How to Clear a Clogged Toilet
You go to flush the toilet, and the worst thing imaginable happens. The contents just won’t go down, and you’re left wondering what on earth to do.
You probably try to make your toilet flush with a plunger, but your efforts fail and only make the clog worse. You’re better off calling a plumber. However, it might be possible to fix the clog yourself.
So, where do you even start? Before you throw on a pair of rubber gloves, read this guide. We will teach you the best ways to unclog a toilet, including the proper way to plunge, useful home remedies, plumbers tools, and other tips. We’ll also review preventative measures. By the time you finish this article, you’ll be able to fix any clogged toilet like a pro.
Will My Toilet Unclog Itself?
We all wish the toilet would unclog itself.
The good news is that sometimes it will. Your toilet works like any other plumbing drain, meaning it relies on gravity to push the contents to where they need to go.
So, consider doing nothing if you have another toilet in your house you can use. Let the clog sit a few hours or overnight. Then, in the morning, try flushing again. This hands-off strategy will usually work for minor blockages.
If it doesn’t work or you have a more significant blockage at hand, you’ll probably have to try one of the methods below.
How to Use a Plunger
Plunging is probably the first thing you think to do when you have to unclog a toilet. It’s the most common solution, but there are techniques that not everyone knows.
Use the Right Plunger
Keep in mind that there are two main types of plungers. A cup plunger consists of a rubber cup with a flat rim. It is ideal for flat surfaces like sinks and bathtubs.
The other type is a toilet plunger (also called a flanged or closet plunger). It, too, has a rubber cup that creates a good seal. It also has a narrow bottom that fits in the hole of the toilet bowl.
You should use a flanged plunger to unclog a toilet. If you try to use a cup plunger, you will probably waste your time as its design isn’t ideal for the bowl’s unique shape.
If you don’t have one already, it’s worth making a trip to the store to grab a toilet plunger. It will work much better, and you’ll have it ready for future instances.
With the correct plunger in hand, follow these steps to unclog the toilet:
- Add water if necessary. The toilet bowl should be about half full so that the plunger can adequately form a good seal.
- Extend the narrow bottom (also called the flange) of the plunger. Some toilet plungers allow you to fold the flange up so you can use it on sinks and bathtubs. For a toilet, you’ll need the flange down.
- Slowly lower the plunger into the water at an angle to ensure that you can create enough plunging force.
- Fit the cup over the toilet drain. The flange should be inside the hole with the bigger cup sealing the outside.
- Plunge using steady, powerful thrusts to unblock the clog. The water in the toilet bowl should start to go down.
- If the water does go down, don’t flush the toilet just yet. Add more water to the toilet. If this water also goes down, it means you have unblocked the clog.
- If you add more water and it doesn’t go down, repeat the plunging process.
If you still have blockage after several attempts, you may have to try a different approach.
What to Do When a Plunger Doesn’t Work
If a plunger just isn’t doing the trick, other methods may save the day.
Use an Auger
A toilet auger (also called a closet auger) has a cable that retracts into a long hollow tube. The cable comes out at the bottom of the tube through a rubber sweep elbow. At the top of the tube, there is a hand crank that you use to control the cable.
Before starting, make sure you use an auger designed explicitly for toilets. Don’t try to use something like a drain or a plumbing snake to unclog a toilet. The metal cable on a plumbing snake can severely scratch the porcelain.
- Using the hand crank, retract the cable into the tube.
- Insert the tube into the toilet bowl. Position it so that the sweep elbow sits on the bottom of the bowl, and the end of the cable is at the mouth of the toilet drain.
- Crank the handle clockwise while gently pushing the cable into the toilet hole.
- Crank slowly to ensure the cable doesn’t kink. You may need to reverse direction and crank counterclockwise to maneuver your way through the toilet trap and beyond.
- When you can’t extend the cable any further, you’ve likely unblocked the clog. The water should start to go down.
- Slowly crank the handle counterclockwise to pull out the cable.
- Ensure the clog is clear by flushing.
You may have to repeat the process if the auger doesn’t break through the clog the first time.
Are you left scrambling without a plunger or auger? While you should probably buy these tools anyways, here are some home remedies you can try to unclog a toilet.
Use Mild Soap
Don’t use chemical drain cleaners. There’s debate surrounding using chemical drain cleaners for clogged toilets. We say that there are other, more effective methods. The chemicals can be harmful to your health and damage older fixtures. They are especially problematic for homes with septic tanks as they kill off the good bacteria.
While you shouldn’t use harsh chemicals, mild soap can help loosen up a clog. The lubrication will allow the contents to keep moving down the pipe.
Pour about half a cup of dish soap into the bowl. If you don’t have any liquid dish soap, you can cut small chunks from a bar of soap. Wait a few minutes to see if the water starts to go down.
Add Hot Water
If mild soap alone doesn’t do the trick, try adding hot water. Pour a bucketful of hot water into the bowl. The pressure alone will further help everything move along.
(Use boiling water rather than hot water. Boiling water might crack the porcelain.)
Try Baking Soda and Vinegar
Baking soda and vinegar can work wonders. Pour two cups of vinegar and one cup of baking soda into the bowl. Let the baking soda mixture sit for half an hour and see if the water starts to go down.
Makeshift Plumbing Tools
The internet has hundreds of hacks for those who don’t have the right tools. Some say to use a coat hanger as a makeshift auger. Others suggest using a water bottle or a squirt gun to mimic the seal of a plunger.
While these methods might work for some, we advise against them. They are usually more trouble than just going out and buying the tools. A wire coat hanger, for instance, will likely scratch the porcelain. The water bottle and squirt gun will probably just create a mess.
Unclogging a toilet can get messy. Consider wearing a pair of latex or rubber gloves.
You should also have cleaning supplies on hand. Paper towels and cleaning spray will allow you to clean up any messes.
As you try to unclog a toilet, it’s also good to know how to prevent the bowl from overflowing.
You can do this one of two ways. Remove the lid of the tank and close the flapper to prevent water from flowing into the bowl. Or, you can close the water supply line’s shut-off valve.
Does it seem like you’ve tried everything to no avail? Here are some last-resort measures you can take.
- Consider renting a wet/dry vacuum from a hardware store. Insert the nozzle into the bowl and suck out the contents. While this isn’t the most fun option, it is bound to fix your clogged toilet.
- Get your toilet fixed. If you have toilet clogs regularly, it may be time to fix your plumbing system. Older, low-flow toilets tend to be especially vulnerable to blockages.
- Call a plumber. Some clogs are too big to handle on your own. Call in the professionals to evaluate the situation and fix the problem before it gets out of hand.
Avoiding Clogs in the First Place
It’s best to avoid clogs in the first place. Preventative measures can keep you from having to go through all of this and maintain your plumbing system in the long run.
Avoid clogs by doing the following:
- Talk to your kids. Kids are notorious for flushing toys and other objects. Make sure they know that this is a big no-no. To further prevent this from happening, keep the lid closed when you’re not using the bathroom.
- Be mindful of what you flush. Kids aren’t the only guilty ones. Plenty of adults flush things they shouldn’t. Wipes, cotton balls, paper towels, and other materials are sure to block your pipes.
- Go easy on the toilet paper. Even though toilet paper is flushable, it doesn’t dissolve immediately. Using too much can cause a clog, especially if you have an older toilet as it may not have enough flushing power. Low-flow toilets, in general, aren’t capable of flushing large quantities of toilet paper.
Call the Experts
Sure, being your own plumber is great. You get to solve the problem quickly and don’t have to call in for help.
However, some situations require an expert. Calling in a professional to unclog a toilet will save you time and address mores significant underlying issues.