What To Do if Your Toilet Overflows

Leah Lopez Cardenas
Updated September 14, 2021
A modern compact bathroom with a shower and a toilet
221A/E+ via Getty Images

Follow these basic steps to keep the situation under control until a plumber arrives

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In the event of a toilet overflow, you’ll have to take action ASAP to keep the water from damaging your bathroom. While you may need to hire a plumber to solve the root cause of your overflowing toilet, there are several ways to immediately address the emergency yourself.

What Causes a Toilet to Overflow?

Typically, a toilet will overflow if there is a blockage of some kind causing a clog such as too much toilet paper or items that aren’t flushable (such as feminine care products or baby wipes). It’s also possible that your septic tank capacity could be full, causing your toilet contents to back up.

Old plumbing pipes or pipes that were not installed well could also cause a toilet to overflow. If this is the case, you’ll need a professional plumber near you to help you determine the best fix.

5 Steps To Clean Up an Overflowing Toilet

1. Turn off the water shut off valve

Locate your water shut off valve near the base of your toilet. Turn the valve until the water shuts off to prevent additional overflow. If your toilet does not have one, open the tank and rig the float to stay in its position and not let any more water fill the tank.

2. Clean up the water

If water has spilled over the bowl and onto the floor, immediately remove it. Use towels to clean up a small amount or a Shop-Vac to help with larger spills or to soak water out of carpet and other fabrics.

3. Disinfect surfaces

Be sure to wash and disinfect all surfaces in your bathroom that were dampened by the toilet water. Bleach products and cleaning products that have antibacterial properties (such as Lysol and Clorox) work well to disinfect, just make sure to read the container to ensure the product you choose is safe on your particular floor material. If you have stone floors, use something pH neutral to avoid destroying the stone surface but still get it clean.

4. Clear the clog in your toilet

If you know there’s a foreign object such as a children’s toy or cosmetic product preventing the toilet from flushing, put on some rubber gloves and try to remove it.

If a clog is the culprit of the overflow, your first step is to try to clean the clog. Grab a toilet plunger and try plunging it free. A sink plunger could work if you do not have a toilet plunger, but it likely won’t be as effective. You can also try using a plumbing snake if you have one accessible. If you have a particularly nasty clog and the previous options don’t work, you might want to try using a toilet auger (aka plumber’s snake) which can reach further into the toilet to release clogs that can’t be fixed with just a plunger. 

If you have time on your side, you can unclog your toilet with baking soda and vinegar. Put one cup of baking soda and one cup of vinegar in the toilet and let it sit for about eight hours. The chemical reaction that occurs between the two substances might help break down whatever is clogging the drain.

Once you’ve successfully removed the clog, go ahead and clean the toilet thoroughly before using it again.

5. If all else fails, hire a plumber

Chronic toilet overflow might be a reason to get help from a pro. If you’ve determined that a simple clog is not the problem and your septic tank has recently been cleared, it might be a more serious issue with your plumbing system that you’ll need a local plumber to fix. The cost to hire a plumber is typically between $45 to $200 per hour.

If a full septic tank is your problem, you can call a professional septic tank cleaning service near you to come to your home and empty the septic tank.

How to Prevent Toilet Overflow in the Future

A woman fixing her toilet
Klaus Vedfelt/DigitalVision via Getty Images
  • Try using less toilet paper. If you need to use more, flush multiple times.

  • Never flush feminine products down the toilet. Even if the products claim to be flushable, always throw them in the nearest trash receptacle.

  • Keep the counter space around the toilet and the back of the tank clear of small objects that could easily fall in. Smaller objects might fall in without notice and be accidentally flushed, which could create a clog. By keeping the space around the toilet, you decrease the chance of this happening.

  • Child-proof your toilet seat to prevent kids and pets from opening the lid and accidentally dropping non-flushable items into the bowl.

  • Consider replacing your toilet if it’s getting clogged repeatedly.

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