Toilet Fix Up

Due to recent water conservation requirements, all toilets made for use in the United States can consume no more than 1.6 gallons per flush. Older toilets, made prior to the 1994 law, use as much as 3.5 to 5 gallons per flush. While numerous consumer surveys prove that the great majority of 1.6-gallon-per-flush toilets work very well (as well as save hundreds of millions of gallons of fresh water per day), many people find themselves needing to flush twice because of a poorly flushing toilet. Here are steps that can be taken to improve the flush performance should you desire it.

1. Adjust Water Level

Lift off tank cover. If the water level is not in line with the waterline mark (usually found on the tank or overflow tube), adjust the water level. For most plunger or diaphragm-type fill valves that have a float ball on the end of a brass float arm, bend the arm downward a little to lower the water level; bend upward to raise it. Use both hands when bending the brass float arm so as not to apply stress to either the valve or the float ball. This could cause these parts to break. Never attempt to bend plastic float arms. Some models have a water level (and fill rate) adjustment screw on the top. If so, turn the adjustment screw in the top of the valve counterclockwise to increase the amount of water in the tank, and clockwise to decrease it. For a float-cup, pinch the spring clip to raise or lower the float as needed. For floatless models, turn the adjustment screw counterclockwise about one-half turn at a time.

TIP: People may partially close a valve to quiet a toilet that is noisy when its fills. More often the cause of a noisy fill is an obstruction in the fill valve or worn fill valve washers. Turn off the water supply to open the top of the fill valve to inspect/replace washers. Before reassembly, place a plastic cup over the open fill valve and turn on the water slightly for a few seconds to flush the line.

2. Clear Obstructions

An obstruction in the trapway, which is the curved passageway extending from the opening in the bowl to the waste pipe opening at the floor, is obvious when it causes a clog and/or an overflow. A smaller obstruction, which might include any number of foreign objects that have no business being in a toilet, can cause sluggish flushing, leave a dirty bowl, and cause frequent clogging. Push a drain auger into the opening in the bowl until you feel an obstruction, turn the handle clockwise to "screw" the head of the auger into the obstruction, and keep turning as you draw the obstruction back into the bowl.

TIP: A plunger is fine for clogs caused by excessive waste and tissue, but if you use one for other obstructions there is an added risk that you might simply move the object out of reach.

3. Clear Clogged Bowl Rim Holes

During a flush, inspect the holes on the underside of the bowl rim using a mirror. Any mineral build-up in the holes reduces or cuts off the volume of water that flows down the sides of a bowl to clean them during a flush. Clear clogs by inserting a 6d nail or a piece of 10- or 12-gauge copper wire into each hole and twisting and rotating it as needed to scrape the wall of the hole.

4. Call for Help

If after taking the above steps the sluggish performance persists, you may have an obstruction in the vent pipe that exits through your roof or somewhere in the soil stack. Seek professional assistance from a licensed drain-cleaning service or plumber. Also, for new toilets, call the manufacturer (most have 800 consumer hotlines) and seek their advice to improve flushing action.