How to Unclog a Toilet With a Plunger

how to unclog a toilet illustration

Illustration: The Spruce / Brianna Gilmartin

  • Total Time: 10 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner

A clogged toilet is a very common and often alarming plumbing problem that most people have to deal with at one time or another. If this is your first time, just follow some basic steps to clear the way to a full flush. All you need is a toilet plunger and a few minutes.

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.

The proper tool for plunging a toilet is a 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. You definitely need a toilet plunger, as a cup plunger is much less effective for clearing toilet clogs. 

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Toilet plunger


  1. Fill the Toilet Bowl (as Needed)

    Make sure there is standing water in the toilet bowl. Submerging 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 (that's why plumbers can charge so much!). Add water to the bowl, if necessary.

  2. Position the Plunger

    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. 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. 

  3. Work the Plunger

    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 five or six 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. 

    Repeat the series of plunging motions as needed until the bowl empties by itself. Set the plunger aside. 

    Maintain some downward pressure on the plunger at all times while plunging, even when letting up a bit on the upstroke. If you let up on the pressure completely, you'll break the seal around the cup.

  4. Flush the Toilet

    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 shutoff if the toilet is still clogged.

    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. When the tank stops refilling, plunge the toilet again.

toilet and natural light
Siraphol Siricharattakul / EyeEm / Getty Images

If Plunging Doesn't Work

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. A toilet auger, or closet auger, is a specialty version of a drain snake designed specifically for toilets. It has a telescoping metal tube with a crank handle on one end and a cable running inside. Insert the cable end (which has a corkscrew tip) into the toilet, then turn the handle while pushing the cable down through the toilet trap to clear the clog

In addition to driving through and breaking up a tough clog, the corkscrew tip of the cable can grab onto obstructions in the toilet trap so you can pull them out. This is often required if a sponge or other inappropriate item gets flushed down the toilet and becomes stuck.