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Toilet Bubbles When Flushed: What’s Going On?

a toilet in a house

If your toilet starts making a gurgling noise, or there is bubbling when you flush it, you could be facing issues with your plumbing or septic system.

Slow draining, bubbling or gurgling toilets are common signs of a blockage somewhere in the pipes. These are warning signs of bigger, and even catastrophic plumbing issues down the road, as drainage is blocked and mounting pressure begins to damage your plumbing.

Toilet Clogs

The most common issue behind a noisy or bubbling toilet is a clog somewhere in the system. Waste or other non-flushable materials can get caught and continue to build up, restricting flow and leading to a backed up or overflowing toilet or even pipe damage.

Because of both the expenses and unsanitary conditions this can cause, possible toilet clogs should be dealt with at the first sign of trouble. A few bubbles may not seem like much at first, but they can be the warning signs of much bigger issues.

Luckily, homeowners can often fix a simple clog themselves if they catch it early enough.

Venting Issues

A less common suspect when it comes to toilet flow issues is airflow and pipe venting. For everything to “go with the flow” as it should, the air pressure in your pipes needs to flow freely.

A toilet needs unrestricted airflow for the flushing process to work. When trapped air finally builds up enough pressure to force release, we can hear gurgling or see air bubbles rising to the water’s surface.

Without proper ventilation, air pressure and airflow, the outflow of water and solids leave behind a vacuum. This brings the entire system to a sudden, and sometimes dramatic stop.

Most bathrooms incorporate a vent pipe, exiting through the roof, to provide the necessary ventilation. If the vent, pipe or some other part of the vent system gets clogged or blocked, the air pressure builds up. Then, when it finally escapes, air bubbles and noise in the pipes can be the result.

Leaves, dirt, moss and other exterior materials like bird nests can get into your venting system. They can even block the vent screens, restricting airflow. Missing or damaged screens can allow exterior gack to enter the vent pipe as well. This “early warning system” can actually be a good thing, letting the owner know there’s an issue with the vents. A completely clogged or stopped up air vent doesn’t give these warning signs, it simply stops working.

Venting issues are usually an easy fix, requiring a few common household tools and maybe a ladder.

Residue Buildup

In older homes, older toilet systems or toilets that aren’t cleaned regularly can result in calcium and other hard water residue building up over time. This residue restricts water flow and eventually plugs up drains and pipes.

You can check with your local water department to see if your home’s water is “hard” water or soft. Your water’s “hardness” or “softness” is a reference to its levels of calcium and magnesium. Signs of hard water include an odd taste or smell, low water pressure and lingering residue. Both hard and soft water can lead to calcification. Calcification leaves behind mineral deposits that can cause flow restrictions and erode pipes and fittings.

an overflowing sink as a result of a clogged drain

How to Clear a Clogged Drain

Most bubbling or gurgling issues with your toilet can be resolved quickly and easily, without professional assistance. Try these steps to help clear a simple clog or blockage:

Deep Cleaning

If you suspect that your toilet issues are being caused by residue buildup (like hard water deposits), grab a toilet cleanser, or even just household baking soda, and a stiff brush. Scrub all accessible areas of the toilet bowl, especially up under the rim, and any obvious areas of buildup.

Once the issue is resolved; this chore should be repeated monthly to help prevent continued build-up and future problems.

Grab That Plunger

Ah, the plunger…every homeowner’s first line of defense…and for good reason! The vast majority of plumbing issues come down to a blockage in the pipes and fixtures nearest the toilet bowl.

A few good plunges will clear blockages in your toilet pipes 99% of the time. If you’re still experiencing issues, try sealing off the sink and tub drains nearest the affected toilet. This will help increase the pressure from the plunging action, and force more stubborn blockages to pass.

Still, even the best combination of plunger and elbow grease can only overcome so much. For truly stubborn blockages, a plumbing professional should be consulted.

Time for the Sewer Snake

Serious plumbing issues may call for serious equipment. One of the most commonly used tools by professional plumbers is the sewer snake, or drain auger.

Made to “snake” its way down to deal with the problem directly, this thin, flexible tool ends in some form of cutting tool that can reach tough blockages deep in your pipes. Plumbers use this tool to auger their way through blockages, breaking up solids and allowing them to continue through the system.

Manual snakes can be purchased at most home supply stores and are simple to use. Mechanical versions are available as well. However, these are more expensive and complicated to use, and the cost is similar to calling a plumber.

Along with a high-quality plunger, a manual sewer snake is an item that should be in every homeowner and renter’s house. These affordable tools can quickly resolve unexpected bathroom issues.

Dealing with Venting Issues

Sometimes toilet issues have nothing to do with the flow of water, but with the flow of air.

Exterior vents and vest screens should be swept clear of accumulated dirt and debris as least twice a year. If you live in a dusty or high wind area, this is required more often. A dust broom or hand-held vacuum does the job.

While you’re up there, trim away any overhanging branches that may be dropping leaves or other debris around your vents, and repair or replace any damaged or missing screens.

Once you’ve cleared away any possible ventilation blockages, the bubbling or gurgling from the toilet should stop. If it does not, then this likely wasn’t the issue. The good news is that it’s still an important step in helping prevent future problems.

The fact is that a bubbling toilet can be indicative of a plumbing problem that most homeowners don’t have the skills and training to fix. That’s when it’s time to put down the plunger and contact a professional to fix your plumbing problem.

a kitchen with a clogged drain

How to Fix a Clogged Drain Deep in Pipe

If the clogged drain is deep in the pipe, give your neighbors a call. If you suspect that your plumbing woes might be a shared issue with others in your building or neighborhood, a quick phone call can save a lot of time, expense and hassle. 

Your local utilities should pay for any repairs or upgrades required on the main lines. They likely won’t reimburse you for expenses you incurred attempting to resolve the problem yourself.

Clogging issues with your main sewage lines can be more serious, difficult and expensive to repair. Luckily, they can often be the responsibility of your local water and waste department as well.

While they can produce the same gurgling and bubbling, mainline issues don’t actually occur in the pipage or drainage within your home. Instead, they are in the larger pipes and connections of the shared sewer system that services your building or neighborhood. 

If you notice the same bubbling or gurgling issues in many toilets in your building or home, this is a good indicator of an issue affecting the shared septic or sewage system. 

If you’ve tried plunging your toilet, or have noticed signs in multiple toilets, it’s time to call whoever is responsible for the maintenance of your local wastewater system. 

This is especially true if you begin to notice sewage odors in your bathroom–which is a common sign of a system-level blockage.

When It’s Time to Call the Plumber 

If the plumbing problem persists, it’s time to call a professional plumber. A licensed plumber will have the training and experience to deal with your plumbing problems. They also have the professional equipment and training to use it. All this gives them the ability to fix problems that may be beyond your reach. 

Bubbling and gurgling toilets can indicate an ongoing problem within your sewage system. These plumbing issues can escalate quickly in both time and expenses. 

ABC Can Resolve Your Plumbing Problems

When you contact ABC Home & Commercial Services, we will send a specialist out to make things right. Our licensed plumbers are experienced and highly trained, so you can rely on them for diagnosing an issue, as well as plumbing repairs and maintenance.

Tom Riggs

Tom Riggs is the Division Manager for Mechanical Services, overseeing sales and operations for HVAC, Plumbing, Electrical, Appliance Repair and Water Quality for all ABC Austin branches. He joined ABC in 2014. Before ABC, he was an HVAC Service Technician, HVAC Comfort Advisor/Sales and Operations Manager. Tom attended Universal Technical Institute. He's an avid outdoorsman and enjoys country living with his wife and two sons.

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