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Why Does Your Toilet's Water Suddenly Look Brown?

If your toilet's water suddenly looks brown or discolored, you may have a plumbing emergency on your hands. Discolored toilet water can be a sign of clogged sewer pipes. If you don't remove the clogs right away, the plumbing pipes of your bathroom can burst or crack from the pressure inside the clogged pipes. In addition, hard water minerals can leave the blockages and develop inside your toilet's tank. Here's how the toilet's water became brown and what you can do to clear it up until your plumber arrives.

Where Do Hard Water Minerals Come From?

Hard water minerals like magnesium, manganese, iron, and calcium generally come from the cleansers and chemicals you use to clean your bathtub, sink and toilet. But many brands of toilet bowl cleaners don't leave the toilet completely once you flush it. Some chemical gel cleansers coat the surfaces of the toilet bowl for days. After many flushes, these chemicals eventually leave the bowl and travel into the sewer line attached to your toilet's base. When the chemicals build up inside the sewer line, they create hard blockages or buildup.

Blocked sewer lines can push waste water back up into your bathroom's plumbing pipes, where it mixes with the clean water of your plumbing pipes. The mixed water travels through your toilet's plumbing system until it reaches the tank. Once it reaches the tank, the minerals pull away from the water and stick to the surfaces of the tank.

Why Is the Water Discolored?

The color of the water inside the tank can vary from brown to reddish brown, depending on the type of mineral buildup. For example, magnesium and calcium turns the tank's water brown when they mix with the oxygen inside the tank. Manganese makes the water appear dark because it turns black when exposed to air.

In addition, minerals like iron can darken the water by:

  • Rusting the metal fixtures and parts inside the tank
  • Breaking apart and floating around the tank's water
  • Sticking to the bottom of the tank and forming a thick layer of buildup

These minerals harden on the inner surfaces of the tank and can be tough to remove. However, there's an easy way to do so.

How Do You Get Rid of Hard Water Minerals?

You can use a safe and effective natural cleaner to clean the toilet's tank. You'll need to get these supplies below first:

  • One bottle of white vinegar, which contains acids that break down minerals
  • One small cleaning brush with soft bristles
  • One large scrubbing brush with hard bristles

Remove the tank's lid from the toilet and set it down on the floor. Now, turn off the toilet's water valve, flush the toilet to empty the tank, and the check the tank's parts to see if anything came loose. Sometimes, minerals can form around the small gaskets and bolts that hold the floater, flapper and chain in place. These parts can break off and fall through the flapper's opening when you flush the toilet. If you see any missing parts, don't clean the tank until you purchase replacement pieces. You will need to flush the toilet several times during the cleaning process, so the tank's floater, flapper and chain must be in good working order.

If you don't see any missing parts, you can follow the cleaning steps below:

  • Turn the toilet's water valve back on and wait for the tank to fill back up to its full capacity
  • Pour the entire bottle of white vinegar into the tank and allow it to soak into the mineral buildup for 15-20 minutes — but don't flush the toilet just yet
  • Use the large cleaning brush to scrub the sides of the tank to remove as much buildup as you can
  • Turn the toilet's water valve off again to empty the tank
  • Use the small cleaning brush to remove buildup from around the smallest and most delicate pieces of the floater, flapper and chain
  • Turn the water valve back on, allow it to fill back up, and then flush the toilet several times 

This cleaning won't remove all of the buildup at once, but it may loosen up most of it. You may need to perform the process several times more to remove the discoloration, but the water may appear lighter in color after the first cleaning. 

Once your plumber arrives to fix your blocked sewer line, the brown water should go away. But you should consult with your plumber about this to make sure.

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