In the life of a plumber, there are a lot of questions we get asked very often.
One question that we hear most often and that stands out far above the rest, is “Why does my toilet have bubbles coming up through it?” To which I always response, “You are about to have some trouble.” Bubbles coming up through your toilet is a sign, a symptom if you will, a bonafied clue that your pipes are not draining properly and that there is about to be a back up. This problem is caused by the drain pipes having an obstruction somewhere causing the water to fill up the pipe and pushing the air back up the drain line to the easiest place it can go: Back up the toilet and out as bubbles, and sounding like Blurp, Blurp . The next question I hear is, “What do I do now?” The simple answer is not to pour Draino down the pipe and call it a day. It is time to CALL A PLUMBER because this could be a sign of a much more complicated problem that needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
Bubbles can be caused by a number of failures in the system. The first could be a simple stoppage: Maybe too much paper put in the line or a non biodegradable product caught a snag in the pipe. It could also be an older house where the line is totally corroded with rust and is not smooth enough for waste to flow through it properly anymore. If one of these system failures is the cause of your problem then you will typically notice the bubbles in one of the bathrooms, closest to the stoppage. These problems are simple and easy to fix with a sewer machine.
The second mishap that could occur happens with septic tanks system. When the septic tank becomes what is referred to as “full”, the drain field is not draining water into the yard any longer and so begins to fill the pipe, and then pushes air back into the toilet. This usually starts off intermittently with bubbles every once in a while, then slowly becomes more frequent, or gets more noticeable when it rains, doing lots of laundry or lots of guest are visisting. The problem can come and go with weeks in between them depending on conditions. Some other indicators that you could have a septic tank problem can be spotted in the yard.
The grass may be a lot taller and greener above the drianfield or the ground might be soggy and wet above the tank. If this is the cause of your problem then you will typically see bubbles in the bathroom toilet closest to the septic tank.
The third reason you may have bubbles in your toilet could be that the main sewer line to the city connection is clogged. This is the main drain pipe from the house, through the yard, to the city pipe. A lot of things can happen to this pipe depending on the age of the house and the location of the sewer line in reference to trees. Trees are your sewer lines biggest enemy. The root system of an oak tree spans as far underground as the longest branch above ground. Roots penetrate the pipe at joints or cracks, at times growing right through the side of the pipe. Often tree roots can lift pipes or move them out of their naturally sloping position causing irregularities which prevent an easy flow for water to travel through. In older homes, dating 50 years and back, many have what is called Orangeburg pipe. This is a cardboard and tar type pipe that, after many years, begins to squish and collapse under the weight of the earth causing stoppages that will cause bubbles.
Talking about the enemies of sewer lines, we cannot forget the most common household adversary, which is grease. Grease not only comes from different foods in the kitchen sink and dish washer, but is also the main component of many soaps. This grease can infect the entire plumbing system and can cause build up on the walls and clog up drain lines throughout the system. These backups will also cause bubbles to show up in your toilet and are a sure sign that a stoppage is occurring.
With all of the possible reasons for having bubbles in your toilet, it is crucial to call a plumber right away so that the exact cause can be identified and the best solution can be found and carried out.