Are You Plunging Your Toilet Wrong? Here’s How to Tell

published Apr 9, 2019
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( Image credit:  Carina Romano)

File under Who Knew?!: That plunger you probably have sitting by your toilet isn’t the only kind of plunger out there.

It’s probably not even meant for what you think it’s meant for.

The plunger and brush combo kit hanging out in everyone’s bathroom is a move-in staple bought on auto-pilot. Plungers are one of the most common tools for dealing with life’s little emergencies, but they are not a one-size-fits-all-toilets tool. To get the low-down, I asked Doyle James, president of Mr. Rooter Plumbing, a Neighborly company, for a lesson in Plungers 101.

“There are a variety of options designed to be used on different drains and plumbing scenarios,” James says. Here’s how to know what’s right for your bathroom.

Common Sink Plunger or “Flat” Plunger

A flat plunger. (Image Credit: Amazon)

When you think of a plunger, this popular style probably comes to mind. But prepare for a surprise: This plunger is not ideal for unclogging toilets. The flat rubber cup at the end of its wooden handle works best on flat surfaces (hence the name) like sinks and bathtubs. When used properly, the flat cup creates a vacuum over the drain, dislodging the clog.

Flange Plunger

A flange plunger. (Image Credit: Amazon)

Have a clogged toilet? This is your tool! Flange plungers are similar to flat plungers, but have a longer handle and soft rubber flange on the inside of the cup. This flange is the most important difference: It’s designed to fit inside the toilet drain and can be easily maneuvered, making it more effective for toilets than a flat plunger. Its universal design means its helpful for both sink and toilet clogs—but don’t use the same plunger on both surfaces! Keep one plunger strictly for the toilet and another one for flat surfaces.

Accordion Plunger

An accordion plunger. (Image Credit: Amazon)

Hard plastic accordion plungers feature accordion-like ridges that generate additional pressure—essential for breaking up extreme toilet clogs. The plunger’s narrow cup also includes a flange specifically designed to fit into the toilet drain. Be cautious when using this plunger, as the extra pressure can make it a bit unwieldy and the hard plastic could damage or scratch your toilet bowl.

Intrigued by all this plunger intel? James has some additional tips. When the situation arises and a plunger is called for, start by centering the plunger on the hole (whether that’s in the toilet or the sink), and “apply downward pressure in a slow, steady motion,” he says. “Take your time and increase the pressure and speed to unclog your drain.”

As you plunge more quickly and repetitively, “Keep your eye out for movement in the toilet or sink,” he says, “which means the blockage is being pushed through.”

And a word of warning. Though a liquid drain cleaner is a tempting quick fix, “Never pour a chemical drain cleaner down your toilet,” James says. “Harsh chemicals can irritate your skin and eyes or cause damage to your plumbing pipes.”

Finally, if you’re constantly dealing with clogged drains, there could be a larger issue with your home’s plumbing, says James. “Call a professional plumber who can help resolve the issue.”