Few things strike terror into the hearts of homeowners faster than the sight and sound of a gurgling, bubbling toilet. It isn’t the kind of home maintenance issue you can just “wait” to fix.
What’s more, toilet trouble can strike at any time. You hardly want to have guests left wrinkling their nose while your lovely evening goes down the drain, so what’s the cause of your toilet’s odious gurgling sound, and how can you fix it?
Toilets and Gurgling: An Overview
Part of the problem with assessing a gurgling toilet is that it could be nothing serious or the sign of something gone horribly, horribly wrong with your plumbing. The range of possibilities is really that wide, which means that you need more information before you can start to nail down the actual problem and come up with a solution.
On the whole, toilets tend to clog due to drainage or suction problems. Something somewhere in your plumbing system is preventing the natural flow of air, water, and waste through the tubing, and the result is that unfortunate gurgling sound.
The big question is whether it’s a mechanical issue that’s causing the problem, whether something has physically caused a blockage, or if something else is afoot.
Before we get into the reasons why your toilet may be gurgling, take a second to breathe. The sight, sound and, yes, possibly smell of a gurgling, bubbling toilet is enough to worry any homeowner.
However, if you’re reading this while your toilet’s gurgling thinking it’s a nightmarish scenario indicating a massive plumbing problem, relax – those fears are likely overblown. As we’ll see, most of the problems on this list can be easily remedied, and those that can’t can likely be solved by a trained expert.
Stay calm, diagnose the source of the gurgling, act swiftly, and the toilet will probably be fine.
Reason #1: Reverse Suction
One of the biggest causes of gurgling and bubbling in toilets is reverse suction. This occurs when your toilet’s P-trap is forced back into your plumbing as a result of the P-trap being removed, which in turn causes a lack of proper ventilation and, thus, the gurgling sounds you hear.
Without this venting, a backflow from the water supply of other elements of your plumbing can suction air away from your toilet, causing the gurgle.
There are many potential causes of this type of blockage, including external debris and clogs, as described below.
Reason #2: Clogs
This is one of the reasons for gurgling toilets that homeowners tend to fear the most. There’s just no nice way to explain to guests that your toilet is clogged. It’s best to simply unclog the toilet as quickly and cleanly as possible with your plunger or toilet snake.
Before you can even do that, however, you’ll first need to identify what precisely has clogged your toilet. It may be tempting to think of toilet clogs as being the same (and equally gross), but the fact is that the type of clog involved will impact what your course of action should be.
Some of the most common causes of toilet clogs include:
- The Type of Toilet: Some toilets, especially low-flow toilets and those made before the mid-90s, are more likely to clog. If your toilet clogs and gurgles frequently, it may be time to replace it.
- Non-Flushable Items: Your toilet can only take so much. If you’re trying to flush non-flushable items such as food, wipes, or most things besides toilet paper and tissues, you run the risk of clogging your toilet.
- Toilet Trap Trouble: The toilet trap is the curved part of your toilet fixture that is built into the lower bowl through which waste is flushed away. It is meant to hold standing water and ensure that sewer gas does not enter your home. If something blocks this hole, your toilet could experience a severe clog and begin to gurgle.
Reason #3: Clogged Vent Pipes
Now we move to clogs of a different kind. If your toilet itself seems clog-free, you may want to look at what it’s attached to, beginning with your vent pipes. Standard American toilets typically have vent pipes that lead up to the roof. This is one reason why you want to make sure you never let your roof become too dirty. Not only can a buildup of debris damage your roof, but it can also potentially block these vents, which in turn can cause clogging issues for your toilet.
This occurs because these roof vents funnel fresh air into your plumbing, which helps prevent vacuums, drain flow issues, and resultant foul odor. When they are blocked, all of these things can occur and it can cause clogs, complete with a gurgling sound resulting from the airflow that would normally pass between that vent and the pipes to which they are connected being obstructed.
When clearing these clogs, you’ll want to exercise some caution. For one thing, it isn’t just your toilet or plumbing at stake, but your roof as well, so don’t do or remove anything unless you are absolutely sure you know what you’re doing.
Additionally, the cause of the blockage might be anything from debris to animal waste to animals themselves – alive or dead. You need to be prepared for that, and if you aren’t, you need to call a plumber, roofer, or animal control expert to handle the issue for you.
Reason #4: Tank Trouble
It is also possible that something in your tank has broken down and needs to be replaced. For example, your toilet’s flapper – located within the cistern – may have suffered damage. This unit ensures that, once your toilet is flushed, it refills with clean water. A problem here can result in gurgling.
Reason #5: Other Faulty Equipment
In addition to your pipes and tank, you’ll also want to check other aspects of your toilet and plumbing. For example, if your pipes have sprung a leak, there is a crack in your toilet, or there is some other structural damage, you may need to have these elements repaired or replaced.
Reason #6: Calcifying Elements
The idea of parts of your plumbing “calcifying” is never a good prospect, and that’s sadly the case here. If you have a severe buildup of materials such as calcium, magnesium, or iron, your toilet can become clogged, to say nothing of the degradation that can occur with your pipes.
This can sometimes happen if you have hard water in your plumbing system, as it can become calcified. The result of this calcification can be a pipe and tank that doesn’t work properly, leading to gurgling.
Reason #7: A Neighborhood Problem
If you have checked all of the above and still haven’t found the source of the bubbling and gurgling, the fault may not be with your plumbing system at all – at least not solely. If you hear that your neighbors or other homes in your neighborhood are experiencing similar plumbing issues, the problem may be with the area’s water mane and plumbing system.
On the one hand, it may be nice to know that at least it isn’t your “fault.” On the other hand, if this is the case, what’s to be done? For better or worse, you likely can’t do anything. You’ll likely need to call someone involved with your city’s government or waste management system, inform them of the issue, and let them handle it, either themselves or with the help of a plumbing company.
Reason #8: Air in Your Water Lines
As stated, your toilet setup is designed to keep sewer gasses and other air from escaping into your home. At the same time, you don’t want a buildup of these gasses or any other type of air in your water lines. If this happens, you’ll want to discover the source of the air flow and close off the area.
Reason #9: Other Leaks
There is also the possibility that there is a leak, but not one directly connected to your toilet, your home’s plumbing system is interconnected. If there is a leak elsewhere, it may result in water or waste flowing back toward or away from your toilet in an irregular fashion, thereby causing the gurgling.
Reason #10: Sediment Deposits
If the water bubbling up in your toilet isn’t clear or filled with waste, but rather contains dirt or just looks dirty, your problem may be sediment deposits. This may be the result of dirt collecting in or an issue with your connection between your home’s plumbing and the sewer line.
When in Doubt, Call a Plumber
A buildup of sediment is a more serious problem than a standard plumbing leak or clog, and will need to be tended to by a professional plumber. The same is true of issues such as neighborhood-wise sewage problems and your roof vents being blocked by something you cannot or don’t wish to remove yourself, such as an animal. In addition, if you need replacement parts, such as new cisterns, pipes, or entirely new tanks or toilets, a plumber will also be necessary.
Whether or not you have to call a plumber or can handle the situation yourself, knowing what those gurgling sounds emanating from your toilet may mean can help you avoid a more odious end, act quickly, and save your plumbing.