Don't let your day go down the toilet by learning how to unclog one the right way
Knowing how to unclog a toilet—especially in a hurry—is one of those life skills best learned sooner rather than later. And while it's easy to assume we know how to plunge a toilet, there are a few tips to getting the job right. Before calling a pro, here are eight methods to get things flowing again.
Why Do Toilets Clog?
While it's easy to understand on a basic level what's getting in the way of the water in your toilet's plumbing, sometimes the issue is a bit more complex. There are many common reasons why toilets clog over and over, including:
Using too much toilet paper
Poor water pressure
Flushing items not meant for your plumbing
Clogged toilet traps
A clogged toilet vent
Broken or damaged plumbing
To keep it simple, toilets clog because something is in the way of the pipe that removes waste, keeping the water from escaping the bowl.
Signs of a Clogged Toilet and What to Do First
When you notice a clog, there are a few things to look out for to avoid a mess. The water should never be higher than about halfway up the bowl and should be clear of debris. The toilet may struggle to drain or gurgle when you flush.
Let's address the worst-case scenario: you flush the toilet and water instantly starts to fill the bowl. If you're concerned that it will overflow, don't panic.
Open the tank on the back of the toilet and close the flapper with your hand. The flapper will look like a round rubber cap covering a hole. You may need to unlatch the chain to get it to close temporarily. This will stop the flow of water until you flush it again.
How to Unclog a Toilet
Toilets can clog at the best and worst of times. Here’s how to fix a clogged toilet with common tools and supplies.
Use a Plunger
Learning how to plunge a toilet may seem rudimentary, but there is a trick to it. First of all, make sure you purchase the correct plunger for a toilet. Toilet plungers are also known as flange plungers and have a large cup to seal the hole of your toilet and create pressure. The basic cup plungers, which are much smaller, are best for sink and small drain clogs.
First, break out the rubber gloves and lay a towel around the edge of your toilet to keep dirty water from getting on the floor. The right amount of water in the tank is also crucial. If the water comes up to the rim, carefully remove some with a cup and bucket. If the bowl is empty, gently press on the flushing handle to release a little water without pushing it all the way down and triggering a flush.
Finally, here are the steps for using a plunger on a toilet:
Place the cup of the plunger against the hole, creating as tight a seal as possible.
You can tilt the handle in your direction if necessary, but don't pull it so far that it opens the seal.
Push up and down with force for 10 to 15 seconds.
Check if the water has lowered in the bowl before flushing.
If not, plunge for 10 more seconds and check again.
If the clog has not cleared, use the non-plunger methods below.
Heat Up Some Water
If you don't have a plunger on hand, sometimes changing the heat of the water is all you need to release a clog.
Heat up water on the stove to just below boiling. Boiling water can cause the bowl's porcelain to crack, so let it cool for a moment.
Carefully pour the water into the toilet bowl, and let it sit for several minutes.
If the water drains while you wait, you have partially or fully removed the clog.
Test the toilet by flushing, but be ready to close the flapper if necessary.
Add Dish Soap
Dish soap is gentle on materials like porcelain and can break down fats and grease. Therefore, dish soap can do just as strong a job on dishes as on drain clogs. Here's what do to:
Measure 1/2 cup of gentle dish soap.
Pour the soap into the toilet bowl, ensuring there is enough water to carry it down the drain. If not, add several cups of warm water to the bowl.
Let the soap sit for 10 minutes.
You can pair this method with the warm-water trick for extra effectiveness.
Assess if the water in the bowl has lowered, and if so, test with a flush.
Create Water Pressure
Unclogging a toilet without a plunger is possible, especially when using the same approach with different tools. In this method, you'll need an empty 2-liter soda bottle. Wear gloves while following these steps:
Fill the bottle with warm water.
Flip the open bottle over and quickly insert it into the toilet drain.
Squeeze the water out of the bottle with a bit of force, sending the water into the pipe. This may send water back into the bowl, so be careful not to let it overflow.
If the pressure sends the water down the drain, you're ready to flush.
Add Vinegar and Baking Soda
Similar to our trusty soap method, good old white vinegar and baking soda can break down clogs in a similar manner. Here's what to do:
Pour 1 cup of white vinegar down the drain.
Follow with 1 cup of baking soda.
Be prepared for the mixture to foam quite a bit. As before, you may want to lay down towels in the event of an overflow.
Let the mixture sit for one minute.
Pour warm water into the bowl to check if the clog is now clear.
Use a Toilet Auger
Using a toilet auger is a helpful skill when difficult clogs don't respond to simple mechanical methods. Also called a toilet snake, an auger costs between $10 and $100, depending on its complexity and size. While you should always follow the directions on your specific model, here's how to use an auger:
While wearing gloves, insert the auger into the pipe so that the rubber joint sits at the entrance of the pipe.
Push the extendable arm into the pipe by turning the handle slowly and steadily. Don’t force the auger into the toilet or use unnecessary pressure.
Wiggle and turn the cable around in the tube to break up the blockage.
Slowly remove the auger, and remove any large debris dislodged during the process.
Flush the toilet slowly to check if the water clears.
Unwind a Clothing Hanger
Using a metal clothing hanger to unclog a toilet is a famous DIY in a pinch, but you have to be careful not to scratch or crack the inside of your toilet.
Unravel a metal hanger into a long, curved wire.
To prevent damage, tightly wrap a plastic shopping bag around the end of the unrolled hanger and bend the tip, so there is no sharp end.
Gently push the hanger and bag into the toilet to remove debris close to the entrance of the pipe.
If the clog is further down the pipe, you'll need an auger or plunger. Don't risk pressing this tool too far into the toilet and causing further damage.
Use a Chemical Cleaner
While this should be a last resort, chemical-based uncloggers specifically made for toilets can also do the job. However, many chemicals can damage your pipes when used incorrectly, so don’t use them often. Follow the instructions on the bottle, and wait the proper amount of time—sometimes even overnight—to flush.
How to Prevent Toilets From Clogging
We all know toilet clogs happen accidentally all the time, but there are ways to lower your chances of a dreaded backup. For example, avoid putting any products into the toilet other than toilet paper. Anything else should go into the trash. While you're at it, try not to go overboard with the toilet paper as well.
Regular toilet and plumbing maintenance from a local plumber is also a good way to get ahead of clogs. A pro can tell you if they suspect leaks, low water pressure, clogged vents, or even water main line issues.
DIY vs. Calling a Plumber
You’ll rarely need to call a pro for a basic toilet clog, but major clogs may require calling a plumber. The cost of toilet repairs related to a clog run between $90 and $600, depending on the extent of the clog and additional repairs. If your toilet clogs over and over, it's smart to give a pro a call to check for other common plumbing issues—especially if you live in a home with older plumbing.
Unclogging a toilet yourself usually costs between $5 and $100, depending on whether you opt for the dish soap method or a high-end auger.
Frequently Asked Questions
What can you pour down a toilet to unclog it?
Start by pouring hot—but not boiling—water down the drain. The heat of the water may be enough to break down the clog. You can also try ½ cup of dish soap or 1 cup each of white vinegar and baking soda. If you choose a chemical unclogging product, ensure it’s appropriate for toilets to avoid damage.
How do you unclog a toilet without a plunger?
Break up the clog with homemade solutions containing soap, vinegar, and baking soda, or simply let hot water spend some time in the drain. You can also use a two-liter soda bottle filled with water to push pressurized water into the pipe to dislodge the debris (see the steps above).
Will a clogged toilet eventually unclog itself?
Small clogs will eventually break down, but this can take time. If you don’t have another bathroom, it's best to fix a clogged toilet with what you have available. Solid objects flushed down the drain, however, require manual removal.
How do you unclog a toilet when the bowl is full?
A bit of water in the bowl can help unclog a toilet, especially if you're using a plunger. However, if the bowl is full to the brim, you'll need to strap on gloves and remove some of the wastewater in a cup or container, so it doesn't overflow when you try to unblock the pipe. If you're concerned about it filling further, manually close the flapper in the toilet tank or turn off the water supply to the toilet.