How To Fix a Blocked Toilet

Toilet Plunger Tips and Sanitation Advice

Unclogging toilet

Are you tired of reporting to your building repairman or housemate that “someone” clogged the toilet? Most of us hate to admit when we clog a toilet, mainly because we fear what others might think of us, but also perhaps because we don’t want to believe we’re capable of such a thing either. And yet at some point in our lives, whether due to our diets, the person who used it before us, or simply the temperament of our mutual porcelain friend, we’re all bound to encounter one at some point in life.

It’s hard to conceal a plunger as you try to sneak it upstairs into your bathroom to repair the damage furtively before someone notices. And it’s virtually impossible to unclog it discreetly if you don’t know how to use a plunger. But friends, why all this sneaking around? We have nothing to be ashamed of but shame itself, and I’m certain FDR would be proud to know that his words were being bastardized in an article about toilet plungers. Yes, I’ve decided that it would be liberating, maybe even inspiring, to cast aside all anonymity and write this article. So let it be known, I’m Brian McDonald, and I’ve unclogged many a toilet, and here's how.

  1. Look at the toilet before you sit. Most people instinctively do this anyway! But if it isn’t already part of your routine, check out what’s inside before you do your business. If it is uncharacteristically full of water, someone may have already clogged it, which could prove disastrous for you and your floor if you use it right away and flush. An abnormally full one means that, as a precaution, you should plunge it before using it again. Basically, check that you don't already have a blocked toilet.
  2. After using the toilet, observe the initial flush. So you’ve done what you had to do, and now you flush. It’s not wholly successful, but did the water move downward at all? Was there a slow trickle downward after the bowl filled, or did the bowl just fill up with water, none of which escaped? This water movement can tell you a lot about the severity of the clog. If all solid material disappeared down the chute and then the water slowly gurgled its way down (until the issues the characteristic gargling complaint), then you might be able to let the clog dissipate on its own – as long as you know no one’s going to be using it anytime soon. But if the bowl just filled up with water and none escaped, then now is the time for swift, decisive action! Retrieve your plunger and summon your strength. And if the water is very high, now would be the time to bring a cleaning bucket and disposable cup into the bathroom as well, along with a few rag towels.
  3. Are all plungers created equal? Any plunger can take care of most clogs, but the plungers that have the flexible, tapered inner-lips work better than the classic, cheaper models since it’s easier to establish a suctioning seal around the toilet drain.
  4. How to use the optional bucket and cup… and a word of warning. The plunging motion can create turbulence within your toilet. If there’s enough turbulence, the dirty water within could spill forth all over your floor. To prevent this from happening that’s practically full of backed-up water, empty a few cupfuls of the water carefully into the cleaning bucket. In my experience, it helps to leave enough water in the bowl to cover the cup of the plunger. Once you’re ready to use the plunger, place those rag towels around the base of the toilet in an effort to soak up any escaping water.
  5. Take the plunge! Holding firmly onto the stick of the plunger, plant the mouth of it over the toilet hole. Placement is essential to getting a good plunge; in order to create a seal and generate the force to unclog your toilet, you have to cover the drain with the plunger.

    Once the stick points directly through the center of the plunger down the toilet drain, give the stick a push so that the middle of the plunger dips down toward the drain. Tug it slightly back upward.

  6. Now repeat the down-and-up motion, pushing the stick down and then tugging it back up.

  7. Indications that you are succeeding. You should feel a bit of resistance building over the first few plunges, so that you can push and pull a little more forcefully. Often you’ll hear a deep sloshing sound within the plumbing as you use the plunger, indicating that you’ve created a good seal. When you’ve dislodged the clog, you’ll hear a more dramatic flowing sound from the plumbing – movement! At that point, you need only retract the plunger from the hole to allow the water to flush completely. Typically it will only take about 5-10 plunges.
  8. Running out of water in the bowl. What do you do if you don’t have enough water in the bowl to plunge well, and don’t know whether you’ve succeeded? You may need to know some general toilet repair for this, but it's still fairly easy. Open up the water tank of your toilet and look inside. Observe how the toilet tells itself to stop the flow of water. Somewhere toward the bottom of the tank, you'll typically find a little stopper that opens up when you flush and closes again to cut off the water flow. Once you’ve removed the plunger from the drain, try flushing. If the clog is still there and the bowl is filling up too quickly with water, simply push the stopper back down to its closed position.
  9. Sanitary concerns.
    • When unclogging a toilet you will most likely be faced with some sanitation issues. Remember to be careful with water sloshing around in your toilet. Even with lower water levels, the plunger can cause water to splash out of the bowl. Try to control the water splashing by only gradually escalating the forcefulness of your plunging. If you see that turbulence is escalating to a menacing level, ease up for a moment.
    • If water does splash out of the bowl while you plunge the toilet, make note of where the water lands and disinfect those areas with a cleaning agent afterward. We don’t want nasty bacteria spreading around the house.
    • When you’re done with the plunger, let it drip its loose moisture into the toilet, and then wipe it down with some toilet paper or one of the rag towels before placing it back where it’s kept (away from children).
  10. What to do about an inverted plunger. Sometimes in the heat of the moment, a forceful plunging motion causes the plunger to invert like a broken umbrella within the bowl. Correct the plunger carefully, when the plunger is in shallow water, flipping the plunger back to its proper form can cause water to splash all over the place. It’s best to correct the inverted plunger either totally submerged under water (using the side of the bowl to flip it back) or – if there isn’t enough water to submerge – completely outside of water (gently using your own hand, which you should then wash).
  11. What to do when plunging doesn’t remove the clog. Sometimes human waste isn’t the only stuff that ends up being flushed down a toilet. Toiletry containers, toys and other objects can accidentally end up in the toilet and then flushed, creating very difficult clogs. When you can’t unclog a stubborn toilet with the plunger, you can purchase an auger relatively cheaply from your local hardware store. This item is basically a flexible, springy stick encased in a plastic sheath. You stick the hook-end of it down into the mouth of the toilet and keep extending it out of its sheath until you feel the end of it reach the clog. Poking and prodding at it, try to either push the clog down the hole or drag it back into the bowl. When you’re done with the auger, take it outside and clean it with a strong disinfecting cleaner before storing it (once again, away from children).

That’s how I've fixed many toilet clogs, absolutely none of which were my fault. It’s not rocket science, but if you don’t do it right, you could find yourself up to your ankles in foul water and tears. Follow these simple steps and your toilets will thank you!


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