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How to stop a toilet from overflowing: this article describes simple and quick steps you can take to stop an overflowing toilet or a toilet whose bowl is filling and that is about to overflow. Our unpleasant page top photo illustrates the problem with which you may be confronted, often alone, perhaps just after having used the toilet.
Here we explain that quickly lifting the toilet tank lid and taking one or two simple steps can avoid a messy toilet overflow catastrophe.
We also explain how to prevent a septic or sewer system backup during heavy use of a private septic tank and system.
We also provide a MASTER INDEX to this topic, or you can try the page top or bottom SEARCH BOX as a quick way to find information you need.
Emergency Toilet Overflow Rescue Procedure - how to stop a toilet from overflowing
If the toilet is about to overflow here is what you do to prevent sewage from running over the toilet bowl and onto the floor:
Take off the toilet tank lid - Quickly but carefully, remove the lid from the toilet tank and set it aside.
You can place the toilet tank lid right across the toilet bowl.
Don't knock the lid on the floor - they break.
Don't waste time moving towels and stuff - we're in a rush to stop the toilet from overflowing.
Reach inside the toilet and push down the flapper valve that is letting the tank empty water into the toilet bowl - this will stop water from entering the toilet and if you're quick enough, prevent sewage from overflowing onto the floor.
This will be a rubber valve in the center of the bottom of the toilet tank.
This will stop water from flowing from the toilet tank into the toilet bowl.
Don't be afraid to touch the water in the toilet tank - it's sanitary.
Stop the toilet & its tank from further filling by lifting up the float that operates the toilet tank fill valve.
This will stop water from entering the toilet tank from the toilet supply line.
The photo shows that water is stopped and the flapper in the toilet tank bottom is shut.
If the water level in the toilet bowl is dropping slowly, keep holding the toilet tank float up in its highest position so that water stops flowing into the tank and into the toilet bowl.
Wait a minute - if in the next minute or two the water level in the toilet bowl slowly drops down to a normal level, you'll be able to release the toilet tank float and let the tank and toilet bowl refill without danger of overflowing onto the floor.
If the water level in the toilet tank is not dropping, after a minute or until you can't bear standing there any longer, continue to hold up the toilet tank float while you close the toilet supply valve near the floor or in the wall behind the toilet.
Still holding up the float so that the toilet tank stops filling, reach down and carefully turn off the toilet fill valve. Turn the handle clockwise to close the valve.
If you can't do both, let the float drop and quickly close the valve.
If the toilet supply valve is hard to turn do not force it - it could break and give a terrible supply leak on top of your blocked drain problems.
If you cannot close the toilet fill valve, or if there isn't one, remove the little flexible rubber or plastic tube that is sending water into the toilet bowl through the vertical standpipe.
The photo at left shows this tube in its normal position and you can see it shooting water into the toilet bowl refill tube.
The standpipe also supports the flapper valve but the water squirting into the tube is going right into the toilet bowl.
Aim the flexible little bowl-fill tube into the toilet tank instead.
Now you can let the float drop and let the toilet tank fill.
The reason for this step is that that little tube is sending extra water into the toilet bowl even when the main toilet tank flapper valve has shut.
You're trying to avoid filling and overflowing the toilet tank.
The photo shows us directing the bowl-fill tube water into the toile tank instead.
Once the toilet tank has filled you can clip this tube back in place where as shown in the photo before this one.
OK so You Prevented the Toilet From Overflowing onto the Floor, What Next:
Stop using all toilets and fixtures: stop running water in sinks and showers etc. while you investigate.
Try using a toilet plunger to see if you can clear a blocked drain. Don't splash sewage all over yourself, or if you do, wash carefully afterwards. Don't give up too soon. Sometimes repeated plunging for a minute will remove a blockage in a house drain. If during plunging the toilet you see sewage coming up in a nearby tub drain, close the tub drain and try again.
Investigate the problem to find out the probable cause. Check all of the bathrooms and all plumbing fixtures, starting with the fixtures lowest in the building.
When checking upper floor fixtures have an accomplice keep an eye on the lower floor toilets and drains - otherwise you may think that upstairs drains are working when in fact they're simply backing up out of the lower floor toilets.
See CLOGGED DRAIN DIAGNOSIS & REPAIR diagnosing septic backups and septic system failures versus clogged drains - for details on how to diagnose blocked drains and septic or sewage backups.
If only one drain or toilet is blocked, is there another bathroom that's working? If so you may have just a local problem and you can survive by not using the problem toilet.
If all of the toilets or drains are backing up or slow, you may have a blocked system drain or a flooded failing septic field. If so you will have to stop using toilets and sinks indoors. It's possible that after letting the drainfield rest for an hour or so you may be able to return to modest use of toilets. Meanwhile do not run any water into any drains if you can avoid it.
If your home is connected to a private septic tank, look outside at the septic fields: do you see evidence of septic effluent at the surface? If so, no amount of plunging will correct the problem.
If your home is connected to a municipal sewer, you may have a blocked main drain.
If your home uses a sewage ejector pump or septic pump, check that the pump has electrical power, is turned on, and is working. See Pumps Septic pumps, sewage ejector pumps, grinder pumps, effluent pumps, sump pumps, & septic pumping stations compared; pump alarms. Advice.
Call a plumber to try clearing a blocked drain and or ...
Call a septic pumping company to ask for an emergency pump out.
This won't fix a broken septic system but if the problem is indeed a flooded drainfield, the empty septic tank will permit your guests to use bathrooms as needed during the event in your home.
Use a portable or chemical toilet: Call a port-a-john portable toilet company, if all else fails and you have lots of guests who will be in the building over an extended time.
You can rent one or more portable toilets.
In a pinch you may be able to borrow a camping toilet or chemical toilet like this Thetford porta-potty from someone who has that device.
If you have had sewage back up and spill out of toilets into the building, cleanup is needed and you may face bacterial hazards. See SEWAGE CONTAMINATION in BUILDINGS for advice.
Why Does the Septic or Sewer System Back Up During a Party?
Indeed it seems to be just the luck that we are living happily along not giving the septic tank a thought until we have a bunch of guests over for Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, or a graduation party. Why is it that at events we often see the septic system backing up?
The photo shows sewage water backing up into a bath tub. This is what can happen at bottom floor fixtures in a home when the main drain is blocked or the septic system is blocked and you keep flushing toilets or running fixtures at upper floors. Don't do this.
Septic systems seem to fail during a party because the septic system was already in trouble, but our usage was modest enough that we just weren't noticing it.
The surge of waste water entering the septic tank cannot flow into a flooded drainfield so sewage may back up into the home, usually at the lowest plumbing fixture. Sometimes it's not the wastewater surge but someone flushing something down a toilet that blocks a drain - that's a problem that can be cleared by a plumber using a plumbing snake or drain router. But often the problem is in the septic field itself.
Readers should see CAMPING & EMERGENCY TOILETS and also see ALTERNATIVE & WATERLESS TOILETS for a discussion of camping toilets, chemical toilets, emergency-use toilets, waterless toilets, graywater systems, composting toilets, home health care toilets, incinerating toilets, outhouses, and latrines.
Continue reading at TOILET REPAIR GUIDE or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.
 "Remediation of Sewage Contaminated Crawlspaces", Byjim Holland, CR, "Cleaning and Restoration," July 1999, pp 22-24, original source: restcon.com/links/articles/Remediating%20Contaminated%20Crawlspaces.pdf
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Rogers, S.A. (1991) Indoor fungi as part of the cause of recalcitrant symptoms of the tight building syndrome. Env. International. 17:271-275.
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 Amahmid, O., Asmama, S., & Bouhoum, K. (1999). The effect of waste water reuse in irrigation on the contamination level of food crops by Giardia cysts and Ascaris eggs. International Journal of Food Microbiology, 49(1-2), 19-26.
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 Thanks to reader Charles Labs at 247inktoner.com Tel: 800-866-8022 (a provider of ink toner, ink cartridges and related supplies) for updating our CDC link on e-Coli 4/19/2013.
Advanced Onsite Wastewater Systems Technologies, Anish R. Jantrania, Mark A. Gross. Anish Jantrania, Ph.D., P.E., M.B.A., is a Consulting Engineer, in Mechanicsville VA, 804-550-0389 (2006). Outstanding technical reference especially on alternative septic system design alternatives. Written for designers and engineers, this book is not at all easy going for homeowners but is a text I recommend for professionals--DF.
Builder's Guide to Wells and Septic Systems, Woodson, R. Dodge: $ 24.95; MCGRAW HILL B; TP;
Quoting from Amazon's description: For the homebuilder, one mistake in estimating or installing wells and septic systems can cost thousands of dollars. This comprehensive guide filled with case studies can prevent that. Master plumber R. Dodge Woodson packs this reader-friendly guide with guidance and information, including details on new techniques and materials that can economize and expedite jobs and advice on how to avoid mistakes in both estimating and construction. Chapters cover virtually every aspect of wells and septic systems, including on-site evaluations; site limitations; bidding; soil studies, septic designs, and code-related issues; drilled and dug wells, gravel and pipe, chamber-type, and gravity septic systems; pump stations; common problems with well installation; and remedies for poor septic situations. Woodson also discusses ways to increase profits by avoiding cost overruns.
Country Plumbing: Living with a Septic System, Hartigan, Gerry: $ 9.95; ALAN C HOOD & TP;
Quoting an Amazon reviewer's comment, with which we agree--DF:This book is informative as far as it goes and might be most useful for someone with an older system. But it was written in the early 1980s. A lot has changed since then. In particular, the book doesn't cover any of the newer systems that are used more and more nowadays in some parts of the country -- sand mounds, aeration systems, lagoons, etc.
US EPA Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems Manual [online copy, free] Top Reference: US EPA's Design Manual for Onsite Wastewater Treatment and Disposal, 1980, available from the US EPA, the US GPO Superintendent of Documents (Pueblo CO), and from the National Small Flows Clearinghouse. Original source http://www.epa.gov/ORD/NRMRL/Pubs/625R00008/625R00008.htm Onsite wastewater treatment and disposal systems,
Richard J Otis, published by the US EPA. Although it's more than 20 years old, this book remains a useful reference for septic system designers.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water Program Operations; Office of Research and Development, Municipal Environmental Research Laboratory; (1980)
"International Private Sewage Disposal Code," 1995, BOCA-708-799-2300, ICBO-310-699-0541, SBCCI 205-591-1853, available from those code associations.
"Manual of Policy, Procedures, and Guidelines for Onsite Sewage Systems," Ontario Reg. 374/81, Part VII of the Environmental
Protection Act (Canada), ISBN 0-7743-7303-2, Ministry of the Environment,135 St. Clair Ave. West, Toronto Ontario M4V 1P5 Canada $24. CDN.
Manual of Septic Tank Practice, US Public Health Service's 1959.
Onsite Wastewater Disposal, R. J. Perkins;
Quoting from Amazon: This practical book, co-published with the National Environmental Health Association,
describes the step-by-step procedures needed to avoid common pitfalls in septic system technology.
Valuable in matching the septic system to the site-specific conditions, this useful book will help you install a reliable system in
both suitable and difficult environments. Septic tank installers, planners, state and local regulators, civil and sanitary engineers,
consulting engineers, architects, homeowners, academics, and land developers will find this publication valuable.
Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems, Bennette D. Burks, Mary Margaret Minnis, Hogarth House 1994 - one of the best septic system books around, suffering a bit from small fonts and a weak index. While it contains some material more technical than needed by homeowners, Burks/Minnis book on onsite wastewater treatment systems a very useful reference for both property owners and septic system designers.
Septic Tank/Soil-Absorption Systems: How to Operate & Maintain [ copy on file as /septic/Septic_Operation_USDA.pdf ] - , Equipment Tips, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 8271 1302, 7100 Engineering, 2300 Recreation, September 1982, web search 08/28/2010, original source: http://www.fs.fed.us/t-d/pubs/pdfimage/82711302.pdf
Septic System Owner's Manual, Lloyd Kahn, Blair Allen, Julie Jones, Shelter Publications, 2000 $14.95 U.S. - easy to understand, well illustrated, one of the best practical references around on septic design basics including some advanced systems; a little short on safety and maintenance. Both new and used (low priced copies are available, and we think the authors are working on an updated edition--DF.
Quoting from one of several Amazon reviews: The basics of septic systems, from underground systems and failures to what the owner can do to promote and maintain a healthy system, is revealed in an excellent guide essential for any who reside on a septic system. Rural residents receive a primer on not only the basics; but how to conduct period inspections and what to do when things go wrong. History also figures into the fine coverage.
US EPA Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems Manual Top Reference: US EPA's Design Manual for Onsite Wastewater Treatment and Disposal, 1980, available from the US EPA, the US GPO Superintendent of Documents (Pueblo CO), and from the National Small Flows Clearinghouse. Original source http://www.epa.gov/ORD/NRMRL/Pubs/625R00008/625R00008.htm
Water Wells and Septic Systems Handbook, R. Dodge Woodson. This book is in the upper price range, but is worth the cost for serious septic installers and designers.
Quoting Amazon: Each year, thousands upon thousands of Americans install water wells and septic systems on their properties. But with a maze of codes governing their use along with a host of design requirements that ensure their functionality where can someone turn for comprehensive, one-stop guidance? Enter the Water Wells and Septic Systems Handbook from McGraw-Hill.
Written in language any property owner can understand yet detailed enough for professionals and technical students this easy-to-use volume delivers the latest techniques and code requirements for designing, building, rehabilitating, and maintaining private water wells and septic systems. Bolstered by a wealth of informative charts, tables, and illustrations, this book delivers:
* Current construction, maintenance, and repair methods
* New International Private Sewage Disposal Code
* Up-to-date standards from the American Water Works Association
Wells and Septic Systems, Alth, Max and Charlet, Rev. by S. Blackwell Duncan, $ 18.95; Tab Books 1992. We have found this text very useful for conventional well and septic systems design and maintenance --DF.
Quoting an Amazon description:Here's all the information you need to build a well or septic system yourself - and save a lot of time, money, and frustration. S. Blackwell Duncan has thoroughly revised and updated this second edition of Wells and Septic Systems to conform to current codes and requirements. He also has expanded this national bestseller to include new material on well and septic installation, water storage and distribution, water treatment, ecological considerations, and septic systems for problem building sites.
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