I Just Learned There Are 2 Types of Plungers — And You Need Both

published Apr 1, 2021
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A toilet plunger and sink plunger in the bathroom

A recent DIY and HGTV binge with my parents-in-law resulted in a mind-blowing discovery: not all plungers are created equal. As it turns out, there are multiple variations of this household essential, each designed for declogging different drains and plumbing scenarios. Simply grabbing any plunger from the cleaning aisle when you have a drainage issue isn’t the way to go. 

The two most common, and sometimes incorrectly used, are a cup plunger — for the sink — and a flange plunger — for the toilet. Understanding the difference and having one of each is an important and hygienic part of keeping a tidy household. 

For Sinks: Use a Cup Plunger

Typically red in color (but not always), a cup plunger usually comes to mind when you think of a plunger. “Contrary to popular belief, this plunger is not ideal for unclogging toilets as it features a flat rubber cup at the end of a wooden handle,” says Doyle James, president of Mr. Rooter Plumbing, a national full-service plumbing and drain cleaning franchise. “[A cup plunger] works best on flat surfaces like sinks and bathtubs, hence the name. When used properly, the flat cup works to create a vacuum over the drain and dislodge the clog at hand.”

An easy way to remember this is by looking at the plunger and the surface around the drain you want to unclog. If the surface is flat or close to flat, your plunger’s bottom should be flat, too; the bottom of the plunger should lay level against the drain to allow for a tight seal and enough suction to clear the obstruction. 

For Toilets: Use a Flange Plunger

Flange plungers look very similar to cup plungers. The difference is that a flange plunger has a longer handle and a soft, smaller cup (known as a flange) that extends down the bottom end of the plunger. That flange is key because it’s designed to fit inside a typical toilet drain and seal the drainpipe’s end to apply force more effectively on the blockage. “Moreover, a flange also helps in avoiding the toilet water from going inside the plunger or turning inside out,” says Greg Sanders from CromWeld.

Why You Need Both

Plungers are hardworking and sometimes flexible tools. Technically, you can use a toilet plunger as a sink plunger by flipping the flange into the cup. (A sink plunger, however, is going to make it challenging to unclog a toilet.) But it’s best to have both a flange plunger and a cup plunger at home.

Besides the fact that each plunger is designed to tackle a different purpose, it really comes down to hygiene. As Sanders put it: “Why would you want to transfer toilet germs into the sink, where you clean your dishes, or your hands and more? It’s better to keep them separate and actually be able to remove the blockage instead of just troubling the water.”