Your Simple Guide to Unclogging a Toilet

There might be nothing scarier than seeing the contents of a toilet boil slowly rush up toward you after flushing.

You start praying to the toilet gods that an overflow doesn’t happen. Sometimes they listen, but sometimes they don’t.

Knowing how to unclog a toilet lets you to rely on your own skillset instead of divine intervention. This guide will take you through the steps necessary to unclog your toilet quickly and safely.

Tools You Need

  • Gloves and safety glasses, this can get messy
  • A plunger (either a sink or toilet plunger will work)
  • If the plunger doesn’t unclog your toilet, a toilet snake (also called a plumbing or drain auger).

You can use either plunger type to begin trying to unclog your toilet. Sink plungers can sometimes work if the issue you’re facing is minor. Try to get a toilet plunger for your home as soon as you can for better results. Toilet plungers come with an additional flap that makes creating a seal much easier in a toilet bowl.


Steps to Follow

Step 1. Warm up.

Run your plunger under hot water before you begin to work. The heat will help to soften the materials, allowing for the device to create a better seal over the drain in the bowl.

Step 2. Make the Seal.

Place the plunger in the toilet bowl so that it can cover the entire hole at the bottom of it. You cannot leave air gaps between the plunger cup and the sides of the bowl because this will prevent a vacuum from forming. If you can’t make a seal for some reason, then wrap an old towel or rag around the bottom of the plunger.

Step 3. Pump.

Pump the plunger vertically a few times lightly. Make sure that you don’t break the seal during this process because that will limit the vacuum you’re creating. You’ll want the water level in the bowl be a few inches above the plunger cup for best results.
If there isn’t enough water in the bowl to cover the rubber or plasticized portion of your plunger, then add some from a bathroom or kitchen sink. Using a 5-gallon bucket to transport the water if necessary. Don’t overflow the toilet because this could trigger a force flush that causes you to repeat this step.

Step 4. Pump harder.

Now work the plunger a few times with some extra effort. You shouldn’t be using all of your strength, but you also don’t want to be babying this tool. Repeat 4-6 times until you can feel a strong vacuum forming.

Step 5. Pull and break.

Pull the plunger up from the toilet quickly to break the seal. Be careful during this step because you can splash the water from the bowl all over the bathroom during this stage. That’s why wearing gloves and safety glasses are an essential part of plunging a toilet. It will prevent any germs from spreading.

Step 6. Flush.

If you see the water levels start to decrease, then you have been successful with your plunging efforts. Flush the toilet regularly to ensure that it is working properly. Then clean the bowl, and then flush one more time.

Step 7. Go again.

If the water levels did not go down after you pulled the plunger from the bowl, or if they did and the toilet is still not flushing as it should, then you can repeat steps #1-5 two or three additional times to see if the clog will dislodge for you.

Step 8. If not successful, move on to the toilet snake.

When a clog is being super stubborn and plunging will not work, then it is time to move on to using the plumbing auger instead.


Using a Plumbing Snake to Dislodge a Serious Clog

When you have a serious clog, then a plumbing snake can help you to dislodge the problem with relative speed.

Step 1. Uncoil and enter the drain.

Uncoil the wire end of the plumbing snake, and then lower the end into the drain. If you have a plastic protective guard over the wire, then place the entire unit in the bowl before pushing the wire into the drain.

Step 2. Find the block.

Extend the device until you reach the clog. You will feel it when using this device because the wire will no longer push easily through the drain.

Step 3. Twist.

Start twisting the wire in a clockwise fashion to begin destroying the stubborn clog. You can also crank it counter-clockwise if you think a foreign object is causing the issue. Water levels in the bowl will immediately decrease once you remove the issue.

Step 4. Force it.

If cranking the plumbing does not remove the clog, you can use brute force with the wire to help it start moving. Strongly move it up and down while it is in the drain like a battering ram against the clog. It may take 4-6 attempts before you begin to feel any movement with some clogs. Then twist again.

Step 5. Water level drops, retrieve and clean up.

Once the water levels begin to fall, you can remove the plumbing snake from the drain. Make sure that you are wearing gloves for this step because the toilet water will not be pleasant. You may encounter used toilet paper and human waste on the device as well. Clean it up in a safe space before returning it to storage.


Additional Options for Unblocking a Toilet

If neither option seems to be working for you, then you can try to suck out the problem with a wet-dry vacuum. We highly recommend using a Shop-Vac brand product for the best combination of power and cost for this issue.

Some chemicals can remove a clog as well. These are available online and at most local stores.

Natural remedies include using a combination of hot water and dish soap, baking soda and vinegar, or baking soda and lemon juice. Just pour these down the drain to get the results you want.

If your drain is still clogged at this point, then it is time to call a professional plumber to assess the issue.

For more information on toilet hardware and tools check our guide, we have some great recommendations for plungers and augers here.

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