By Ande Waggener
Even the most comfortable and stylish toilet in the most beautiful bathroom can, unfortunately, get clogged. And once a toilet is clogged, beautiful is not usually the adjective you use to describe your bathroom. This is why a clog will have you asking, “What are the best methods for unclogging a toilet?”
You can remove a toilet clog yourself in one of three ways. Before we look at each of these methods for unclogging a toilet, let’s talk about how to keep those clogs from happening in the first place.
Preventing a Clogged Toilet
Obviously the best solution to any problem is to avoid the problem to begin with. So here’s how to stop clogs before they happen.
- Don’t overdo it with the toilet paper. If you need to use more than a couple handfuls of toilet paper, flush after each couple of handfuls so you don’t end up with a bowlful of toilet paper that’s too much for the flushing system.
- Toilet paper is the only paper designed for a toilet. Don’t put heavier paper products like paper towels, wet wipes, and feminine products in the toilet. They’re clogs waiting to happen.
- Don’t pour things down the drain that will harden in water. Grease, caulk, drywall compound, and wax can wreak all manner of havoc in a toilet line.
- Kids are common causes of a clogged toilet … not the kids themselves obviously (one should never attempt to flush a kid) but rather the items that kids tend to drop into toilets. Part of creating a kid-friendly bathroom is teaching children what does and doesn’t belong in a toilet.
- Keep the toilet lid closed when the toilet isn’t in use. This will keep small items like hairbrushes, make-up, or yes, kid’s toys, from inadvertently falling into the toilet bowl and going unnoticed before that fateful pre-clog flush.
If all of the above preventative measures fail, here’s how to unclog a toilet.
Method #1: Use a Plunger
The most common and easiest way to unclog a toilet is with a plunger. Fortunately, most of the time, a plunger is all you need. Every household should have a toilet plunger. If you don’t have one, get one. You want a toilet plunger with an extension flange on the rubber end (that’s the part of the plunger that can either tuck up inside the bell-shaped rubber or extend below it). The flange is specifically designed to fit a toilet, and it will deliver more power to your plunging efforts.
Toilet clogs usually happen in one of two ways. They either cause the bowl to partially fill and not completely empty. (This is the preferable way). Or they cause the bowl to fill and overflow. (Aack! We hate this!) Knowing when to use a toilet plunger depends on how the clog seems to be unfolding.
- In the case of a partially filling or slow draining toilet, wait about ten minutes for the water to drain a little and then attack it with your plunger.
- If the toilet is filling and appears to be on its way to quickly overflowing, a quick grab and plunge is the way to go. For toilets that are prone to clogging, keeping a storage toilet accessory near the toilet where you can hide a plunger is a great idea. If you don’t have a plunger nearby and the toilet overflows before you can get to it, wait ten minutes to see if the water level will drop a little. Then use the plunger.
Warning: If you’re lucky enough that a clog hasn’t caused an overflow, don’t blow it and make one happen. Never flush a clogged toilet filled with water and/or waste. That’s the fastest way to get a stinky mess all over your bathroom floor.
Here’s how to use a toilet plunger:
- Before you plunge, get some paper towels or rags and some rubber or latex gloves. Plunging can be a messy job. Unfortunately, if you’re plunging through a filled or mostly filled bowl, you’re probably going to splash.
- Be sure the rubber flange on the plunger is pulled out.
- Position the plunger over the opening at the bottom of the toilet bowl. You want enough water in the bowl to cover the rubber end of the plunger. If there isn’t enough water, don’t flush. Just pour some water in the bowl until the rubber is covered.
- Press down to form a seal between the plunger and the bowl.
- Now push down firmly. Don’t get carried away. You want to force the air out of the rubber end of the plunger, but you don’t want to eject that air too energetically. A hard thrust can push air past the plunger’s seal and shoot water out of the toilet.
- Now push on the plunger strongly and repeatedly. You want to create a vigorous pumping action that will force water in both directions in the toilet drain. This will loosen most clogs. Don’t give up after one or two thrusts. You might have to plunge a dozen times or more. Sometimes, if you’re not making any headway, it can help to alternate between steady strokes and occasional Hercules-like shoves.
- Keep at it until the clog disappears or until you’re pretty sure plunging is a losing battle. When you reach that point, it’s time to try another clog-removing method.
Method #2: Use a Toilet Snake or Toilet Auger
A toilet snake will remove most clogs that a plunger can’t handle. A toilet snake is a long coiled wire that has a corkscrew-shaped end. Use it like this.
- Feed the snake into the toilet bowl opening.
- When you feel it encounter the clog, turn the snake clockwise so the tip screws into or through the clog. This should break it up. The debris from the clog will then entwine with the wire so you can pull it from the toilet.
Note: Don’t use a regular drain snake as a toilet snake. They’re not the same thing, and a drain snake not only won’t get the job done, it might damage the toilet bowl.
A toilet auger is a more specialized clog-remover designed to slither around the first bend of a toilet’s siphoning system. An auger has a handle you turn to loosen the clog. Using it is similar to using a toilet snake but a bit more sophisticated.
- Insert the guide tip into the toilet bowl opening. You want the curve to go in the direction of the drain.
- Turn the auger handle until you can’t turn it further then change directions and crank the handle until the auger has gone into the toilet drain as far as it will go.
- Pull back on the auger to remove the debris.
- Flush the toilet.
- You might have to plunge one more time to break up any remaining part of the clog, but plunging should be successful after you use an auger.
Method #3: Use a Homemade Unclogging Solution
Although you can use commercial clog removers in the toilet, they’re often not effective enough to warrant filling your toilet with chemicals. If the physical unclogging methods above don’t work, you could, however, try a homemade solution. I have never used this solution myself, but I have a friend who swears by it. When she had a clog that withstood her efforts to plunge it or snake it loose, she used this solution. Here’s what you do:
- If the toilet isn’t filled with water, pour in a gallon or so of boiling water. Don’t do this, obviously, if the bowl is filled.
- Put a cup of baking soda into the standing water in your toilet
- Add to the bowl two cups of vinegar. Do this slowly. The vinegar will react with the baking soda and fizz, and you don’t want it to create a stinky volcano that spews all over your floor.
- Let all of this sit for at least a couple hours or overnight.
- If the water has drained out after this time, flush the toilet. If it flushes fine, you’ve cleared your clog.
- If the water is still standing in the toilet after the baking soda and vinegar mixture sits overnight, try plunging again. The mixture might have loosened the clog enough so you can now plunge it away.
If the above three methods fail to unclog your toilet, you have a bigger problem on your hands. If you’re feeling industrious and intrepid, you could disconnect the toilet from the floor and see if you can tackle the clog directly. This might work, but then again, if the clog has resisted Methods #1-#3, pulling up the toilet may not be any more successful because the clog could be in the toilet’s main line. If that’s the case, you need a plumber. For sure, if any other toilets in your home are clogged or if water is backing up in other toilets or drains, you need to run to the phone to call a plumber.
Thankfully, most toilet clogs aren’t that serious. Now that you know three unclogging methods, chances are that over 90 percent of the time your DIY efforts will unclog a toilet.
Images used with permission, courtesy of Ande Waggener