Your toilet is one of the prominent plumbing fixtures in your house, so it can be a real pain whenever it gets clogged and you’re left unable to answer nature’s call. Recently, I found myself in the same situation at an ungodly hour, so calling a plumber was a no-go. Thankfully, with a bit of Google and some elbow grease, I learned how to unclog the toilet by myself and resolved the issue successfully.
To unclog a toilet by yourself, your first option is a plunger. Pump vigorously to disturb and loosen the blockage. If plunging doesn’t work, you can attempt to dissolve the clog with a drain cleaner. If that still doesn’t work, you can try tools like a drain snake or a wet/dry vacuum.
If you want to learn more about these methods, keep reading for a step-by-step breakdown of how to use each method!
Method #1: Use a Toilet Plunger
When it comes to the question of “how to unclog a toilet at home,” the toilet plunger is the default option. You have two main options for a plunger:
The flat plunger is the most common one, but it’s better suited for sinks or bathtub/shower drains – the flat bottom allows it to seal over the surface of a sink or floor.
A flange plunger has an additional cup or sleeve-like flap that extends down the bottom end. This cup is designed to fit right into the toilet drain and seal over it effectively. The flange also prevents toilet water from splashing out of the bowl or the plunger turning inside out while pumping.
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The flange plunger is much better suited for unblocking toilets.
To use a flange plunger to unclog your toilet, follow these steps:
- Submerge your plunger into the toilet and get as much water as possible inside the cup. If there’s not enough water in the bowl to submerge your plunger, add more from the sink.
- Fit it over the edge of the drainpipe and push gently to eliminate any trapped air. It’s important to go gently until you have a good seal, so you don’t splash toilet water onto yourself.
- Begin pushing down and pulling up sharply to start disturbing the blockage. Don’t apply too much force and break the seal accidentally.
- It may take a couple dozen plunge cycles until the toilet unclogs, but it should work for most blockages, unless it’s a hard object (e.g. a plastic kids’ toy). Then, you may need to use a different method.
- Flush the toilet to check if it’s been fully cleared. If the blockage still persists, repeat the plunging process a few times more. Once you’re satisfied that the clog is gone, flush the toilet a few times to move the blockage further through your sewer system.
Now, you may be wondering: “How can I unclog the toilet if I don’t have a plunger?” Thankfully, a plunger isn’t the only way to unclog a toilet…
Method #2: Use Drain Cleaner
Instead of using physical force, you can instead try dissolving the blockage with chemicals, such as:
- homemade drain cleaner
- store-bought drain cleaner
- enzyme waste removal product.
Keep in mind that this method will only work on organic waste, not stuck hard objects.
Homemade Drain Cleaner
- Heat up at least ½ gallon of water. You can add more if you feel the need to, but ½ gallon is a good minimum for enough force to push at the clog. By the time you’re ready to use it, it should be around the temperature of a hot beverage you can drink comfortably. Don’t use boiling water, as that can crack the porcelain.
- Pour two cups of vinegar and one cup of baking soda into the toilet. This creates a chemical reaction that helps break down organic compounds. Any type of vinegar can be used, but the most common is distilled white vinegar. Expect the mixture to fizz and bubble.
- If you don’t have either vinegar or baking soda, you can instead try pouring ½ cup of dish soap down the toilet. This can help lubricate your drain pipe and make it easier to loosen the clog.
- Pour the hot water into your toilet. Try to pour it from waist level or higher, to increase the force of the water pouring into the bowl.
- Allow the mixture to stand overnight. In the morning, you should be able to flush it down. If the toilet is still clogged afterward, repeat the process. If it doesn’t work on the second try, the blockage may be a hard object.
- You can easily buy drain cleaner from supermarkets, hardware stores, and other big-box stores. However, keep in mind that most commercial drain cleaners contain harmful chemicals that are toxic to you and the environment. When you put drain cleaner in your plumbing system, it can leach into other water sources and turn them toxic.
- That being said, if you truly want to use a drain cleaner, ensure that you buy one specially made for toilets. Read the manufacturer’s instructions before pouring it into the toilet. Don’t use a plunger because you may accidentally splash the chemicals onto your skin.
- After using a drain cleaner, keep your toilet lid down and your windows or exhaust fan open – this helps prevent toxic fumes from building up in your bathroom.
- Enzyme waste removal products can also be bought from a store, (typically found in the plumbing aisle of home improvement stores, or you can get it from Amazon here) and they’re a safer alternative to drain cleaner. They’re made specifically for use in septic systems to break down and liquify waste.
- Read the manufacturer’s instructions before pouring it into the toilet.
- You will likely need to let it sit overnight, to allow the enzymes to break down the blockage. In the morning, you should be able to flush the toilet again.
Method #3: Using a Drain Snake
If the blockage in your toilet is caused by a hard foreign object, using a drain snake is your best bet. It’s also the best method if you actually want to retrieve the object stuck in your toilet. You have two options here.
- Buy a closet auger, also known as a plumbing snake, flexible cleaning tool, or simply an auger. (You can find them on Amazon here). It comes with a long handle and a flexible wire that can “snake” through your drainpipe to remove the blockage.
- Insert the wire of your auger into the toilet, making sure the curved end of the tube is nestled at the bottom of your bowl to prevent scratches.
- Slowly crank the handle until you feel the auger working its way through the drain.
- Once the wire has gone through the entire drainpipe, pull it back out. Ideally, the foreign object will either be broken down inside the pipe or hooked onto the end of the wire, and you’ll be able to flush the toilet normally.
- Repeat the process if necessary.
Here’s a video using the technique described above:
- If the blockage is in the first few inches of your drain, you can DIY a drain snake with a wire hanger. Straighten a hanger and wrap one end with a rag, fastening it in place with tape or elastic ties. The rag will prevent the sharp wire from scratching your toilet bowl.
- Put on some rubber gloves and stick the wrapped end into your drain. Once you feel it hit the blockage, twist and push until you get rid of it. When the water begins to drain, you can attempt flushing the toilet to check if you’ve pushed away the obstruction.
- If you can’t feel your wire hit the blockage or the toilet still refuses to drain, the blockage may be out of reach for your DIY drain snake. Use a closet auger instead.
Method #4: Using a Wet/Dry Vacuum
A word of warning: this method specifically uses a wet/dry vacuum – not a regular household vacuum. DO NOT attempt this with an ordinary vacuum, as this can damage the vacuum and present an electrocution risk.
- Put on some rubber gloves. Empty the toilet bowl by vacuuming all the water out.
- Place the end of the vacuum hose a few inches into the toilet drain. You can wrap an old towel around the hose to create a better seal and suction.
- Vacuum out the clog and clean the vacuum afterward.
You just learned seven ways to unclog a toilet yourself, using 4 different methods, so you’ll be better equipped next time your toilet doesn’t flush.
- A plunger or drain cleaner is the best way to clear organic blockages.
- Use a drain snake for blockages caused by foreign objects.
- If none of the other methods work, try using a powerful wet/dry vacuum.
However, if the toilet still doesn’t flush even after all these methods, if you notice your sinks or showers spewing out dirty water, or if you see or hear water backing up in your sinks or showers when you flush, it’s time to call in a plumber; as these are signs there’s a blockage deeper in your sewer system.