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Calcium buildup in toilet tank

QuestionOur Eljer two-piece toilet has been in our house since it was built in 1989. The tank intermittently fills because the water in the tank leaks out.

I also discovered a calcium-like buildup under the flapper which closes the tank. Everything was OK for a short time after I cleaned it off, but the toilet started leaking again. The dripping is audible. When I press down hard on the flapper, the sound stops. Is there any product I can put in the tank to prevent the calcium buildup?

This situation arose after the toilet assembly was changed out. The toilet probably had calcium buildup before, but it never caused a leak. There's a fair amount of calcium buildup around the inside of the tank, and I assume calcium will continue to build up even if the tank is carefully, and regularly, cleaned because our water is hard. Thanks for your input.

AnswerI'm unaware of any product that can be used in a toilet tank to help prevent calcium buildup. While a water softener system would take care of your hard water situation, you'll have to decide if it would be a cost-effective system to be placed on the cold water side so you would have soft water in your toilet. However, there is a device that has been manufactured in the US since 1985 that you may want to consider: a magnetic water conditioner.

I want to say up front that there are water-treatment engineers and scientists who don't stand behind this product. However, many individuals have found the system effective for scale control. I personally have not used the product, but I have plumber friends in the business who have achieved some positive results from ongoing tests.

I cannot tell you for sure if this will work for you in your own unique set of circumstances. If you decide to test the product, I suggest that you purchase it from a company or plumber who has a track record using the product.

These units were first introduced as traditional magnets that simply clamped onto the main water pipe. Now they sport cool colors and cases, and new models are installed inline. There are many similar devices on the market under different trade names, selling from $39.95 up to $559.00 for pipes sized from 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch. To find them online, type "magnetic water conditioner" into your favorite search engine and start plowing through the long list of results.

At least two magnetic water conditioners are needed on the incoming water supply, just after the water meter, spaced about 1 inch to 1 1/2 inches apart. Then install two booster units on the water heater: one on the cold water supply entering the tank and one on the hot side as it exits the tank.

The magnets won't work if you have galvanized steel or iron plumbing pipes; however, you can replace the pipe with a minimum of 18 inches of new copper or approved plastic water pipe on either side of the magnetic units.

What's the theory behind this system?

Basically, water contains dissolved mineral salts, primarily calcium and magnesium. When water enters the tank, these minerals precipitate out and build up as sediment, a natural crystallization process. The crystallization process is accelerated by heating the water, as would occur in a water heater.

As water moves in the earth, it creates a naturally equal ionic (electric) charge between the minerals and the water.

The theory, then, is that as water passes through pipes outfitted with magnetic water conditioners, it becomes magnetically charged. Electrically the water takes on a greater ionic charge than the minerals, which creates a natural magnetic attraction between the two. The magnetization then attracts and locks the dissolved minerals into the water creating healthy and cost-free descaling.

Because the first set of magnets is on the main water inlet, the magnetic charging of the incoming cold water should help prevent mineral buildup on fixtures as the cold water is used throughout the home.

The magnetic water conditioners may also help prevent mineral buildup in the water heater. Again, this is theory and I cannot tell you for certain if the magnetic system is effective.

If, after using the magnetic water conditioner, you find it helps stop the calcium buildup but water is still leaking, then most likely the flapper is not achieving a tight seal against the flush valve. You may have a warped, shrunken, or misaligned flapper or even a damaged flush valve (the flush valve connects to the overflow tube).

If you had said the toilet was running continuously, then I would have suggested that you repair or replace the ballcock, adjust and clean the flush valve, replace the flush valve, replace the leaky float ball, adjust the water level in the tank, and/or adjust the handle and the lift wires or chain.

If you had to replace parts, it is always better to use parts made by the toilet's manufacturer, so it is helpful to find as much information about the toilet as you can from the underside of the tank or lid.

Don't rule out after-market parts, though. A company in Pennsylvania carries all kinds of original parts in stock for the older toilets.

You can go online at www.plumbingpartsdepot.com to see your toilet and a parts breakdown. When you reach the home page, click on "Toilet Parts," then on "Two Piece Toilet Breakdowns," and go down the list under Eljer Two-Piece Toilets.

Look for the Eljer product that matches your toilet. If you need to speak with someone at the company, call 800-448-8977 between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Copyright © 2005, 2006, & 2008 LAF/C.R.S., Inc. All rights reserved.
Question answered by Leon A. Frechette.


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