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Sometimes the best way to convey a point or educate through words and reading is to type exactly how a trouble shooting session plays out. Not only does it give our readers a glimpse into the very sick mind……..whoops wrong article…into the mind of a professional plumbing technician but it also shows how much goes into diagnosing some plumbing issues. It sheds some light on the frustration plumbing contractors feel when someone calls and say “can you give me a ball park price on fixing my toilet……I won’t hold you to it I just want and idea of how much it’s going to cost.”. You see most service contractors who care spend some time with a prospective customer to build value in their service, what you see below is an example of that very philosophy.

Ed Struck Does Some Troubleshooting on a Clogged Drain and Toilet

The interaction below is from a long time customer.

Toilets and Clogged DrainsCUSTOMER :  I wanted to ask your advise on a plumbing problem we are having.  I recently replaced with wax ring on not one but two toilets. We had a smell coming from them and the smell has been eliminated on the worse offender. (Quick history as it was told to Ed Struck. The master bath smelled like urine from around the bowl. The other toilet rocked from side to side)

ED STRUCK : Well the only time you would get a smell from or around a toilet is if the trap seal is compromised somehow, the wax ring or toilet seal has deteriorated to allow sewer gas and brackish water to seep out of the seal, or there is mildew or mold growing in the toilet tank and the latter is unusual. The rocking back and forth could be as simple as tightening the closet bolts (do not over tighten) or the floor could be uneven and whatever was used to level the toilet has deteriorated.  Either way you have to level the toilet to ensure a proper seal. You can use a tub shim (a horse shoe shaped piece of plastic that is made in different thicknesses to fit under bathtubs, toilets etc.) by placing it under the toilet. You can put several under the toilet if you are uneven front to back.

**PROFESSIONAL TIP** Here is a little trick we like to use, you can also buy wood shims from the home centers, place a wood shim of the correct thickness under the toilet on the side you want to level and crack the shim off under the toilet. The shims are very thin so it won’t damage the toilet and they crack off right at the edge of the toilet, you can cut it back and caulk and you won’t see the shim.

CUSTOMER : I think my next issues are pretty common but I’d like ask, both lavatories and our tub in our house are draining very SLOWLY. I recently cleaned out the bath tub drain of all visible hair and used a chemical drain cleaner however bath still drains slowly.  I have also had trouble with my stopper (pop up drain), I can’t get it adjusted correctly and I plan to try and remove trap and plunger/stopper to remove debris. I went to several DIY sites and they just complicated things for me. Is there anything you could add to help me out? Maybe I’m not seeing something.

ED STRUCK : I’m glad to help BTW, It sounds like you have the toilet problem under control. The only thing I can tell about resetting a toilet is if the flange is below the level of the floor you can use two wax rings,  we do not typically use rings that have the plastic flange insert. We prefer just plain wax, this way you can form them as you need. Make certain that you feel the wax compress as you set the toilet on them. Tighten the bolts only enough so that the unit is secure and doesn’t move when you grasp the  front of the bowl and give it a shake.

Bathtub Drain Cleaning Basics – Clearing Clogged Drains

ED STRUCK : Drain cleaning on the other hand is a bit more of a pain. First off there are two basic types of tub drains

  • Toilets and Clogged DrainsOne is a lift and turn. This is where the stopper in the bottom of the tub lifts and rotates to either open or close the drain. If you have this type of drain the best tool you can buy is a little device called a “Drain Claw” or similar tool. This is nothing more then a plastic strip that has serrated edges that you can insert into the tub drain and it will catch additional hair that may be further down the drain (this will also work on the lav) This is available at you local hardware store or most home centers.
  • The other type of tub drain is trip lever style. This drain is activated by a lever that you move up and down or rotate a dial. This is located on the wall of the tub. If you have this type you will see a couple of screws that hold the overflow cover in place. Remove the screws and the cover will come off.  It will either have a linkage attached to it or you will see a retaining ring with 2 more screws. If you have the first type,  simply pull the linkage out of the overflow. It will generally have a long spring attached and most likely a large glob of soap scum and hair, clean off, put it back in and reattach. If you have the one with the second cover (rotating dial) remove additional screws and likewise pull the linage assembly out clean and put back in . With this type of drain make sure the stopper is in the tub shoe before you put the linkage back in. This will generally solve the tub problem. If the drain is still slow you can try chemicals but they usually don’t work very well and can damage the finish on the drain.

Professional Drain Cleaning Advice for Tougher Clogs

Here are some steps you can take using a simple cup plunger.

  • Remove stopper from sink bowl, if it won’t come out go under sink and find where the lever is attached. This operates the pop-up up. There is a nut that holds it to the drain loosen the nut and pull the lever rod out this will release the stopper you can then take it out of the sink.
  • Put water in the sink, close off the overflow and give it a good plunge(make sure you have tightened the pop-up rod before you add water or you’ll be left with a mess).

Professionally we use either a compressed air gun (Kinetic Water Ram) or rod the drain. The air gun is our preferred way to clear both tub and lav drains because it’s such a clean product. No one has to drag around a heavy rod, mark up any floors or run the risk of getting sludge on carpeting or floors.

If you can find this product and want to purchase one (they are handy), you must remember to close off the sink overflow (that’s the hole in the side of the sink bowl) you can do this by holding a rag over it as you release the air. If you’ve gone though all of these steps and still can’t get it a mechanical rodder is the only way.


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