Help! I Have an Overflowing Toilet Bowl!

    You have three options if you are faced with an overflowing toilet bowl: fix it yourself, call a professional, or cry.

    My most embarrassing personal story

    This is a perfect segue into what might be my most embarrassing personal story. Many years ago, I worked as a farm hand on an off-the-grid organic farm. It did not pay, but they let me live in a tipi on the property. Living on the property was far more challenging than the job itself. The owner of the farm, bless her heart, was quite particular about, um, everything on the property. To makes matters more difficult, all six of the farm's residents had to use the toilet in her house – there was no other toilet.

    The problem with her toilet, and with the fact that 6 people were using it, was that it was very old. You couldn't put even toilet paper in it, and when you went number two, you had to push the number two down the toilet's exit hole with a bamboo pole, affectionately known as "the poop stick," that she kept next to the toilet. To make matters worse, the toilet would not even flush poo. She had a stash of designated toilet overflow towels in her bathroom closet.

    Murphy's Law said it was all my fault

    A normal person would blame any overflows or mishaps on the toilet, but I was at a stage in my life where I believed that Murphy's Law applied to me and to me only, and that somehow, mystically, it was my fault. Every time I flushed the toilet, I would stand there and pray, "Please go down, please go down, please don't overflow." Sometimes it worked; sometimes it didn't. I didn't know about the water shutoff valve trick yet.

    First response when faced with an overflowing toilet

    I could have saved myself some misery had I known this simple tip: when faced with an overflowing toilet bowl, turn off the water.

    The water shutoff valve usually comes out from the wall on the bottom left side of the toilet bowl. If your toilet bowl's overflowing, you can immediately stop the overflow by turning off the water supply to the toilet, and then plunging. If the water level is rising and it looks like an overflowing toilet bowl is imminent, just reach down and turn the water supply valve to the right. Righty tightie, lefty loosie. Do it before the water gets so high that sticking a plunger in the toilet will cause water displacement.

    The low point

    One particular time, the toilet bowl overflowed and flooded the entire bathroom. Here comes the low point of my life: I cried. "I can't even flush a toilet right!" I wept in the bathroom. "I can't even poop and flush a toilet right!" I was dying of mortification as I went, this one last time, looking for the farm owner's mop and bucket.

    What to do if your toilet overflows regularly

    Shortly thereafter, the farm owner replaced her toilet. After one too many overflows, she called in a plumber, who told her that the toilet was old and faulty and needed to be replaced. The new toilet flushed like a charm. I never suffered the embarrassment of her overflowing toilet bowl again.

    The moral of the story is: When your toilet bowl is overflowing on a regular basis, call a plumber, or fix it yourself if you have the skills. There is no sense crying over spilled toilet water.

    Updated April 4, 2018.

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