We’ve all been there, standing in the bathroom anxiously watching the toilet water swirl but not flush. It’s a minute of holding your breath, hoping the water won’t flow over the bowl and onto the floor.
Whether or not the water makes its way onto the bathroom floor, a clogged toilet is a problem that needs to be addressed quickly. After all, if you don’t take care of it, the next flush will almost certainly cause the overflow.
Here are some tricks for unclogging a toilet, using conventional and not-so-conventional methods. Whether it’s clogged from an upset stomach, a kid trying to see how many toys they could fit in the water, or something else, one of these solutions can get your toilet back up and running in no time.
Repeatedly flushing a clogged toilet will only result in overflow.
What to Do When Your Toilet Clogs
Before we get into unclogging the toilet, there’s some important clogged-toilet etiquette you should be aware of. As soon as you realize that you have a clog, you should take a moment to do these four things.
- Stop flushing. If a toilet is clogged, flushing it repeatedly will almost never help, and will instead result in the dreaded overflow.
- Close the toilet flapper. Open the tank at the back of the toilet and close the flapper. This will keep more water from running into the bowl. Again, this will save you from the overflow.
- Assess the situation and determine the cause of the clog. Sometimes this is obvious, but it’s good to figure out why your toilet is clogged, since that might change the solution. Is there an object stuck in the toilet? Too much toilet paper? Did a pad or tampon accidentally get thrown in the toilet instead of the trash? Is there organic debris that needs to be broken up?
- Lift the toilet seat. This will give you easier access and will minimize the potential cleanup. If you’re worried about a mess, you can also line the floor with newspapers to contain the mess a little more.
Once you’ve figured out why your toilet is clogged,it’s time to get working and get your toilet back to optimal flushing conditions.
It’s a good idea to always keep a plunger and a cleaning brush in your bathroom, just in case.
Using a Plunger
If you have a plunger, this is the obvious place to start. Plungers were, of course, designed for unclogging toilets.
If you don’t have a plunger, going to the store to buy one is still the easiest option. I suggest buying a heavy duty plunger with a round rubber ball at the end. The cheapest plungers are more like suction cups, and don’t work as well as round plungers.
I also suggest buying a plunger that comes with a stand, which will hold in water drips and keep your bathroom cleaner.
When plunging a toilet, just insert the rubber end of the plunger into the toilet bowl hole. Use gentle but solid up and down movements to force air through the toilet and push any clogs through the pipes.
Don’t plunge too quickly, as this can result in unpleasant splashes and spills, and it isn’t necessary for the utility of the plunger. You may need to plunge several times until the water levels go down.
I recommend flushing a second time to make sure that the clog truly is gone. You can rinse the plunger in the water from the second flush.
Sometimes you’re stuck without a plunger but in desperate need of plunging! Don’t worry, you have options.
Options for Unclogging a Toilet Without a Plunger
Of course, if you have a plunger, chances are you wouldn’t have searched for this article. More likely, you are in desperate need of an unclogged toilet, but you don’t have the tools to do it. Don’t worry!
I’ve collected six methods for unclogging toilets without using a plunger. These use various tools and household objects, so you should be able to find a solution that works for your situation.
Plumbing snakes can bend with the pipes until finding and breaking up the blockage.
A plumbing snake is a device with a long arm which can reach through the toilet pipes to break up clogs. This is a common plumbing tool which is great for breaking up clogs and clearing toilets.
You may not own a plumbing snake, but it might be a good thing to add to your list and pick up when you head out to buy yourself a plunger. You may not be prepared this time, but you can be ready to unclog your toilet efficiently next time it clogs.
To use a plumbing snake, just insert the arm through the opening of the toilet and gently feed it through the pipes until you encounter the clog. Continue to push gently until you can feel the clog breaking up or the arm continues to move forward unblocked.
Soap and hot water work together to break down organic matter that might be causing a clog.
Soap and Water
Dish soap and water combine to create one of the most efficient methods of unclogging a toilet without a plunger. The soap and hot water combine to break up organic matter and toilet paper, which are often the main culprits of a blocked toilet.
First, pour a generous amount of dish soap into the toilet bowl. You’ll want plenty of soap, since it’ll work at dissolving toilet paper and will act as a lubricant to help everything slide through the pipes.
Let the soap sit for five to ten minutes. In the meantime, heat water to boiling. Once the water has boiled, let it sit a few minutes so that it is still hot but no longer boiling. Slowly pour the water into the toilet bowl.
Instead of pouring from the edge of the toilet seat, pour from waist height. The extra pressure may cause the toilet to flush on its own. If not, wait a few more minutes before attempting to flush again.
A metal hanger can transform into a makeshift plumbing snake for some obstructions.
If your toilet is blocked by excess toilet paper, this is probably not the solution to use. However, if your toilet won’t flush because there is an object blocking the pipes, you may be able to unclog it with the help of a metal hanger.
To start, unwind the wire until the hanger is a straight line. You can make a small curve at one end to act as a hook.
Gently lower the hanger into the toilet bowl and down the pipes until you come into contact with the stuck object. You may be able to hook the object and coax it up into the bowl where you can remove it with a gloved hand.
Baking soda and vinegar cause a reaction that can break up clogs and effectively clean your kitchen and bathroom.
Baking Soda and Vinegar
Baking Soda and Vinegar are like a cure-all for house cleaning. I’ve used this power-duo on sinks that won’t drain, to clean the sink garbage disposal, and, yes, to unclog the toilet.
Start by pouring some baking soda into the toilet bowl. Depending on how much baking soda you have around, you can put more or less. A good starting point is to add about a cup of baking soda.
Next, add two cups of vinegar. For this, white vinegar is a good option, since it’s cheap and potent.
Let this mixture sit for a while. It may bubble up as the baking soda reacts to the vinegar, so don’t worry if you see bubbles.
After about ten minutes, you can add some hot water to rinse down the mixture and continue to break up the blockage before attempting to flush.
Plastic wrap helps pressure build up in the bowl which you can then push down to help dislodge a clog.
This method is a bit more desperate and I recommend using soap and water or baking soda and vinegar rather than trying this method.
However, when you need to flush a toilet, even risky measures are worth a try. If all you have on hand is some cling wrap, you can use that as a makeshift plunger as well. Here’s how:
Completely cover the toilet bowl with plastic wrap. You may need a couple layers to make sure it’s secured tightly around the edge of the bowl.
Once your plastic wrap is secure, flush the toilet. As the toilet tries to flush, the air pressure will build against the plastic wrap and it will expand outward. Once the pressure has built up, you can push down with both hands to push the pressure downward and hopefully push the blockage.
Don’t push too quickly or too hard, as you don’t want to puncture the plastic. However, make sure you are using steady force as you push.
If you want to unclog a toilet using a mop, make sure the end is secured and protected by a plastic bag or plastic wrap.
Another solution for a desperate time is to cover a mop with plastic wrap or a plastic bag. If you want to use your mop again for cleaning, I recommend using a few layers of plastic and checking carefully for any holes.
Secure the plastic with tape or an elastic band. Cover as high up the mop handle as you are able.
Once you’ve protected your mop, you can use it as a makeshift plunger. Just put it in the hole of the toilet bowl and plunge using an up and down motion.
As with using a plunger, keep in mind that you don’t want to be too aggressive with your movements. Use force, but don’t plunge too quickly as this will result in splashes and spills.
Once you’ve cleared the toiler, toss the plastic that was covering the mop. You may also want to clean the mop to make sure you didn’t splash the handle before using it to clean your floors.
Some products have harsh chemicals and corrosive elements and shouldn’t be used often.
Don’t: Drain Cleaner
One last note as you decide how to fix a toilet that won’t flush. Many stores sell products such as drain cleaners that advertise the ability to unclog a toilet. However, I don’t recommend using these products frequently.
While a drain cleaner can be useful for occasional preventative cleaning, it shouldn’t be used often. Drain cleaners are made with corrosive materials.
Too much cleaner can damage the pipes, causing leaks and damage that may even result in the need to replace your toilet.
Plus, depending on the cause of the clog, these drain cleaners may not be effective in actually breaking up the blockage and clearing the pipes. It’s a much better idea to use a plunger or one of the methods mentioned above to get your toilet to flush again.
Even paper objects can get stuck and cause a clog. Only throw toilet paper in the toilet.
Preventing Clogged Toilets
An article on unclogging toilets wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t also leave you with some tips to keep your toilet from clogging in the first place. Here are some ways to keep your bathroom clog-free.
- Don’t use too much toilet paper. Many people use far more toilet paper than necessary. While it’s important to keep clean, you’ll have fewer clothes if you use less toilet paper. Monitoring your paper use will also save you money in the long run!
- Don’t throw pads or tampons in the toilet. Even femenine hygiene products labeled as organic or natural are too thick to be flushed. Throw them in the garbage rather than the toilet bowl.
- Don’t throw thick paper into the toilet. If you’ve ever run out of toilet paper and needed to resort to paper towels, napkins, or wet wipes, just keep in mind that these products should also be thrown in the garbage as they are too thick to properly dissolve in water.
- Don’t buy the thickest toilet paper if your toilet clogs easily. There are plenty of thin options which will flush more easily.
- Don’t be afraid to flush twice. If you are feeling sick or worried the toilet won’t flush, you can flush half-way through use. This way you won’t be sending as much toilet paper down the pipes at once and are less likely to end up with a clog.
- Don’t throw foreign objects in the toilet. This seems obvious, and foreign objects usually end up in the toilet by error. However, keep an eye on children in the bathroom and make sure you don’t have anything in pockets that might fall in.
These methods should work for common clogs. If you are still having trouble or your toilet is clogging constantly, it may be time to call a plumber. These tips won’t work if your clog is due to an underlying plumbing issue, but they should work great for most clogs!