Although you're not often aware of them, the water jet openings on the underside of the toilet bowl rim can become dirty and clogged with bacteria and mineral deposits. Colonies of bacteria forming here can become a health concern, and mineral deposits clogging the toilet jets can interfere with the flow of water.
The Role of the Rim Jets
The rim jets are the openings through which water from the toilet tank flows down into the bowl to start the flush cycle. If you've noticed how the water flows down in a circular direction into the bowl, this is because the water jets are angled in a way to create a circular direction of flow. This circular motion makes for more effective flushing action.
Symptoms of Clogged Jets
When the rim jets on your toilet get clogged, usually with mineral deposits such as lime and calcium scale, you may notice that the toilet does not flush completely, or that it takes an unusually long time for the water in the tank to empty down into the bowl. Or, you may notice that the normal diagonal flow of water from the jets has become vertical.
And with calcium deposits clogging the jets and slowing the water flow, bacteria are more likely to form inside the hollow rim of your toilet. Thanks to the constant flow of water, a toilet is not the most unsanitary part of your home (kitchens actually have more bacteria than most bathrooms), but any time a toilet stops flushing efficiently, the chances of bacteria growth are increased. And a toilet that gets used rarely is more likely to find its jets clogged with bacterial growth.
Inspecting the Jets
It's fairly easy to determine the condition of the toilet jets using a small mirror. Place the mirror under the rim and look at the jet holes. If you see dark orange or black spots then you have a bacteria problem. If what you see looks scaly and light in color, then mineral deposits are your problem. You may, of course, have both problems.
Cleaning Out Bacteria
Ridding the toilet bowl of bacteria requires that you kill as much of it as possible. And not just what’s lurking in the bowl, but also under the rim and in the jets holes.
1. Make a bleach solution of one part bleach to 10 parts water.
2. Next, remove the tank lid and pour the solution into the overflow tube in the center of the tank. The overflow tube is a rigid plastic or metal pipe running vertically, usually with a small flexible rubber or plastic tube clipped into the top of it.
3. Let the bleach solution work its magic for about five minutes, then flush the toilet.
4. Now comes the dirty part—cleaning out the jet holes. With a piece of wire, scrape out each jet hole, using the hand mirror to make sure you get them all.
5. After this, clean around the jets with a chemical bowl cleaner and a scrubbing pad.
6. Follow this up by pouring more bleach solution into the overflow tube. Let the bleach sit for about 5 minutes, then flush a final time.
If bacteria build-up is a reoccurring problem, put a tablespoon of bleach into the overflow tube periodically. Never attempt to remedy the problem with in-tank cleaners. The chemicals they contain will deteriorate rubber parts in the tank, like the flapper or tank ball. Using these chemicals can also negate any manufacturer’s warranty for the toilet or its parts.
Cleaning Out Mineral Deposits
Removing mineral deposits is similar to the method for cleaning out bacteria, with slight variations. Instead of a bleach mix, vinegar will be used. Vinegar works better at breaking up deposits when it’s heated. It doesn’t have to be boiling hot—around 120 F will do.
1. Heat up 8 to 12 ounces of vinegar so it is warm to the touch, but not scalding.
2. Pour the liquid into the overflow tube.
3. Allowing the vinegar to sit for about 30 minutes, then flush.
4. Next, clean out the jets on at a time, using Allen wrenches. Start off with a small wrench and as you clean out the jets, increase the size of the wrench. Periodically flush the toilet as you work to remove debris that has been chipped free. Be cautious when using the wrenches, as porcelain chips easily. Again use a hand mirror to check your work.
If the problem persists, it is a good indication that you may need to install a water softener to reduce the levels of minerals in the water.