How to Unclog a Toilet With a Plunger

Plunger working on Toilet Clog
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A clogged toilet is a very common (and often very alarming) plumbing problem that most people have to deal with at one time or another. If this is your first time, don’t worry. Follow these steps to clear the way to a full flush. All you need is a toilet plunger and a few minutes.

Use the Right Plunger

Believe it or not, there are different types of plungers for different types of plumbing fixtures. The most basic type is a cup plunger, also called a sink plunger. It has a dome-shaped rubber cup with a flat bottom. This type is best for sinks and tubs because the flat bottom creates a seal around the relatively flat sink or tub basin. Then there's the​ toilet plunger, also called a flange plunger. This has a cup that's taller than the cup on a sink plunger, and it has a sleeve-like extension (that's the flange) on the bottom of the cup. The flange fits into the hole in your toilet bowl for a good seal. The flange can also fold up into the cup so the plunger can be used on sinks and tubs. If you're guessing you need a toilet plunger, you're absolutely right. A cup plunger is much less effective for clearing toilet clogs. 

How to Plunge a Toilet

  1. Make sure there is standing water in the toilet bowl. Enough water to submerge the head of the plunger is ideal, but you need at least enough to cover the rim of the plunger cup (not the flange). If there's stuff floating in the toilet bowl, don't sweat it; take it as a hint as to why plumbers can charge so much. 
  2. Make sure the flange of the plunger is completely pulled out from the cup. Lower the plunger into the bowl at an angle so the cup fills with as much water as possible. If you go straight down the cup traps a lot of air, which compresses more than water and reduces the plunging force. 
  3. Fit the cup over the toilet's drain hole so the flange is inside the hole and the cup forms a complete seal around the outside of the hole. 
  4. Grip the plunger handle in both hands and push down on the cup forcefully, then pull back up without breaking the cup's seal around the hole. Repeat the push-pull motion 5 or 6 times, then pull the cup off of the hole after the last thrust. The goal is to create rapidly alternating forces of compression and suction in the toilet drain, and this loosens the clog. If you're pushing energy seems to be blowing out the side of the cup rather than down into the hole, you don't have a proper seal. Reposition the cup and try again. 
  1. Repeat the series of plunging motions as needed until the bowl empties by itself. Set the plunger aside. 
  2. Remove the tank lid from the toilet and locate the round rubber trap door (called the flapper) at the center of the tank bottom; this is your emergency water shut off if the toilet is still clogged.
  3. Flush the toilet. If it flushes normally, you're all done, and you can set the lid back on the tank. If you're not so lucky and the toilet is still clogged and threatens to overflow, reach into the tank and push the flapper down over the hole to stop the flow of water from the tank to the bowl. It's back to the plunger with you. 

Tip: If you can't clear the clog after several series of plunging, you can try clearing it with a toilet auger before calling a pro.