Ah, the humble toilet, arguably the most essential of home appliances. How do you maintain a toilet? When it’s working well and performing as expected, the toilet is nearly ignored, much like the soundtrack of an excellent film. As with that soundtrack, however, when it fails, everyone notices and chaos ensues…especially if there’s only one bathroom.
Friends, we are gathered here today to hack life through the toilet, exploring its deeper mysteries in search of reliable bathroom maintenance truths and tips with which we can go forth confidently and prosper, newly armed with a helpful toilet maintenance checklist, lessening our considerable commode concerns and putting the “rest” back into our restrooms. Feel free to convert this post into your own handy-dandy Excel spreadsheet or printable PDF, as you may want to refer to it again.
How do I keep my toilet flushing properly?
As with many home appliances, a little effort expended on regular maintenance and cleaning can make a real difference toward keeping your toilets functioning reliably, and you don’t need pro-level skills to do either. Of course you want to get the most out of your investment in your home’s plumbing over time, just as you do with any necessary component. However, you don’t need a daily toilet cleaning checklist, expertise in routine plumbing or a certification in toilet pipe maintenance to understand and be aware of the benefits of regular cleaning and maintenance. Take care of your toilets, and they’ll take care of you in return.
Cleaning, clogs and flushing
Cleaning your toilets regularly is the foundation of a good toilet maintenance checklist, but monthly is more realistic. Wipe down the entire toilet at least once a month, and don’t forget to clean the rim jets, located under the rim of the bowl. They’re a little tricky to reach. If these jets are clogged, your bowl has a tougher time staying clean, which in turn means it’ll be more likely to clog over time.
Try not to use harsh or toxic chemicals when you clean your toilet, as they can damage internal components or even your pipes. If the bowl is slow to drain, you’ve got a weak-flush problem, most likely due to a clog in those rim jets. It’s easier to eyeball them if you use a mirror, and you can force out stubborn clogs in these jets with a stiff wire, while carefully avoiding scratches to the porcelain.
If you’ve cleared the jets and still find yourself facing a clog in the bowl, a plunger is the tool you can rely on to create suction to free the blockage. Just make sure you press hard enough to create a good seal before plunging. If the plunger isn’t up for the job, try an inexpensive toilet auger, router or snake, available at a hardware store. Usually one of these tools will prove to be up to the task of banishing a clog, but whatever you do, be sure to avoid flushing anything but human waste and toilet paper. Not doing so is a quick ticket to Clog Town.
If you want to improve your toilet maintenance skills, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with a toilet’s basic, universal components. These include the bowl, base, seal, tank, lid, handle and chain. Say that five times fast. Let’s not forget those rim jets we just mentioned, as well as the float, flange, refill tube, ballcock and various valves (which we’ll get to later).
Each component has a relatively simple yet overall important function. Sometimes, you’ll also need to be aware of the mounting bolts at the base of the toilet, which help with stability. If your toilet is rocking, it’s time to take a closer look. Speaking of stability, as part of your regular cleaning and maintenance routine, you’ll want to check your tank-to-bowl bolts for signs of rust, which can lead to a precarious seating arrangement. Flanges or wax rings beneath the toilet can rot away over time, contributing more to that uncomfortable instability. They may need to be replaced. Even if you’re not feeling unstable on the seat, take a closer look at your seals. If the caulk or silicone is looking dried out, broken or missing, it may be time to re-seal.
Another important component to stay aware of is the inside of the tank. When you’re doing your routine cleaning and maintenance check, carefully remove the heavy tank lid, and set it aside on the floor. Look inside the tank for any visible signs of damage or deterioration. Rubber flappers can fall apart inside the tank, and toxic cleaning chemicals are usually the culprit, so try to steer clear of them.
Running and leaking
If your toilet keeps running longer than it should, and you’ve checked that the flapper inside the tank still has a good seal, you still might be able to fix it yourself and stop that water bill from climbing. The seals we mentioned earlier, in various places around the toilet, are often the culprit, as they can deteriorate over years.
Trickling water in the bowl when you haven’t flushed lately is usually due to a leak from the tank, which could mean a bad flapper and is pretty easy to fix on your own. A trickle often sounds like a hiss and is caused by escaping water. Here’s one occasion where the classic “jiggle the handle” trick might work. If there’s a little extra play in there, sometimes the flapper doesn’t land perfectly, creating an imperfect seal. If jiggling the handle works, check your chain and consider adjusting the length. If this trick doesn’t work, you could have an issue related to the refill tube, float, ballcock or something else that could require help from a pro.
When you do your regular cleaning, check all over the toilet, inside and out, for possible leaks. If you suspect you have a leak, put some food coloring in the tank. If you come back after half an hour, and the color of the water has changed without a flush, you have a leak in there somewhere, and this one might require a plumber.
Shut-off and fill valves
Shut-off valves, which cut off all water flowing to the toilet and are located behind or below it, should move freely without sticking; they need to be tweaked occasionally and should turn easily. Shut-off valves tend to harden up and freeze in place over time, and you definitely don’t want this to happen when you’re in an emergency and trying to stop all water from flowing. If yours are locked down, it’s time to replace them. These valves are important components to check when you’re doing your routine cleaning and maintenance.
Fill valves, which stop the water from flowing once the tank has filled, should be checked by removing the tank lid and flushing. If the fill valve fails to stop the tank from adding more water once it has already reached the appropriate level, there are additional problems for a pro to diagnose.
Calling in a pro
Making the extra effort to regularly clean and maintain your toilets is admirable and should serve you well, but sometimes you need professional help from a real plumber. Anytime you reach the outside edge of your comfort zone, it’s not something to feel bad about; it makes sense to put your trust in experts when you need them, especially when plumbing problems can multiply and get out of hand. Nobody wants water leaking into their homes, and sometimes leaks and clogs become overwhelming for the amateur plumber.
If you’re wondering whether your home warranty covers toilets or would like to know more about how to unclog your toilet without a plunger, check out our other posts. At Cinch Home Services, we’re dedicated to making home maintenance a breeze. Understanding the myriad options when it comes to home warranties and home protection plans is overwhelming — and so is finding a qualified home pro! Fortunately, you’ve come to the right place. Subscribe to our newsletter to learn more handy home-related tips and tricks, and be sure to download your free toilet maintenance checklist.
The information in this article is intended to provide guidance on the proper maintenance and care of systems and appliances in the home. Not all of the topics mentioned are covered by our home warranty or maintenance plans. Please review your home warranty contract carefully to understand your coverage.