Q. I recall a column that talked about pink rings in toilet bowls and a potential problem with acidic water eating away at my pipes. I wondered if you had an opinion on what the acceptable range for tap water pH should be. I have made some inquiries and am hearing that 6.5 to 8.5 is an acceptable range. Should I invest in a neutralizer if my pH is below 6.5 or does it need to be less than that to justify the expense?
A. The ideal and neutral pH is 7. A pH of 6.5 is quite acidic. The fact that you have pink rings in your toilet (usually the rings are more greenish, although another reader recently described them as blue) seems to indicate that you need to have your water checked by a water specialist.
Q. Can you tell me why our first floor toilet emits a bubble each time we flush? We are on a slab with a septic system. The vent is not blocked. We are elderly in need of help.
A. This is usually an indication of a venting problem. If this happens only in winter, it may be that the vent stack through the roof has too small a diameter and ices up. If it happens year around, then the venting problem is different. Does it bother you so much that you can’t live with it? If so, consider having an experienced licensed plumber check it out.
Q. I have a well, and the water that comes into our toilet is blue. The water in my bathtub is also blue, and it is hard to clean. Can you tell me why we have blue water? I have copper pipes.
A. It sounds like you have acidic water — with a very low pH, although the color is generally greenish. The water is eating the copper pipes. If nothing is done about it, the copper pipes may eventually leak. You should have a water specialist test your water and recommend a treatment to bring the pH to a more normal 7. If you don’t, you may end up with a very expensive pipe replacement.
Q. We have a 50-plus year-old Cape Cod home with a powder room on the first floor and a full bathroom on the second floor. For the last several years, when the toilet on the second floor is flushed, water gurgles up in the bowl of the toilet in the first floor powder room. What could be causing this? Do we have reason to be concerned? If so, how should we proceed?
A. Such gurgling sounds are usually caused by a venting problem. The vent stack that goes through the roof (or should, if yours does not) may have gotten partially or totally plugged over the years. This is more of a problem in very cold regions where the moist gases freeze over the winter and can cause the vent stack to be completely closed.
If this problem is year around, it may be that the vent stack has a small diameter and that a build-up of scum and corrosion has narrowed it to the point where it is affecting its proper functioning. You may want to have a plumbing contractor get on the roof and check it out; it may need to be cleaned out. He or she should also check for other possible causes, such as absence of venting, which may be remedied with interior venting, using one of the several appliances available.
Q. Following replacement of toilet shut-off valves and some other plumbing work, we now have a loud water hammer when the toilet abruptly shuts off when filled. This will also happen if we shut a faucet off quickly. The hammer is in the basement. What do we need to do to correct this problem.
A. Have a plumber install a water hammer arrester.
Q. My wife and I have owned our first home for almost three years. Since this past summer our two toilets, one upstairs, one downstairs, have had an unpleasant odor. I know that this is normally the case a couple of times a day. However, it smells even after flushed and cleaned. I was wondering if there might be some kind of mold somewhere in pipes or the system?
A. A continuous bad smell is more likely due to a poor seal at the base of the toilet. The wax seals may need replacing with the newer type gaskets. It’s a job performed by many experienced do-it-yourselfers, or a quick job for a plumber.
Q. I replaced my upstairs toilet with an American Standard gravity flush. It flushes very quickly but this causes the downstairs toilet to bubble up to relieve the pressure. Will putting a vent outside just before the septic tank correct this problem?
A. The sketch you sent me shows that your plumbing system is not properly vented. The downstairs toilet is not tied to the roof vent. If this did not occur before you installed the new toilet, it is probably because the older toilet flushed much more slowly. The American Standard 1.6 gallon toilets use a different flushing system and, as you have experienced, it is very fast and powerful.
Installing a vent outside just before the septic tank would allow septic gases to escape and stink up your yard. That’s not what you want. You should have a licensed plumber correct the venting system’s deficiency. There are several ways to do it; perhaps the plumber can install a Studor vent, an interior vent that equalizes the pressure in an unvented fixture and can only be used where there is a roof vent for the rest of the plumbing.
Q. The inside of my toilet bowl has gotten scratched by a worn-out cleaning brush. How to remove the scratch marks from the porcelain?
A. Sorry, but I don’t think it can be done. However, you may want to try rubbing the scratches with a pumice stone (available in some hardware stores). A couple of readers have written me to tell me that they successfully removed calcium deposits from toilet bowls by rubbing them with a pumice stone. Let me know if it works; I’d love to be proven wrong and to pass success stories on to others.