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How to unclog a toilet

How to unclog a blocked toilet

With the holiday season fast approaching, your toilets are going to be under added pressure to keep up with all your guests. There's an unspoken universal rule that toilets will clog at the most awkward time possible – so here's a quick and easy guide on how to unblock your toilet.

Remember: your toilet could be blocked for a number of different reasons. Unblocking a toilet is not a one-solution-solves-all task! Depending on the cause of the blockage, some of these de-clogger tips will work for you, and others may not.

If you have a problematic prone-to-clog potty in your house, it most likely has a partial blockage somewhere in the pipes. You deal with the clogs as they happen but you’ve never really solved the problem. The toilet technically works, most of the time, but when stressed, it backs up. If this is the case, stop reading and call someone (like us) who can solve this “beyond-DIY” problem, because there is one, somewhere.

Remember to always be prepared! Before you try anything, put down towels, newspaper or old sheets to make sure any spills don’t end up on your bathroom floor.

How to Unclog a Toilet Without a Plunger

Stuck with an overflowing bowl and no plunger to move that unexpected blockage? Try the hot water and detergent method.

Simply squirt your standard household detergent/shampoo into your toilet bowl (be generous, get plenty in there!), then add a gallon of very hot but not boiling water slowly to the bowl. Wait a few minutes and watch. The water should break up the toilet paper and the soap should help it slide down the pipe.

How does it work? The water will help the detergent get in and around the clog, making it slippery and easier to move through the system.

Leave this mix to work its magic for 20 minutes, then pour another bucket of hot water in on top. For stubborn blockages, try pouring in another bucket – and add a little force behind it. If the water level looks like it’s coming back to normal, give it a flush and see if you’re in the all clear!

How to Unclog a Toilet Using a Plunger

If you’re looking for the best plunger to unclog your toilet with, we highly recommend getting a pleated plunger. Pleated plungers work quicker and are suitable to use in overflowing bowl situations.

They’re really simple to use: slowly (and we mean slowly) submerge the open end of the plunger into the overflowing bowl. You’ll probably get a little spillage, so make sure those old towels are in place!

You want the plunger to fill up, then slowly push the plunger down towards the hole at the bottom of the toilet (the pipe opening). Once in place, push the plunger down gently, slowly come up and then make a few short pumps with the plunger. Again, you might get a few little splashes outside of the bowl.

Let the plunger release, then push it all the way down again and pump again. Once you’ve dislodged the problem, you should hear a distinct noise and the old water should empty from the bowl.

How does this work? You are adding water pressure when you push on the plunger, and suction when you pull. Toilet plungers are particularly effective because you are pushing water and not air, water does not compress. It has to go somewhere and you're forcing it to move through the pipes. Thrusting the plunger up and down moves a column of water like it was a solid piston and applies the entire force of the thrust against the clog.

A quick note about toilet paper.

Thick and plush toilet paper can and often does cause clogs. We love Charmin Ultra whoop de doo paper like the rest of you, but be cautious with the amount you use per flush. Explain to your kids that the “nice” TP comes with rules. Threatening to buy the thin, corse 1-ply brand their school uses will change their 15-square-habit real fast.

How to Unblock a Toilet Using A Plumbing Snake

Plumbing snakes (AKA flexible cleaning tools or augers) are the final solution to a blockage that just won’t budge. They’re made from flexible wire that can get around the curves and crevices in your drainage system. When you get a professional in to clear your blocked toilet, they’ll most likely use this method.

Once you’ve purchased/borrowed your plumbing snake, insert it into the bowl, pushing it down the drain until you hit the blockage. When you’ve found it, twist and push the snake through it – this might take some time and effort to break through.

Once the blockage is gone, the water will drain and refill. Give your toilet a flush and see if it drains and refills again normally. For further tips, see our blog post Snaking the toilet drain.

Clogs happen.

If you have run into a clog that you can’t fix DIY or you have a potty that always backs up, don’t be afraid to call us. There is probably an issue beyond a plunger’s capabilities, that requires professional tools. Call us and we can help get everything flushing smoothly.

Unclogging a toilet can be unpleasant work.

Skip getting your hands dirty and hire the professionals to do the hard work for you. Call Nichols & Phipps today. We promise – what happens in the bathroom stays in the bathroom.

For more tips on toilet clogs here are a few related blog posts:

Attention every homeowner:

Be kind to your guests. There are few things more embarrassing than being at someone else's house and clogging their toilet. The clog might not be their fault and more than likely is the fault of a prior partial clog that is just waiting for some unsuspecting guest to arrive.

Every bathroom should have a plunger somewhere a guest can find it easily. Give them a chance to solve the problem before having to leave the bathroom with an overflowing toilet and come find you for help. Remember that some guests might not have the courage to come find you and will leave the toilet clogged because they are mortified and embarrassed.

Be a proactive host and supply every bathroom with a plunger and while you are at it, make sure there is backup TP available.

Best toilet plungers according to WireCutter