How to Unclog a Toilet

by Michael on December 9, 2009 · 2 comments

With four boys in the house, we experience our fair share of clogged toilets. I’ve thus become something of an expert when it comes to unclogging a toilet. Having just tackled another “job” the other night, I thought I’d write up a few tips while things are still fresh in my mind.

Before unclogging your toilet

First things first… If the water is rising fast, be sure to shut it off before it overflows. The easiest way to do this is to simply shut off the water valve behind the toilet. Alternatively, you can open up the toilet tank and the rubber “flapper” that covers the hole at the bottom. Once that’s done, you’re ready to grab your tools and proceed.

Tools of the toilet trade

For starters, you’re going to want a toilet plunger. While there are tons of fancy plungers out there, you don’t need anything overly fancy. Rather than buying a super-duper, air-powered turbo plunger, you’ll do just fine with an old school plunger — essentially a big rubber suction cup on the end of a stick.

Oh, and here’s a tip for your plunger… Stand it in an ice cream bucket, and then bring the whole thing (bucket and all) into the bathroom whenever you need to plunge. That way you can put it right back into the bucket instead of getting toilet water (and whatever else) all over your floor.

Finally, you might also want to have a toilet auger (toilet snake) on hand just in case the plunger doesn’t work. You can get a hand-operated version that will cover most of your needs at just about any home improvement store. That being said, I typically consider the snake to be the tool of last resort, as it’s messy and runs the risk of scratching your toilet bowl.

Plunging your toilet

There’s no real secret to plunging your toilet. Start by making sure that the plunger forms a good seal over the opening at the bottom of the toilet bowl. From there, all it takes is a firm, even down-and-up stroke, and perhaps a bit of persistence. Note that I said down and up. Many people don’t appreciate the importance of the up-stroke, which can draw the blockage back just enough to loosen it and let it flush freely. Just be careful not to slop the contents over the edge of the bowl.

My secret toilet plunging trick

Okay, it’s not exactly a secret, but… If your toilet is clogged and the plunger can’t seem to break through, don’t go straight to the auger. Instead, add a bit of dishwashing detergent to the bowl. If you’re not at risk of overflowing the bowl, you might consider giving the toilet a quick flush just to stir up the detergent. If that’s not possible, try to stir it up a bit with the plunger. After this, just walk away for awhile.

Over time, the detergent will actually loosen up the blockage. If you’re lucky, the blockage might break down enough that it will flush freely on it’s own. If not, it should at least loosen things up enough for the plunger to be effective.

While I’ve seen some recommend that you heat up some water and pour that into the bowl to help loosen the clog, I’ve never had to resort to that. If you choose to do this, be very, very careful as transporting and pouring hot water can be dangerous, and you don’t want to scald yourself.

If all else fails…

If all else fails, it’s time to break out the auger and snake the toilet. If you’re not comfortable doing this, you can always call a plumber. Of course, that’s both costly and inconvenient, so you’re probably better off snaking it yourself. Don’t worry, it’s not very hard. Just be sure you have a big bucket handy for hauling the snake back to the garage when you’re done.

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