This One Product Will Transform Your Toilet Problems
It’s dishwashing soap. (Oh, was I not supposed to mention that up front?)
CAUTION: Explicit normal products of everyday bodily functions mentioned below. Read at own risk.
Several years ago my wife came home with a suggestion: pour dishwashing liquid down the toilet before flushing. It had been suggested by someone at work when the office toilet had backed up; she tried it (the office kitchenette area had soap) and it worked!
We’ve been doing this for years now (to the point that we have dishwashing soap under the three bathroom sinks on a permanent basis as well as under the kitchen sink) and I have saved untold hours of effort in plunging toilets.
Those of you of a certain age (usually defined as, “people who get offended being described as ‘of a certain age,’ but not as much as being described by their actual age”) have probably found that the simple, supple, effortless poops of your youth have become these sodden logs of dung that resist all hydraulic efforts to navigate the tight turns of the modern toilet. Or perhaps you’ve experienced the bowl-filling already-sodden loose mass that gradually solidifies in situ at the bottom of the bowl over the next half hour while you finish going through your emails. And then toilet paper is added to the mix to impede any possibility of smooth exits.
In other words, a happy flush is not in your immediate future.
I had become an unfortunate expert in unclogging the toilets in our home by the time Deb unveiled the soap fix. I had in my armory two types of plungers (one for a good seal, with hard pneumatic blows delivered with a great deal of effort; one that was softer and easier and leant itself to fast, sharp plunges) and what I affectionately referred to as “the poop stick,” whose purpose in life was to break up hard solids into smaller solids. I had also learned not to start working on the toilets when short of time or energy, and that the odds of a local disaster increased dramatically when wearing office attire. In other words, don’t try to unplug the stupid thing when running late for work.
I was initially skeptical. Really? A bunch of dish soap down the toilet would make everything okay? Fine. Worst case, what could go wrong? (A mound of bubbles soaking through the bathroom floor into the ceiling below—but I didn’t think of that until after I tried it. No fears, didn’t happen.)
And in any case, it worked. Worked well, actually.
Pre-soap: flush (wait for water to slowly drain) flush (wait for water to slowly drain) flush (wait for water to… maybe it’s time for the plunger?).
Post-soap: flush (wait for the water to… suddenly pick up speed, form a vortex, and empty out the bowl). Huh.
Experimentation (over the course of many months, I should probably add) showed that a huge amount of soap is not needed. Maybe a quarter cup (estimated) or a few seconds of squirting soap around the contents of the bowl. A new bottle of cheap generic dishwasher soap has lasted for years. Also a little dilution is okay, but there are diminishing returns. Better to just stick to full-strength cheap soap.
If you look down into a bowl of poop and realize, based on experience, that the next flush is NOT going to end well, adding some soap beforehand works fine and gives some insurance. And did I mention it’s cheap?
Geek that I am, I had to rationalize why it works, and I’ve come up with the following:
- The soap provides lubrication between the poop and the toilet walls. Once the poop starts moving, it keeps going.
- The soap breaks down the fat and oil in the poop (visualize how the scum on the water in the kitchen sink breaks down when you add soap) to soften the poop and make it more likely to break up under pressure.
- The soap breaks the bond between the poop and the toilet walls—think of how stubborn food debris on the side of a pot loosens up after a short soak.
If anyone wants to use this as a basis for a school science project or a graduate thesis, go for it!