Q: I'm having a problem with a toilet that does not flush all the time. My son recently moved back home after completing college and started to use the guest bath, which had not been used much for years.
A: plumber was hired to clean out the sewer pipes. But he said the toilet was the problem and that it needed to be replaced, something about jets being clogged. I don't want to spend several hundred dollars on a new toilet. Is there anything I can do to clean the jets? --D.H.
A: Any appliance that uses or stores water will, over time, have a buildup of calcium and lime deposits. Calcium and lime are minerals present in our drinking water, and they attach themselves to openings in faucets, filters, icemakers, dishwashers, coffee pots and on the smaller openings inside the toilet tank and under the rim of the bowl.
When the toilet is flushed, the water stored inside the tank is released to a small opening on the back of the bowl. From there, the water travels in a channel inside the rim of the bowl, where it is released through tiny jets just under the rim. When the jets are clogged, the water does not enter the bowl fast enough for the bowl to flush properly.
You can test the toilet by pouring a 2-gallon bucket of water directly into the bowl. If the water swirls and goes down and stays down, then the jets are probably clogged.
You can repair this condition yourself with a little effort and a $20 bill. You will need a gallon of calcium, lime and rust remover, sold under the brand name CLR (at most home stores), a 1-quart soft-plastic container (metal might scratch the ceramic inside the bowl), a plastic bucket, rubber gloves, eye protection and a well-ventilated room. Use a portable fan if you have to. Wear a long-sleeved shirt and pants to protect your skin from the chemicals. Read and follow the safety directions on the CLR container.
First, turn off the water supply to the toilet. There should be a shut-off valve on the wall or floor under the tank. If not, turn off the water supply to the home. Flush the toilet, then drain and sponge out as much of the water as you can find from both the tank and the bowl.
Next, remove the tank top and the rubber flapper valve at the bottom of the tank. Start the cleanup by pouring all the CLR into the tank. It will fill the bowl as it enters and starts to clean the jets. Using the plastic container, scoop up the CLR from the bowl and pour it back into the tank.
Keep scooping and pouring, and you will start to see flecks of mineral deposits inside the bowl. At some point, the CLR may start to foam as the chemicals react with the calcium and lime, and you may notice an acidic odor.
Leave the room or use the fan and venting to avoid breathing the fumes. When the air has cleared, continue to scoop and pour until you see the CLR running out of the jets freely.
You have now repaired the toilet at a cost of under $20. Rinse the tank and bowl by turning the water back on for a few minutes. After all the chemicals are flushed, turn the water off again, replace the flapper valve (use a new one), replace the lid and turn the water back on.