How to Properly Unclog a Toilet

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You don't have to be a professional plumber to unclog the toilet. In most cases, you can have your bathroom's throne up and running in just a few minutes, as long as you have the right tools, tolerance for some potential unpleasantness, and a firm grasp of the best way to unclog a toilet. Avoid a bathroom disaster by following these guidelines:

Have the Right Tools on Hand

The plunger is one of those items people often don't realize they need until it's too late. Don't let yourself be caught off guard with an icky situation-- purchase a plunger when you move into your rental if one isn't provided.

But you can't just pick out any old plunger-- you should select one with a flange that extends from the rubber bell-shaped cup at the end. This is specially designed to fit toilet holes (the non-flange variety are meant for unclogging sinks).

Recognize the Clog

It may be obvious when a toilet is completely clogged, as flooding or high waters dangerously close to overflowing are common. But in many cases, it may be hard to tell if it's backed up until you flush. A partial clog is typically a slow drainer and will generally go down within a couple of minutes, after which point it's safe to try flushing once more.

If the flush is weak and the waste does not appear to drain, that may mean the toilet is completely plugged up, in which case you should wait at least 10 minutes in hopes that the water level will go down so you can go at it with a plunger.

Know the Best Way to Unclog a Toilet

Many people head straight for the plunger when they suspect a clog. However, you should make sure to follow this order of steps to avoid worsening the situation:

1. Put on gloves and goggles, especially if the water level is high, as the situation can get messy fast.

2. Turn off the water valve to stop the water from overflowing.

3. Insert the plunger into the hole of the toilet so it stands upright over over the drain to create a tight seal.

4. The water level in the bowl should reach at least halfway up the bell-shaped rubber cup-- pour some water in if this is not the case. Otherwise, you may merely be pushing air into the hole, which will cause little resistance.

5. Push the plunger up and down by the stick, making sure not to break the seal between the rubber and the ceramic of the bowl. Repeat this motion a few times.

6. After your last push downward, pull up sharply, breaking the seal between the rubber and the toilet bowl. The release of suction on the drain should dislodge the blockage.

7. Turn the toilet back on, wash your hands and resume your business as usual.

If these steps do not work the first time, give it a few more tries. If it still does not unclog the toilet, it's time to consider your other options.

Turn to Your Backup Plan

When the plunger fails you, the next best way to unclog a toilet is with a plumbing snake. Drain snakes are long coils of wire that have a tip like a corkscrew to help feed the coil into the toilet hole. Turn it clockwise as you feed it in, allowing the tip to break up the clog.

This tool can cost you $10 or less at any retail store, but more expensive options are available if you're prone to clogging your toilet. The pricer versions generally have a special design that lets you get around the bend in the plumbing, a hook to loosen foreign objects and a rubber sleeve to protect your hand from that nasty splashback.

If a plumbing snake doesn't do the trick, you may be out of luck. It's time to call your landlord and have a plumber come attack the issue.

Don't Have a Plunger?

Say you forgot to buy a plunger when you moved in. Fear not: There's a potential solution. Start by squirting dish soap or shampoo into the toilet bowl (don't be stingy-- you'll need a generous amount to unclog a toilet). Then, add a gallon of extremely hot, but not quite boiling, water to the basin. Wait a few minutes. You should eventually notice the toilet paper breaking apart and the mess sliding down the pipe. If this doesn't work, try once or twice more before using an unraveled wire hanger to gently prod the clog down.

Still not unclogged? Then it's time to endure the elements and head to the store for a plunger.