Toilet Gurgling or Bubbling? Here’s What to Do

If you have recently started noticing that your toilet is making a gurgling sound, followed by a type of bubbling after-effect when you flush, you are not alone. Toilet gurgles are pretty common. There are ways to resolve a toilet gurgling problem.

Toilet gurgles or bubbles occur when there’s a blockage in your drain pipes, causing negative air pressure or suction in the drain line. Blockages often occur when flushing baby wipes down the drain pipe. More severe cases can be caused by tree roots clogging the main sewer line. Escaping air could back up your toilet with waste, ultimately forcing you to address the problem and find the blockage.

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Your first reaction to a toilet bubbling might be to phone a professional plumber immediately to come over and have a look. However, there are some things that you can do first. A plumber will cost you money, which you could have saved by following some easy-to-follow DIY methods to remove clogs from your plumbing system. When none of the methods work, then, by all means, get a plumber to assist.

Why is Your Toilet Gurgling or Bubbling?

The most common cause of gurgling toilet noises or when bubbles in your toilet bowl are due to blockages in the toilet’s drain system between the toilet and the city sewer system or a septic system.

When a blockage occurs, there’s a clog in the plumbing system, which often results in causing negative pressure (suction) in the system. The air will “escape” back into your toilet as the last exit point, making a gurgling noise and causing the water to bubble, possibly pushing back waste.

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Common Causes Why Your Toilet Gurgles

Okay, we know now that a gurgling or bubbling toilet is probably due to a blockage somewhere. Let us examine the areas of your toilet’s system that a blockage may impact.

It’s easy to spot a severely clogged toilet. The toilet could experience a slow drain or prevent the toilet from flushing altogether in a clogged toilet. After flushing your toilet, the water may rise instead of falling, and this could be due to the following reasons:

  • Flushing down the wrong items: for example, paper towels, baby wipes, and other hygienic products.
  • Flushing small items: kids often flush small toys or other things down the toilet, restricting the toilet from flushing.
  • An inadequate plumbing vent: the plumbing system needs enough air to help move water through the drain pipes.

Flushing Certain Items Down the Toilet

Your toilet’s drain will typically get blocked when things are flushed down it that you should’ve thrown in the garbage bin. It is best not to flush the following objects down a toilet drain:

  • Paper Towels & “Flushable” Wipes: These specific paper products are designed to absorb water essentially, do not dissolve in water like toilet paper and are very likely to cause blockages in your draining pipes.
  • Hygiene Products: Feminine hygiene products, which include tampons and sanitary pads, are designed to absorb and usually expand several sizes when engulfed with water and eventually cause a blockage of pipes that lead to the sewer system.
  • Hair: Flushing hair down the toilet may seem like the easiest way to dispose of it; however, hair tends to stick to the insides of pipes and, over time, will cause clogging.
  • Skin Bandages: Another no-no for items that should not be flushed down a toilet, bandages are typically made out of non-degradable plastic, and the sticky side can also adhere to other objects making clogging easier.
  • Oils, Fats, Or Grease: Due to it being “easier” to dispose of, some of us flush food down our toilets-fats, used oils, and grease falls under food- but it can be very problematic for our drainage systems. These ingredients may start in a liquid form. They can solidify and attach to the interior lining of the drainage pipes-blocking water from passing and causing blockages.
  • Kitty Litter: Not only can kitty litter introduce harmful parasites into your water supply, but the litter will also absorb the water and potentially block pipes.
  • Food Scraps and Other Solid Items: Food scraps and other solid items are difficult to push through the drain system. Even worse, if you have a septic tank, solid items that do make it to the tank buildup and do not degrade as you might think. These items can clog up tanks and leach fields that process waste.
Tree roots inside the main sewer drain pipe

The Main Sewer Drain

All drains lead to either a city sewer drain or septic tank. These include drains from your bathroom, laundry room, and kitchen. The main sewer drain carries all waste and water from your property to your city’s sewer system. A septic tank is an underground tank (usually 1000 gallons) with a private leaching field to distribute household waste.

A blockage in this part of your plumbing system could typically impact your whole plumbing system and is normally caused by events out of your control:

  • Tree roots have grown through underground pipes, like the main sewer drain pipe to the city or the pipes in the septic system leach field. If you suspect tree roots are causing a blockage, the only corrective measure is to replace the piping from the house to the city sewer connection.
  • A “belly” pipe developing due to shifting ground often results in a negative grade to the pipe, causing waste to flow uphill.
  • Pipes have holes or separated joints from one another. If large holes exist in the drain piping, small animals can clog the pipe by nesting or becoming trapped by the carcass of a small animal.

Any of the happenings mentioned above can lead to your toilet gurgling and bubbling.

The Toilet Tank

The toilet tank holds water used for flushing the toilet. Parts inside the tank can mean the toilet tank is not filling, causing a constant gurgling sound as water flows through the toilet and plumbing. Sediment can collect in the bottom of the tank and prevent the flapper from closing correctly.

This sediment growth can eventually:

  • Block water from entering the tank.
  • Cause the fill valve to sputter.

The above scenario can lead to a gurgling sound as the fill valve struggles to refill the tank.

The Toilet’s Tank Flapper

Not only can sediment buildup cause a gurgling sound, but also one of two basic implements found inside your toilet’s tank:

  • Flapper
  • Water Pipe

The flapper is charged with releasing the water inside the tank into the toilet’s bowl. After that, it lifts to allow the water pipe mounted into the wall to fill the tank up again. Impairment in any of these two mechanisms could cause a gurgling noise, such as the flapper letting air into the tank.

How to Stop Your Toilet from Gurgling or Bubbling

The following are tried and tested DIY methods on how to unblock or unclog whatever is stuck in your toilet’s drainage system and rid your toilet from gurgling and bubbling. After trying these helpful methods, and nothing has changed, it is best to call a professional plumber to assess for more serious problems.

1. Use a Toilet Plunger

Arm yourself with a toilet plunger and make your way to the toilet. Before you start plunging away, cover all drain areas-kitchen sinks, tubs, and shower drains with duct tape. Sealing all the drains will keep the air from escaping, as the idea here is to force the air in the pipes through your toilet.

  • Place the plunger over the hole at the bottom of the toilet, push it down, and then pull it up.
  • The suction you create with the plunger should draw any small to moderate clog out of the u-bend.
  • Repeat this motion until the clog is brought to the toilet bowl’s surface.

Plungers are very good at dislodging light to moderate clogs, giving your toilet the chance to clear properly. Tough clogs may need a plumber’s snake if you cannot clear the clog.

2. Use a Drain Snake to Clear the Drain

Arm yourself with a toilet auger snake, drop the plunger (which did not do the job), and make your way to the toilet. An auger is a heavy-duty steel spring that you insert into your toilet bowl.

Most augers are generally fitted with the following:

  • ABS drum casing with a handle extends and retracts the spring into the toilet.
  • A stop screw to control the spring when it reaches the blockage allows you to wiggle the spring from side to side, in and out, and hopefully remove the clog.
  • A drill adaptor allows you to insert your drill, making the extending and retracting process easier and supplying more power to the spring when the clog is located.

Drain snakes typically range from 3-25 feet. However, you can rent a drain snake (40$-50$ per day from any home improvement store) of 100 feet or more. Remember to use this motorized version to remove your toilet from its base.

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If you don’t have a drain snake, try using a metal hanger that you can unbend into a long piece of wire.

3. Auger the Drain Pipe from the Sewer Cleanout

By this stage, you have plunged your toilet and tried the drain snake, but the gurgling and bubbling remain. It may well be that deeper clogs exist further down the drainpipe that flows out to the sewer cleanout (located directly over the sewer pipe).

Locating The Sewer Cleanout

  • Enter your basement/crawl space and see where the main sewer line exits your home.
  • Look for a large PVC cap, remove it with an adjustable wrench, and auger the sewer line from there (this is done when your cleanout pipes are situated above the ground).
  • Start digging for cleanout pipes that terminate below ground level; it may be covered by a maintenance hole, and auger the sewer line from there.

Should the gurgling toilet stop now, you know that you have successfully removed the sewer clog. If not, then we head on to the next tip.

4. Inspect and Clear the Vent Stack

Every home has a fairly complex drainpipe system that requires the correct air pressure and flows to function properly and prevent air locks inside these pipes. If there is a blockage in the vent stack of your pipe system, it can restrict the airflow and cause a gurgling sound.

Getting to the vent stack requires you to get on the roof. Be honest with yourself. If you are scared and uncomfortable about climbing a ladder and maneuvering on the roof, rather get a professional to help.

If climbing on a roof is second nature to you, then proceed to make your way to the vent stack (a pipe that runs inside the walls exiting through the roof of your house).

  • Make sure to use protective gloves-might be a dead animal blocking the pipe- as you might need to clean debris if it is reachable by hand or a stretched-out wire hanger.
  • You must inspect it further down the pipe when nothing is blocking the vent pipe at the top.
  • Duct tape a strong flashlight to a piece of rope, lower it down the pipe, and you should be able to see if a clog is within 7-10-feet from the top of the pipe.
  • Deeper blockages can be removed by lowering your hosepipe down the pipe, opening it to full blast, and hopefully loosening the blockage so it can move down to the sewer.

5. Chat with Your Neighbors

The chances are that you are not the only resident suffering from a gurgling, bubbling, and self-flushing toilet. Confirm with your neighbors if they are experiencing the same toilet issues.

If you find that it is a commonly shared problem, the problem could likely be the sewer main, and that is where the responsibility gets shifted to the city sewer authority!

Ring them up, and they should schedule an inspection. Any problems they find with their city-owned pipes need to be fixed.

We have a friend who discovered that the neighbor’s house caused their plumbing problems. The neighbor’s drain piping crossed their yard to connect to the main sewer, and it caused backups in both houses.

6. Call a Plumber

When you find that the gurgling and bubbling situation has not changed for the better after all your best efforts, it may be that the blockage is too big for you to clear, or it may be located too far inside your plumbing. It may be time to hand the project over to a professional plumber.

No shame in this. You have tried, but the clog got the better of you. It’s happened to us all. Besides, a plumber is an expert in cleaning drains with:

  • Specialized Tools (Sewer Scope Cameras)
  • Powerful Augers
  • Other Commercial Tools

Plumbers take care of sewer line repairs and, if need be, line replacements. The downside to hiring a plumber is that it can take some time to get one over to your house and explain your issue, not to mention that it can be pretty expensive.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to Fix a Gurgling Toilet?

To fix toilet gurgles, you’ll need to clear blockages preventing the free drainage of wastewater. Start by clearing blockages at the toilet bowl. Use a toilet plunger to create enough suction to free clogged material for deeper clogs. You may need ten or more good plunges to dislodge clogs. If you are still unsuccessful, you’ll need to use a sewer drain snake or go ahead and call a professional plumber.

What Causes Gurgling Sound in Toilet?

Gurgling occurs when blockages prevent the free flow of wastewater. The blockage creates negative pressure. Air trapped between the wastewater and the blockage forms air bubbles that flow back to the toilet, causing it to gurgle.

Can a Gurgling Toilet Fix Itself?

It’s unlikely that a gurgling toilet will fix itself. A partial blockage can cause a toilet to drain slowly, giving the illusion that the clog freed itself when the waste water drains away. It’s more likely that the condition will compound until it becomes a full blockage, causing more serious problems.

How to Unclog a Sewer Line?

The best way to unclog the main sewer line is to locate the main plumbing cleanout between your house and the street and use a drain snake to clear the blockage. Most plumbing snakes are 25 ft in length and may not be long enough to reach the blockage.

Many older houses don’t have plumbing cleanouts or are buried and inaccessible. If tree roots block the drain pipe, you’ll need to replace the drain pipe. Therefore, it may be more cost-effective to call a professional plumber to make the necessary repairs.

How to Fix a Clogged Sewer Line?

Homemade and chemical drain cleaners are often ineffective at fixing a clogged sewer line. For homemade and chemical cleaners to be effective, the solution needs to penetrate through standing water to reach the clog. The more standing water present, the more the solution dilutes before reaching the clog. The best way to fix the clog is to isolate where the clog exists and use a drain snake to remove the clog.

How to Know if Your Main Line is Clogged?

Here are a few signs that your main drain line is clogged:

  1. You are experiencing a slow drain at all your sinks, bathtubs, showers, and toilets. Usually, if only one fixture is clogged, the backup will only be isolated to that fixture.
  2. All your toilets and drains are gurgling.
  3. You smell sewer gasses from your bathtubs, showers, and sinks.
  4. Water backups up in all sinks, bathtubs, and showers when you run water from another source inside the house.

Will Drano Unclog a Sewer Line?

Drano and other chemical drain cleaners are rarely successful at unclogging the main sewer line. Chemical cleaners need to be able to get past standing water to work. The more standing water inside the pipe, the more diluted the cleaning solution becomes before reaching the clog.

The most effective method to unclog a pipe is to find the blockage and use a drain snake to remove it.

Does Vinegar Unclog a Sewer Pipe

Vinegar alone will not unclog a sewer pipe. Used with baking soda, vinegar can be effective if you can get the baking soda and vinegar solution close to the clog. Many main sewer clogs are too far from the fixtures for baking soda and vinegar to be effective.

Can a Full Septic Tank Cause Gurgling?

A full septic tank can cause your toilets to gurgle. It will also cause backups at sinks and bathtubs. A full septic tank indicates that the leach field is saturated and can not distribute the water volume. A full septic tank also means pumping is needed to remove the buildup of slug from the bottom of the tank.

The buildup of slug reduces the volume of water the septic tank can hold. It is recommended that septic tanks be pumped every three to five years.

Conclusion

Even though a gurgling and bubbling toilet may sound like something out of a horror movie, we now know it’s just your toilet’s way of screaming for help. Making it your mission to heal your toilet by removing any clogs/blockages so that the air pressure returns to normal is the best way to deal with the issue.

In many instances, it could be out of your control, like a faulty sewer main, and then it’s up to the authorities to fix it. However, applying the helpful hints above could get your toilet up and flushing again when the problem is in your pipes.

Remember, even though a plumber will cost you money, he will present the best chance of adequately sorting out your system, should the gurgling and bubbling decide to persist.

Do You Need a Licensed Plumber?

Get FREE quotes from licensed Plumbers in your area today. Whether you need a new water heater, a sink repair, or a toilet fixed We Can Help! All Plumbers are screened, licensed, and insured.

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Hubert Miles

I've been conducting home inspections for 17 years. I'm a licensed Home Inspector, Certified Master Inspector (CMI), and FHA 203k Consultant. I started HomeInspectionInsider.com to help people better understand the home inspection process and answer questions about homeownership and home maintenance.
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