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Do It Yourself: Unclog the water-saving toilet

Q. I have a so-called water-saving toilet that is only a few years old. It worked fine for a couple of years, but lately it clogs up almost every time I try to flush solid waste.

I bought a new plunger and use that to get it open, but it is really hard work. Sometimes it takes six or eight strenuous sessions with the plunger to get it to flush.

I am convinced there is something blocking the toilet. How do I fix it?

A. A plunger is usually the first and best approach to a toilet that won’t flush properly, but in severe cases there are some other things you can try.

One is a toilet auger, which has a short cable with a spiral end that works much like a plumber’s snake. The end of the cable is inserted into the toilet drain and a crank used to turn it so that it penetrates through the drain passage. Care must be taken to avoid scratching the porcelain at the entrance to the drain.

If there is a small object blocking the channel, such as a plastic bottle or a child’s toy, the auger will often push it through the channel or snag it so it can be pulled out. To help prevent clogging by small objects, it is important to keep the lid closed when the toilet is not in use and instruct children not to drop toys or other small objects into the water.

If an auger doesn’t solve the problem, you can try some chemical drain cleaners. Start by reading the instructions to make sure the cleaner is recommended for toilets. Chemicals should never be used unless the toilet is successfully flushing at the time.

The usual procedure is to put some drain cleaner such as Liquid Plumber in the bowl, flush the toilet once, then let it stand for a given time. When the time is up, pour very hot water into the toilet.

If you use a chemical when a toilet is actually clogged, it can create a dangerous mess that might have to be carefully bailed out before any more work can be done on the toilet.

If you have hard water, check the holes under the rim of the toilet to make sure they are not clogged with minerals; clean out any residue with a small screwdriver or piece of coat-hanger wire. If the holes are clogged, the toilet will lose much of the force of the flush that carries solid waste down the drain.

If all else fails and you are still convinced there is a blockage, the toilet should be removed from the floor and checked. With the toilet off, you can also fish for blockages in the drain-waste pipe under the toilet.

If in doubt about removing a toilet, call in a plumber.

Q. My beautiful wood coffee table has a number of scratches on top. Most are very fine, hardly visible except in certain light, but a few are more prominent. I am using a cover on the table now, but can I remove the scratches without refinishing the table?

A. Very small scratches can often be made virtually invisible by wiping the surface with a liquid scratch cover. This is simply a stain-polish that penetrates the scratches.

One popular brand is Old English, which is available in dark and light colors for various types of wood. If you can’t find it at a home center or supermarket, it is available on the Internet.

If the furniture color doesn’t match any of the scratch cover tones, you can also use a pigmented oil stain. These are available in many colors at home centers. If you use oil stain, work on a small area at a time, and wipe off the stain in a few seconds.

Deeper scratches are a lot more difficult to repair. One method is to use a colored Blend-Fil pencil, which is much like a crayon and fills the scratch with a waxy substance.

Questions and comments should be emailed to Gene Austin at Send regular mail to 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, PA 19422.