How to Unclog a Toilet With or Without a Plunger

updated Dec 11, 2023
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Clogged toilets are just one of those inescapable, yucky facts of life. Rather than the fear-filled I’ll just flush it again and see what happens technique (that can end in the disaster of disgusting water sloshing all over the bathroom floor).

Or the simultaneously frantic and hopeful thrusts of a plunger that may or may not work, it helps to know how to unclog a toilet the right way.

(Image credit: Minette Hand)

First, Avoid Overflows

If the toilet is clogged, avoid repeated flushing. Remove the tank lid from the toilet and find the round rubber flapper at the center of the bottom of the tank. If the water is rising and threatens to spill over, push the flapper down over the hole to keep water from flowing into the toilet bowl. Or turn off the water at the valve (the silver almond-shaped handle, usually located behind the toilet near the floor).

Use the Right Plunger, the Right Way

The most straightforward way to unclog a toilet is to address the issue with a plunger. The first step is making sure you have the right plunger for the job.

There are two basic types of plungers: A cup plunger is the most basic kind, composed of a simple dome shape. This type of plunger is meant to unclog sinks and bathtubs, not toilets. Toilets should be unclogged with a flange plunger, the kind that has the extension on the bottom of the plunger. This flange is intended to fit into the hole of the toilet bowl.

Once you have the right plunger, here’s the most effective way to use it:

  • First, make sure there is enough standing water in the toilet.
  • Angle the flange into the toilet so that you fill the plunger with as much water as possible. You want water in there versus a big air bubble.
  • Fit the flange into the hole of the toilet bowl and fit the rest of the plunger around it to form a good seal.
  • Thrust the plunger down five or six times, forcefully. If it seems like air is escaping out the sides of the plunger, you probably don’t have a good seal; re-position the plunger and try again.
  • Repeat until the bowl empties itself.

Alternate Methods Without a Plunger

What about those times when you’re stuck without a plunger, or are too embarrassed to ask for one? Like those absolutely dreadful situations when you clog a toilet at someone else’s house? Shudder.

Luckily, there are some excellent life-hacker ways to unclog a toilet without a plunger. Tuck these plunger-free problem-solvers into your toilet emergency management arsenal:

  • Grab a large container and fill it with hot (not boiling) water. Dump the hot water into the toilet bowl and wait for it to dissolve the clog.
  • If this doesn’t work or isn’t possible, grab some dish soap or shampoo and squirt some into the toilet bowl. Wait a bit for it to break up the clog and try flushing.
  • If neither of these work, check out these other methods: 6 Ways To Unclog A Toilet Without A Plunger

Before You Call A Plumber

If you aren’t able to unclog your toilet with any of the methods listed above, the next step is to try a toilet auger (aka plumbing snake). It’s cheaper than a plumber. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.

How to Prevent Future Clogs

In order to prevent clogs from forming in the first place, be mindful (and teach others in your household to be mindful) about how much toilet paper gets put into the toilet before flushing. Another tip we learned from the blog, The Art of Manliness, is to ensure that the jets under the edge of your toilet are clean.