What You Need to Know About a Clogged Toilet

The ultimate guide to clogged toilets
We all know it. The horrible feeling after we flush where we see the water rise instead of fall. The panic. Especially if this happens to us while visiting someone else’s home. The awkwardness that follows. It’s a situation some of us have nightmares about. Well, we’ve got some tips to help you and your guests be spared of the embarrassment of a clogged toilet. Believe it or not, most often clogged toilets are the result of poor toilet maintenance and not just a one time… deposit. If you’ve recently experienced the unfortunate circumstance of a clog in your home then it might be time to pay a little more attention to how you’ve been treating your porcelain throne.

What Is a Clogged Toilet Anyway?

A clogged toilet is the backup of toilet water and other contents caused by a blockage in the toilet itself or the drain pipes. Sometimes the blockage is partial and sometimes it’s full. Both can be easy or difficult to repair depending on what they’re composed of. Regardless, they’ll both result in your water having no escape path through which to be flushed.

Clogs can happen anywhere. They can happen in your home’s drains as well as in the sewer pipes leading away from your home. If it’s the latter, solving a clogged toilet issue can be difficult to do without the help of a professional.

Why Do Clogs Happen?

There are multiple reasons but most of them lead to one main cause - improper use of the toilet. This means that homeowners are flushing things down the toilet that have horrible repercussions on the pipes and plumbing. Many of the things our plumbers find being flushed down Edmonton toilets are repeated from home to home, so let’s clear up some of the common misconceptions of items that are “safe to flush”!

What NOT to Flush

Time and time again our plumbers encounter clogged toilets due to a build up of the same types of items from home to home. So we’ve created the Homeowner’s Ultimate Guide to Preventing Clogged Toilets to show you just how easy it is to keep your drains clog-free:

  • Hair: Your brush is full of hair so you pull it all out of the bristles. You’re left with a handful of locks - you may not even know it, but you’ve reached a critical moment in your toilet’s maintenance. Do you flush it or throw it in the trash? We hope you choose the latter. Numerous homeowners clog up their toilets due to the misconception that hair is safe to flush. It isn’t! Hair is much stronger than you’d expect and when it gathers it creates a net that catches anything solid that makes its way down the pipes of your toilet. Large amounts of hair buildup alone can be dense enough to cause a clogged toilet so it’s very important to avoid sending any hair down your drains. This goes for your shower too (that’s why we recommend using a drain hair catcher in your home’s water fixtures).

  • Dental Floss: The buildup of dental floss is extremely similar to hair except that it’s not biodegradable (giving it no chance of decomposing in your pipes - it’s staying for the long haul). Floss, just like hair, can wrap around the inside of your drain pipes causing tangles and blockages. We find dental floss in many homes’ pipes and cannot stress enough how important it is to throw used floss into the garbage can where it belongs.

  • Flushable Wipes: This seems like something you should be able to flush, it is in the name after all. If you are flushing “flushable” wipes you’ll likely run into problems in the near future. It is very common for these rugged wipes to get caught on edges and protrusions in your sewer pipe and form a blockage. Depending on where the blockage occurs it may just clog your toilet, or maybe just the drain for that bathroom, or they might clog your main sewer pipe which will back up your whole house. So what we’re saying is, don’t flush flushable wipes!

  • Food: This is a very important one because although some of us do know the effects that hair and floss may have on our toilets’ drains, very many homeowners aren’t aware that food is a top cause of clogged toilets. But why is it so bad? We might find ourselves thinking there’s not much of a difference if your body processes the food first or if you dump some leftovers into the toilet that never made it through your digestive system in the first place. It’s all the same, just in… a bit of a different form right? Wrong.

  • Greasy Foods: Your body decomposes food in a way that makes it safe for your toilet believe it or not. Fortunately, (or maybe not so fortunately?) our bodies absorb the fat in our food allowing the toilet not to worry about grease buildup around the pipes. If you dump food, especially greasy food, down the toilet it will cool down and build up around the walls of the pipes and could eventually cause a backed up toilet and or drain pipe. Due to cool grease buildup, the opening will become so small that eventually it won’t allow anything to make it down the pipe.
  • Foods That Swell: Macaroni, chia seeds, oats, rice. What do these foods all have in common? They absorb water and increase in volume. Have you ever accidentally left macaroni in water much longer than you intended to? It may have tripled or quadrupled in size. The problem with these types of foods is that if you flush them down the toilet (where there’s plenty of water), they continue to absorb and increase in volume. If these individual chia seeds or grains of rice get caught on anything else on the walls of your pipes, they will grow and contribute to a blockage. Flush these foods often enough and they will accumulate and eventually clog your toilet.

The Dangers of a Clogged Toilet

Avoiding a clogged toilet means preventing a headache or a hassle, certainly. But there’s even more to it that we teach our clients about. We want your home and family to be safe and healthy. A clogged toilet actually poses a threat to your health because in the end, sewage is never meant to be on the inside of your home. Dirty water and excrements that have been sitting in your pipes have the potential of coming back up the wrong way. This means that disease-causing bacteria that have had the chance to grow, or things have rotted in the pipes are now entering your home. It goes without saying that coming into contact with these sorts of materials can be dangerous to your health - especially if you have small children crawling on the floors.

Clogged toilets do not always have to back up and infiltrate your home but they can still cause horrible odours to enter which influence your quality of life. It’s really worth it for you and your family to exercise due diligence when it comes to the health and safety of the toilets in your home.

Warning Signs of a Clogged Toilet

Gurgling is rarely a good sign. If this is something you hear coming from the area of your toilet when it’s not even flushing, this can indicate that water is having issues passing through the pipes. It could mean that even though a clog hasn’t happened yet, it’s around the corner.

If you see any backup washing back into your toilet when you flush, this is a very bad sign. It indicates that a clog is not only preventing your most recent flushes from making it down the pipes into the sewers, but it’s also holding on to past flushes and allowing them to linger. This needs to be dealt with immediately as it can pose a threat to your health.

My Toilet’s Already Clogged, What Do I Do?

You may be encountering our preventative advice too late - you’ve already got a situation on your hands. Here are some tips to assess the severity of the situation - it’s not impossible to fix on your own. Try these things first and if you still find yourself being unable to flush, it’s time to call a professional.

  1. The Trusty Plunger. This almost goes without saying. The beauty of a plunger is that it uses suction to change the pressure in your drains - this pressure extends throughout the whole length of the pipe or atleast to the area that’s clogged. The force of the pressure that a plunger delivers can often be enough to get the clog moving and be on its way.

  2. A Chemical Clog Remover. Sometimes pouring a chemical clog remover can corrode the clog that’s causing the issue but for anyone uncomfortable with pouring something so strong down the toilet, soap or dish soap actually has lubricating qualities. Soap’s main job is to encase lipids (grease) which might actually be enough to solve a minor clog. However, if it is a minor clog the plunger likely took care of it. If you do choose to use a chemical clog remover beware, they will eat away at everything, clogs and pipes!

Sometimes despite your best efforts, your stubborn toilet chooses not to cooperate. The situation may call for a professional who has the appropriate equipment, training and years of experience to know exactly how to get your toilet back up and running. If this is the case, we are more than happy to come to the rescue (an added bonus - we’re always open, day or night and even on holidays).

Do I Really Need to Hire a Professional?

It’s really worth considering for the peace of mind. We’ve been training for these types of issues for years and can assess exactly what’s happening in your home’s drains. A licenced professional can assess the underlying cause of the problem so that you can decide how to handle it for both the short term and the long term.

Our plumbers have instruments that you probably haven’t invested in yourself. We have the necessary tools and technology that the situation calls for. For example, for a really nasty clog, we can use a drain inspection camera to visualize exactly what’s clogging your toilet’s drain pipe. Where you might try using an unwound coat hanger to reach the clog, we’ll use a professional auger to dislodge a clog you might be unable to reach with a do-it-yourself method. And any parts that we might install for you will always have our guarantee.

Although, as we’ve mentioned, harsh chemicals are used by many desperate homeowners to dissolve a problematic buildup, Mr. Rooter Edmonton plumbing professionals use environmentally friendly products. Not only are they safe for your family and community, they’re also highly effective!

Beware: The Power of the Plunger

While this handy tool is likely in almost every Edmonton area home, most people are unaware that you could cause damage while plunging.

When plunging a toilet, the plunger exerts a lot of force into the pipes as a large shot of water pressure. While this can work very well to dislodge a clog it is quite common for this jolt of pressure to push out the wax seal between the toilet and the toilet flange. If this seal is broken water can leak through and both onto the floor and worse, into the floor. A slow leak of water into the floor cause cause rotting, mould and mildew, and will eventually cause structural issues in the floor.

So, knowing this you can still plunge but just be careful. We recommend that toilets should not have caulking around the base (or if you do, make sure there are gaps in it) so that leaks will be seen quickly if the wax seal should develop a leak. If the clog is in the toilet there is no risk to the wax seal, but if it is further down you might be putting the wax seal to the test so use caution!

A Clogged Toilet Can Be Beat

In short, clogged toilets are something that a responsible homeowner can often prevent. As long as we’re conscious of what we are allowing to enter our plumbing systems, we can easily keep our homes’ toilets problem-free. Beyond the obvious, hair, floss, and food are some of the most common culprits to a clogged toilet so it’s important to dispose of these items in the trash.

This is not to say that we can control everything that enters our toilets (namely at the hands of our guests, kids or even previous homeowners). Emergencies do arise so it’s important to keep an eye out for red flags in the form of gurgling or dirty water backup. If the worst occurs and we encounter a clog, don’t despair. If simple do-it-yourself remedies do not solve the issue, a professional plumber is always willing and capable of helping. Sometimes it’s best to entrust our homes to someone who really knows the ins and outs of our plumbing. This can prevent further complications and bigger (costlier!) issues in the long run.

We care about the safety of your home and believe these tips are critical to implement in order to avoid toilet drain problems. But remember, should an emergency ever occur in your home, Mr. Rooter Edmonton has got your back.