Picture this: you walk into the bathroom one day and notice an unusual sound coming from your toilet.
It sounds almost like a rumbling stomach—and since toilets can’t get hungry, this probably isn’t a good sign. Maybe the sound only happens while you are using the shower, or when it rains, or just after you flush the toilet.
Maybe the sound is accompanied by an unfortunate sewer-like smell. It would be easiest to just turn away and pretend you hadn’t noticed the sound but is this really something that you should ignore?
Unfortunately, no. Regardless of when or how it occurs, your gurgling toilet is very likely symptomatic of a bigger issue at hand.
What Does It Mean for a Toilet to Gurgle?
When a toilet gurgles, it means that there is a blockage present somewhere in the plumbing system which is causing negative air pressure to build up in the pipes. Drain systems are specifically designed to allow air to flow freely in and out, so this sort of suction should never occur.
A clog preventing this smooth flow of air can cause a lot of problems over time.
This clog is likely present in one of three places: either in the drain line or vent stack of your home, or else in the main sewer line in your area.
A gurgling toilet may be the first sign that such an issue is present. If the problem isn’t fixed soon, it may result in the toilet ceasing to flush properly or in waste backing up into your shower or sink.
4 Common Causes of Toilet Gurgling
In truth, there is really only one possible cause for a toilet to be gurgling: a clog. However, this clog could be present in several different places throughout the plumbing system.
First, the problem may be a clog in the drain line. The drain line is a series of pipes that connects your toilets to the main sewer line or to the septic tank. The drain line also connects to your sinks, bathtubs, and showers, and takes all the waste and used water from these appliances on to the waste system that the line is connected to.
Second, the problem could be a clog in the main line. This line connects your home’s pipes to a municipal connection or to your septic tank, depending on what plumbing system you have. The municipal connection line is joined to the pipes of all the neighboring homes in the area. This system of pipes takes not only sewer waste from your home but also all of the used water that went down the drains.
Third, the problem may be a blocked vent stack. The vent stack is a pipe that leads up to your roof, allowing bad smells to be released and helping to control the air pressure within the plumbing system.
Unlike the other two causes, the vent stack, in this case, is not likely to be clogged up by flushed waste, but rather by leaves or animal nests which are blocking air and exhaust gas from being properly vented through the pipes. When this is the cause of your gurgling toilet woes, you are more likely to also notice a problem of slow drainage and strong sewer odor.
Finally, the problem could also be a municipal sewer line clog. If your home is connected to a sewer system rather than to a septic tank, it is possible that your gurgling toilet is being caused by a problem with the city’s waste management system itself.
Unfortunately, if this is the case, you are probably also dealing with other issues as a result, and there really isn’t much that you can do to fix it yourself besides calling potentially calling the city or water company to inform them of the problem.
How to Fix a Gurling Toilet
The first way to fix a gurgling toilet is actually preventative: don’t flush anything down your toilet that wasn’t meant to be flushed. This includes such things as tissues, paper towels, cotton swabs, baby wipes, makeup wipes, feminine products, and so on. In fact, you should not flush anything in your toilet besides toilet paper and human waste.
And if you do have a septic system, also be sure to check that your toilet paper is septic-safe. In taking these preventative steps, you will be able to avoid getting a gurgling toilet at all!
If you already have a gurgling toilet, there are a few ways you can fix the problem. It can be hard to know which of the four common causes listed above is plaguing your toilet; however, with a bit of effort, you may be able to fix the problem without having to resort to calling a plumber.
The first thing you can do is plunge the toilet. First, seal off all the drains in any nearby sinks, showers, or bathtubs with duct tape in order to prevent pressure from being released from those drains, which would only prolong the problem instead of dislodging the clog in the drain system.
Next, use a good toilet plunger—such as an accordion-style plunger—and pump it firmly within the toilet bowl over the toilet’s drain, about 10 to 15 times. Check to see if the toilet continues to gurgle.
If it does, you could try to unclog the drain line by inserting a sewer snake (or plumber’s auger) down the drain to dislodge the clog. These cables can be motorized or manually operated. There are many different types and lengths of sewer snakes, but they can be very pricey and may not fix the problem if the issue is not caused by a clog in the drain line itself.
Of course, your problem may not be caused by a clog in the drain line.
If these first few fixes do not solve the issue, you may try checking the vent stack for any blockages. You will have to climb up on your roof to check and clear the stack, so this may not be the best or easiest option, particularly if you are afraid of heights.
Another possible option would be to call your neighbors to see if they are also experiencing these problems. If your neighbors confirm that they too have plumbing issues, it is very likely that the issue lies not with your own plumbing system at all, but rather with the community’s sewer line or even with the municipal sewer line.
If this is the case, you will probably need to call the local municipal sewer authority or the water company to report this problem, so that they can send someone out to fix it.
What If None of the Above Fixes Works?
If none of these options work, then it is probably time to call the plumber.
If you neglect this problem, it will unfortunately only result in a costlier issue in the future. Getting your gurgling toilet fixed before any bigger problems spring up is hugely important, and it will probably save you money and annoyance in the long run.
With a bit of luck, you will be able to solve the problem of a gurgling toilet within a couple of hours.
However, in some instances, the cause might be outside your house. In that case, you might need to wait for the city or local water company to fix the problem. And that, as you can guess, can take some time!
While what was described in this article is a common situation, it is also common for your bathtub to gurgle when you flush your toilet.