"Call the plumber." Those are words no homeowner ever wants to utter.
You may think that the plumber is the only one who can fix a toilet. That's not always true. There are many ways to cheaply clean and fix your toilet yourself. The steps may involve rubber gloves, a plunger and scrub brush, and the few minutes you spend on your DIY toilet maintenance can save a boatload of money.
Ready to become your own plumber?
The Runaway Toilet
Do you have a toilet constantly running? Perhaps you might get used to that annoyance, but it can be costing you small fortune in wasted water. The likely cause is your flapper valve is not closing and sealing as it should.
What's a flapper valve? Open the tank lid and flush your toilet. You'll notice a chain attached to the handle is also connected to the flapper valve. That's how the water flows out to drain your toilet. When the flapper valve closes, the tank fills again, and all is right with the world.
First, check there are no obstructions impeding the valve from closing. That includes any mineral deposits around the seal. Next, make sure your pull chain is long enough to let the valve close. There should always be extra links that you can use to make an adjustment. If the gasket is worn on the flapper, you may need to replace it. Your local hardware store plumbing section will probably have a flapper replacement that matches yours. Most of these parts are universal. To replace your flapper, shut off the water, flush the tank and then you'll have "dry" access to the area. Just follow the instructions on the flapper kit.
A Weak Flush
We flush our toilets on average about five times a day. That comes out to around 1,825 flushers per year per person. That's a lot of flushing action. Every flush also increases the chances of the toilet deteriorating just a bit. This can lead to a weak flush that doesn't get the job done.
Time to go back into the tank. It could be that you don't have enough water in the tank. If the water in a full tank is below that fill line, you might want to carefully bend the float bulb so that it will allow for more water. For bowls that have a fill valve instead of a bulb, check if the valve can be raised to allow more water in.
If everything is fine in the tank, the toilet rim jets could be blocked up. Try using a nail to unclog the holes.
A Clean Bowl
The best approach to a clean toilet bowl is to work from the top down. You'll want to spray your cleaner of choice along the underside of the rim and let it work its way down. While that cleaner is flowing, hit the outside of the toilet with the same disinfectant and a quick wipe down. Then it's back to the bowl with your toilet brush — you should definitely have a toilet brush — for some vigorous scrubbing. One or two flushes should get everything gone.
Although you can use your toilet brush for the outside of the toilet as well, you might want to keep that restricted to for inside the bowl use only. Any soft dusting cloth or paper towel will work on the outside too.
As for cleaning products, if you want to avoid the chemicals try sprinkling baking soda around the interior of the bowl. Then pour a cup of undiluted white vinegar into the bowl and use your toilet brush to bring those two ingredients together for a nice, fresh scrub. On the outside, a spray bottle with undiluted hydrogen peroxide does the trick without that "bleachy" smell. How many times should you clean your toilet? Depends on the usage. If you keep cleaning supplies under your bathroom sink, it's really no effort for a fast wipe down.
A Dripping Tank
Have you ever really looked at your toilet? If so, then you might notice there are seals around every joint and bolt. Sometimes those seals will break down, requiring a quick fix. If you're not sure where the leak is coming from, add some food coloring to your tank and see where it seeps out.
To replace the seals, first, turn off the water to the tank. This would likely the valve on the wall or floor right behind the unit. Then unscrew the seal and take the faulty washer to the hardware store to match up the size. Those leaks will be plugged up in no time.
A Shower Freak-Out
Finally, you might live in a house with several busy bathrooms. This can be a problem if you're taking a shower and someone flushes the toilet. The result is a jolting shower shock of water temperature. This happens because your toilet is pulling away the cold water. The fix is to slow down the flow. Go back to the valve to the tank and close it until it is almost shut off. This will result in your toilet taking a bit longer to refill, but there shouldn't be any more shower shock.
Once you've tackled your own toilet fixes, you'll feel a great sense of pride. Now it's time to hit those rain gutters!