Three ways to unclog a toilet—with or without a plunger
When your toilet clogs, it’s completely normal to go for that panic flush, but step away from the flush lever! It’s often our first instinct, but repeated, frantic flushing will probably only flood your toilet. There are a number of methods you can try on your own (with or without a plunger) to fix toilet clogs that won’t require a plumber. To get started, put on a pair of rubber gloves and make sure you’ve located the water supply in case you need to quickly restrict the water flow.
Table of contentsWhat causes a clog?How to unclog with a plungerHow to unclog with cleaning solutionsHow to unclog with a toilet snakeWhen to call a professional
What causes a clog?
Much like your kitchen sink drain, toilet drains can become clogged. The usual culprits are waste, an object, or even toilet paper, which can all get lodged in the drain.
Look under your kitchen or bathroom sink and you’ll see a pipe with a bend in it that carries away waste and water. That’s called a p-trap (that u-bend plus the straight pipe that leads away looks like the letter P on its side). That same shape is incorporated into the porcelain that makes up your toilet, so visualize that when you are working to flush the clog through the toilet trap—you’re trying to move the clog through the bend just like the pressure of a flush does when your toilet is working regularly.
How to unclog with a plunger
A good plunger is key here: make sure yours is either bell-shaped or flared with a fold-out cylindrical extension on the bottom. The standard cup plunger shapes will do you no favors, since they won’t create adequate suction. Plus, if you fold in the extension piece, you’ll have a standard cup plunger that you can use on sink or tub drains.
Run your plunger under hot water to soften the rubber. This will help to create a strong seal.
Insert the plunger so that it completely covers the opening of the toilet trap, ideally submerging it completely in water. Maintain this seal throughout your plunging.
Begin plunging the toilet slowly, since the first few rounds will be mostly air, and you’re looking to utilize the force of the water to dislodge the clog.
Now, really go for it: pushing down as far as you can and then pulling up sharply. Repeat this as many times as you need to successfully drain the toilet—and be patient. It may take a few rounds of 15-20 good plunges before you see results.
Flush to check that the toilet is once again draining normally. If it isn’t, the clog may require more plunging.
How to unclog with cleaning solutions
If plunging hasn’t worked, you can try a few simple cleaning solutions to loosen the clog. Dish soap can help lubricate the drain so that the clog can move freely, while baking soda and vinegar can help break down a clog.
Soap and water
Add a half cup of dish soap to the toilet bowl and let sit for 10 minutes.
Flush to see if the soap cleared the clog.
If the dish soap didn’t do the job, add hot water. Pour the water in from about waist level—this will help create pressure and along with the dish soap, dislodge the clog. Note: do not add boiling water as it could crack the porcelain. Hot water from the bathtub spout is the ideal temperature.
Flush to check that the toilet is draining normally once again.
Baking soda and vinegar
Make sure the toilet bowl is half-filled with water. Add or remove water as needed—this will help prevent overflow as the solution fizzes up.
Add 1 cup of baking soda to the bowl.
Slowly pour in 1 cup of vinegar (white or apple cider) and the solution will begin to fizz.
Let sit for 20 minutes, then flush down the toilet..
Check that the toilet is once again draining normally. If the toilet is still not draining, you can repeat this process a few more times, or let the solution sit overnight.
How to unclog with a toilet snake
A toilet snake is a long metal cable that you wind down into the toilet trap to either grab the material causing the clog, or force it through. You’ll hear the words toilet snake and toilet auger used interchangeably, but the important thing to remember is that these tools are different from a typical plumbing snake in that they have a protective rubber coating around the metal. The metal on a snake not designed specifically for toilets can damage the porcelain—this is why you should never use a wire coat hanger as a makeshift toilet snake. Follow the instructions on the packaging or follow our step-by-step guide to unclogging with a toilet snake.
When to call a professional
If the toilet still isn’t flushing normally or you aren’t comfortable using a snake, it’s time to call a plumber. If you are hiring a plumber and you had any trouble with the methods above, ask them to show you some of the basics, like where to turn off the water supply, so that you can give it another try if you ever experience another clog.
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