Why You’ll Want to Pour Dish Soap in Your Toilet Bowl

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There’s a certain sense of urgency that comes when you’re faced with a clogged toilet. No feeling is quite like that of the pending doom of toilet water, mere seconds away from spilling out onto the floor you’re standing on. Thankfully, plungers are designed to save us from that fate — but what if you reach for one and it’s not there?

Whether you’re one plunger shy or coaxing a clog that a plunger just won’t work loose, we have good news for you: If you have access to dish soap and very, very hot water, you’ve got one more shot at it before calling a plumber!

How to Unclog a Toilet with Dish Soap

Here’s how you can tackle a clogged toilet with dish soap.

What You’ll Need

  • Pot
  • Water
  • Dish soap

Here’s What You’ll Do

  1. Fill a pot with a gallon of water and set it on the stovetop. You want it very hot, but not quite boiling. (Boiling water could crack the toilet bowl, yikes!)
  2. Pour at least a half-cup of dish soap into the toilet bowl, let it sit until the water is ready on the stovetop.
  3. Carefully pour the gallon of very hot water into the toilet bowl and watch as the soap helps to unclog the toilet. If you’re worried about there being too much water in the toilet bowl once you try to flush it, turn the water valve off (located behind the toilet close to the floor).

You may have to wait up to 15 minutes for the clog to come loose. After that time, you can flush and see if it has cleared. If you don’t see any action after that point, you’re probably going to need to call a plumber.

Why It Works

“Dish soap serves as a lubricant for clogs and helps them slide through the pipes,” explains Justin Cornforth, an experienced plumber and CEO at Ace Plumbing. “This is because dish soap surfactants reduce friction.” Although he admits that dish soap is “not the most effective product” for clearing toilet clogs, it can work well on minor clogs for two reasons: Dish soap is likely something you already have on hand, and you don’t have to wait for any chemical reaction as you would when using baking soda and vinegar. 

If you want your dish soap to do double duty for kitchen cleanup and minor plumbing woes, Cornforth recommends buying something concentrated like Dawn Ultra or Palmolive Ultra, as both have higher surfactant levels. Still, you might want to have a backup plan — and the phone number of a reputable plumber. 

“Keep in mind that dish soap is only effective for minor clogs caused by soft, organic materials,” says Cornforth. “For more severe clogs, you need different tools and products like a plunger or a toilet auger.”