How to Unclog a Toilet

Man sticking toilet plunger in toilet bowl
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A clogged toilet is universally nerve-wracking. But while it can require quick action, it’s typically no cause for alarm.

Toilets are easily clogged — whether with intended waste or other materials. (As any parent knows, there are many interesting items — pacifiers, Matchbox cars, Crayons and more — that have a funny way of making it into the toilet.) Fortunately, the majority of clogs are the result of easily addressed blockages or plumbing and component defects.

Here’s a quick look at some of the most effective ways to address a clogged toilet, as well as how to prevent toilet clogs from happening in the first place.

Plungers

Usually, a properly used plunger is all that you’ll need to clear an obstruction from your toilet. There are three types of plungers: a cup plunger (the red-tipped plunger you’re most likely used to seeing), a flange plunger and an accordion plunger. The cup plunger is typically best employed for clogs in sinks and bathtubs; it’s designed to create a seal against a flat surface. Flange and accordion plungers, on the other hand, are specifically designed to seal and create pressurized suction in the opening at the bottom of a toilet.

How to Use a Plunger for the Best Result

  • Use a flange or accordion plunger
  • Remove half of the water from the toilet bowl if it is full, and fill the toilet bowl halfway if it is empty.
  • Cover the area around the toilet in towels to protect the surrounding flooring.
  • Place the plunger in the toilet bowl, lowering the tip completely into the drain opening and ensuring full coverage of the drainage area.
  • Push down on the plunger with swift, powerful thrusts, sending enough pressure to down the drain to loosen the obstruction.  

If you’re unsure whether your plunging efforts have dislodged the obstruction from your toilet drain, use a bucket or a cup to add more water to the toilet bowl.

If the water goes down the toilet easily, the clog is cleared. If it doesn’t, try again. Should a plunger repeatedly fail to remove the obstruction from your toilet drain, you will need to employ a different tactic or call a professional plumber for help.

Augers

If repeated attempts at plunging fail to fix your clogged toilet, a toilet auger might do the job. A toilet auger consists of a hand crank designed to feed a sturdy, flexible cable and spiral tip into the toilet drain to extricate stubborn clogs. Never use drain snakes not intended for toilet use to address a clogged toilet. And, take care not to damage your toilet when using a toilet auger; the rigid wires may scratch the bowl.

How to Use a Toilet Auger for the Best Result

  • Retract the auger cable, ensuring that the tip of the cable is at the end of the guide tip.
  • Insert the guide tip, facing the curve in the direction of the drain.
  • Crank the auger in one direction until you can’t crank any further, then change directions until the auger has gone into the drain as far as it can go.
  • Pull the auger out of the toilet (if it sticks, gently push, pull and crank until it is easily removed; forcing removal may damage your toilet bowl).
  • Flush the toilet, using a plunger as necessary to further break up any remaining obstruction.

    When to Call a Plumber

    If both a plunger and an auger fail to remove the clog from your toilet, you will probably need to call a plumber. Definitely call a plumber if you see water backing up into other drains in your home when the toilet flushes. This may be a sign of a serious main line issue.

    Toilet Clog Prevention

    The most effective way to treat a clogged toilet is to prevent it from clogging in the first place. Here are a few tips to keep your toilet drain clear:

    • Limit your use of toilet paper. If you are using more than you think you should, flush it in increments to avoid overloading the drain.
    • Ensure that every product you flush down the toilet is intended for toilet and septic use. Avoid flushing heavy paper products such as paper towels, wet wipes and feminine care products. These items may do more than clog your toilet: they may cause significant damage to your entire sewer system.
    • Help kids understand that only toilet paper is allowed down the toilet.