fix it right so you don't have to worry about going out and leaving the house and not finding furniture ruined when you return.

It is a common thing to have happen, so the fix should also be common. It does not entail spending hundreds of dollars on a new toilet.

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We had similar problems but solved them by rerouting "gray" water (i.e. dishwater, washing machine, etc.) and thus the only stuff in the septic tank was the yukky bathroom toilet treasures.

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You've described what you did to solve the problem, but your answer would be a lot better if you told us how you did it. –  Niall C. May 27 '13 at 23:20
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