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experience flapper failures;
in-tank drop-in bowl cleaners
blamed for troubles.

In a report on toilet flappers for the California Urban Water Conservation Council, John Koeller, P.E. wrote, In the early 1990s, a change in the dominant consumer method of "bowl cleaning" or "sanitizing" occurred. Whereas previously, consumers had been using in-bowl cleaners that hung on the side of the bowl and dispensed chemical(s) directly into the bowl as the toilet was flushed, in the early 1990s, the chemical manufacturers began to successfully market a more "convenient" product to achieve the same goal. This product was the in-tank drop-in tablet that slowly dissolved in the tank water. Consumers dropped the tablet in the tank water and were no longer required to touch the bowl. This type of product is now manufactured by several firms and now dominates the market for bowl cleaners.

By 1993, fixture manufacturers were beginning to experience severe problems with the degradation of OEM flush valve flappers installed in their new product. Anecdotal information was gathered by the manufacturers indicating that new toilets were sometimes leaking within months of installation. In some cases, warranty demands were being made upon the fixture manufacturers by the residential customers for repairs and/or replacements of the new toilet or its internal trim. The toilet manufacturers attributed the flapper leaks to the use of certain chemically-based in-tank drop-in bowl cleaners by the consumer.

This problem became known as the "vacation syndrome". People would leave on an extended vacation and return to find that their toilets were leaking, because the rubber gaskets and washers had disintegrated. As the in-tank drop-in bowl cleaner sits in the tank unused for long periods of time, the chlorine concentration keeps getting stronger and stronger as the tablet dissolves. In addition to the "vacation syndrome" some of these automatic in-tank drop-in bowl cleaners cause a lazy flush where the toilet has to be flushed several times to clear the bowl.

In the first issue of The Toilet Paper, a toilet newsletter for California's water conservation community, published in 2000, it was reported that flapper durability had become a priority issue for the standards writing team which expected to address the problem with a national standard that would apply to all OEM flappers. Unfortunately, as positive as this news was, the bad news was that the tests of flappers immersed in a solution of the in-tank drop-in bowl cleaner Vanish found that no flapper was able to stand up to this product, even the very best that existed; they all failed quite dramatically, according to the reports!

Interesting that toilet flappers were required to meet new standard to accommodate the in-tank drop-in cleaners rather than the new cleaners being required to adjust their formulas to not damage existing tank parts. In an article written by Amy Barton for The Albemarle County Service Authority (Virginia) and published in The Daily Progress, she says, "Toilet flapper manufacturers have combated this problem with some degree of success, by developing flappers resistant to the effects of the in-tank bowl cleaners. Unfortunately, there are toilet bowl cleaners on the market with chemical compositions that can accelerate the degradation of these improved flappers as well."

PM Magazine a trade magazine for professional plumbers reports some of the bowl cleaner chemical companies have advised consumers to flush the water closet at least once a day; impossible to do when you are away on vacation.

I did a casual survey of the available toilet bowl cleaners today (July 2006) at my local chain grocery store. There were six or seven varieties, and I didn't read every word on the boxes, but I read enough to suggest to you that you also read the boxes before you commit to using one of them. There was some serious warnings on some about their use, and some quite vague terminology about what to expect.

Following is the warning label regarding the use of in-tank drop-in bowl cleaners found on a popular replacement refill valve:

Fluidmaster, Inc. Warning re: in-tank drop-in toilet tank cleaners.

Alternative to in-tank drop-in cleaners

Flush'n Sparkle and alternative to in-the-tank toilet bowl cleaners.

Automatic in-tank drop-in toilet cleaners with bleach in them are popular with consumers, and bleach is a very effective disinfectant. Unfortunately bleach also shortens the life of toilet tank parts. In addition, other components in the in-tank drop-in bowl cleaners also cause serious flushing problems for toilets. Fluidmaster, Inc. recently developed three alternative products to specifically address these problems: The Blue Flush ‘n Sparkle™ Cleaning system with a surfactant or soap and also a chelate in it to help keep mineral deposits from forming; the Flush ‘n Sparkle™ Bleach system with bleach, and the Flush ‘n Sparkle™ Bio Balance Septic Tank Care System, that releases a measured dose of natural enzymes into toilet bowl with every flush.

Flush ‘n Sparkle™ is a small devise that hangs on the inside back wall of the toilet tank and automatically delivers a measured amount of the cleanser and/or bleach directly into the bowl each time the toilet is flushed. The cleanser and/or bleach never enters the tank or touches any of the components inside the tank. Fluidmaster, Inc. illustration of the Flush ‘n Sparkle™ toilet bowl cleaner.

Easy to install, the Flush ‘n Sparkle™ has two small tubes attached that replace the exisitng refill tube. One tube connects to the ballcock and the other one attaches to the top of the overflow pipe. Each time the toilet is flushed the water that refills the bowl is run through the Flush ‘n Sparkle™ and delivers a metered amount of cleanser and/or bleach before flowing into the bowl. It took just a few minutes to install one in my toilet; the illustrated instructions that come in the box are detailed and quite clear; there is also a page of instructions on the Fluidmaster, Inc. site.

Replacement cartridges for all three systems are available so that you only install a system once, and the cartridges are interchangeable; the unit is guaranteed for five years and the cartridge will last up to 3 months. The 3 months duration is based upon 10 flushes per day per toilet. So a month is approximately 300 flushes and 3 months is approximately 900 – 1,000 flushes. Product longevity is affected by water hardness and temperature – soft water and warm water will cause the bleach to run out faster. Since the product is activated upon the flush, a toilet that is rarely flushed would last a lot longer than 3 months.

Since I installed the above systems in my toilets Church & Dwight and Puricle have introduced similar products. Just don't forget that no matter which system you use, you still have to clean above the water line in the bowl, the rim, the seat, the lid and the outside of the toilet bowl and tank.


When you remove the toilet tank lid please be careful, handle with care; they are heavy. Rest it flat on a heavy towel or bath mat so that it can't be accidently knocked over. Lids are difficult and expensive to replace. Another point to remember is that the rim of the bowl and toilet seat still need to be cleaned by hand; automatic bowl cleaners only clean the bowl. In addition, don't ever combine cleaning products that contain chlorine or ammonia; the combination creates noxious fumes.

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