Dirty bathroom toilet

How Do I Handle a Toilet Overflow?

One of the plumbing systems that we rely on most in our homes is the toilet. We use this fixture multiple times each day and it’s easy to take it for granted. If we notice an overflow from the toilet, it can be an unnerving experience and it’s easy to panic. An overflow is often accompanied by sewage, which is hard to clean and hazardous to touch. After you’ve dealt with the initial mess, you need to consider how it occurred and get the problem fixed to prevent it from happening again. In this article, we will take a closer look at how you can handle a toilet overflow efficiently.

The Initial Response

When you first notice that the toilet is overflowing, it typically occurs after flushing. When you flush the toilet and the waste is not disappearing, your initial confusion may be followed by panic. Try to stay calm, if you adopt a methodical and proactive approach you can minimize some later problems. Taking the right steps now will help you reduce the cleanup task and control the situation. Follow these four steps in order to make this toilet overflowing situation easier to handle.

1.   Shut-off the Water Supply

When no fresh water is being introduced into the toilet tank, you can lessen the effects of an overflow situation. The water supply line can be shut-off with a valve that is usually located near the base of your toilet. In some homes, you may not be able to find the shut-off valve, but you can stop the water flow manually. Simply lift the toilet tank lid and lift the float ball to a high position, which will prevent the water from running. Prop the float in place and you will have your hands free for the next steps.

2.   Avoid Flushing the Toilet

The natural reaction to a toilet overflow for many people is to flush the toilet repeatedly to clear the waste into the drain. This should be avoided at all costs because it will make the problem much worse. If you have to leave the bathroom to call the plumber or answer the door make sure no-one else in the home flushes that toilet. The root cause of an overflow could be a clogged pipe, a septic tank backup, a drain line break or something worse.

3.   Unclogging the Toilet

Now that the water is shut-off you can attempt to unclog the toilet yourself. You don’t need any special training to attempt a basic clog removal, but you do need some things before you start, including gloves, bleach, a toilet plunger, a drain snake, old towels or rags, and a mop and bucket. Always wear gloves when working on your overflowing toilet because you can get harmful bacteria on your hands. The old towels and rags should be kept close by to quickly soak up any overflowing spills from the toilet as you’re working.

The first unclogging attempt should be with a simple toilet plunger. This is a different tool than a standard cup plunger, which many people have in their homes. Although they look the same, the toilet plunger has an extra rubber flange around the rim. This allows the toilet plunger to be used on a non-flat surface which is perfect for the curve of the toilet bowl. The rubber cup forms a seal around the toilet hole and working it up and down changes the pressure to force the clog loose. If you’re not getting any results try scooping out some of the blackwater to get a better seal and prevent sloshing. This is a dirty job, but it may be effective, and if it doesn’t work it’s time to try the drain snake.

A plumbing augur or drain “snake” is a flexible rod that you can feed into the toilet drain. When it bumps up against the clog you simply turn the crank near the handle. Down at the business end, the crank action turns a bit that drills into the clog to break it apart. If this is successful, you should notice the water level falling and you may be able to flush the clog remains into the drain.

If these two methods are not successful, it’s time to contact a local licensed plumber for professional assistance. There may be an underlying cause of the toilet overflow that needs to be fixed before the situation is remedied. If you’re not sure about clearing the clog yourself, contact the plumber to fix the problem for you.

4.   Cleaning the Overflow

Let’s face it, cleaning up the toilet overflow aftermath is not going to be high on anyone’s list of desirable tasks but it must be done. Delaying this task is not an option because the blackwater waste will contain pieces of raw sewage. Any sewage contains microorganisms including bacteria and viruses that are a serious threat to human health. Exposure to these microorganisms can lead to a wide variety of health issues, including cholera, hepatitis, typhoid, and more. This is why it’s so important to wear gloves at all times when you are cleaning up the toilet overflow.

If you only have a few splashes of this material on the bathroom floor, they can be cleaned away with diluted bleach. If there is a lot of black water, you will need to carry out a more extensive cleanup. If the blackwater is allowed to sit on your surface for a longer period, it can cause more damage. After the waste is cleaned away, you need to make sure that the area is dried and free from any moisture. Blackwater can soak into the drywall, floorboards, wooden cabinets, and other surfaces where it can cause mold and mildew growth. Wiping these areas down with diluted bleach can kill any remaining microorganisms after they are dry.

As you can see, it can be hard to unclog a toilet and clean up the overflow safely. If you don’t want to deal with this problem yourself, it’s a good idea to contact your local professional plumber. They have the training, experience, and tools to remove the clog safely and clean up the mess left behind.