Few things are more frustrating — and, sometimes, embarrassing — than a clogged toilet that won’t flush. Whether you don’t have a plunger handy or the one you have doesn’t seem to be working, you’ll have to find an alternative solution that gets the job done quickly.
Below, plumbing experts from Mr. Blue Plumbing will share all their DIY strategies for unclogging a toilet. They’ll include standard methods with special tips, as well as some more unusual but highly effective solutions.
In this article:
Below are some of the more typical methods for unclogging a toilet. You’re probably familiar with these, but we’ll include some tips to make them a bit more practical.
1. Use a Plunger
Most homeowners will naturally reach for a plunger the second they notice a blockage in their toilet. Plungers usually do the trick, but sometimes they fail to clear the clog.
One helpful tip is to use the correct type of plunger, which many homeowners fail to do. There are two styles of plungers: one with a flat bottom and one with a wide body that has a smaller protrusion on the bottom. Most people buy flat-bottom plungers for their toilets, but this style is really made for sink or shower clogs.
If you find that your flat-bottom plunger isn’t working, we recommend trying a toilet plunger, which usually has a larger body with an accordion pattern along the sides.
Plungers work by creating a seal with the ceramic, which stops air from escaping as you compress the plunger body. A toilet plunger makes a much better seal, as it’s made to fit inside the hole at the bottom of your toilet bowl.
To use the plunger, place the small protrusion in the drain, and then press down firmly to compress the plunger. The force from one compression might be enough to push the blockage through the pipe, so remove the plunger and see if the toilet drains. If it doesn’t, repeat the process.
If the toilet doesn’t flush itself within a few single compressions, you can place the plunger in the bottom of the bowl and move it up and down quickly a few times. This will clear almost any clog you have in your drain pipe.
2. Flush the Toilet Again
When the toilet gets clogged, many homeowners simply try flushing again to see if additional water will help the clog move along. In some cases, the downward force of an additional tank of water can clear the blockage sufficiently. However, be careful only to try this once. If your bowl is more than halfway full, flushing again could lead to an overflow.
If you let the water sit in the bowl long enough, some of it will eventually drain down past the blockage. Once this happens, you can try using hot water instead of flushing again.
Heat up 10-12 cups of water on your stove, but don’t bring it to a boil. Boiling water can crack the cold porcelain when you dump it in the toilet. Once the water is hot, pour it directly into the hole at the bottom of your toilet from about a foot or two above the seat.
The cascading water can help create enough force to clear the blockage. Even if it doesn’t, the hot water can help break up the toilet paper that is likely causing the clog.
If unclogging the toilet isn’t an emergency, you can opt to wait a few hours to see if it clears itself. Depending on what’s causing the clog, time can be a satisfactory solution.
If toilet paper is the culprit, it will deteriorate in time as it remains in contact with the water. Unfortunately, if you’ve flushed paper towels, feminine products, or some other foreign object, this strategy probably won’t work very well.
Most toilet clogs will slowly allow water to drain past them, so you’ll likely notice the water level in the bowl going down over time. You should flush the toilet each time it gets low. This will ensure the blockage material remains in contact with water and will deteriorate more quickly.
Less Common Methods
You’ve probably heard about or tried all of the above methods to unclog your toilet. Sometimes, these don’t work, and you’re forced to try some alternatives. Below are some less common approaches to clear a toilet clog that have a surprisingly high rate of success.
1. Use Soda
When you have a blockage in your toilet, one method to clear it is to break up the material, and there are few better ways to do this than using an acidic solution. Soda is a surprisingly good acidic liquid that can break apart your clogged material.
To use soda most effectively, pour about 2 cups of Coca-Cola or Pepsi directly down the drain at the bottom of the toilet bowl. Let this sit for about 30 minutes before attempting a flush.
Depending on the material causing the clog, the soda, which contains phosphoric acid, can break it up and help it move down into your main sewer line. This is an especially helpful solution if human waste or toilet paper is causing the clog.
2. Use Baking Soda and Vinegar
If you don’t have soda in your home, you probably have baking soda and vinegar. These two everyday household items combine to form a foamy cleaner that can help unclog even the most stubborn of blockages.
In a large pot, mix together a cup of baking soda and two cups of white vinegar. They should immediately start to foam up, so be ready to dump them into your toilet right away. Try to pour them directly into the hole in the bottom of the bowl.
Let the mixture sit in your pipes for about a half-hour to 45 minutes before flushing. The vinegar is acidic and will help break up human waste and toilet paper, and the expanding foam can help lubricate the pipes and force the blockage through to your sewer main.
3. Use a Wet/Dry Vacuum
Professional plumbers sometimes use high-tech equipment called hydrojets, which create a seal around the hole at the bottom of the toilet bowl and then force water down through the pipe to clear the clog. These machines can be expensive to rent and potentially dangerous to use if you don’t have experience, but a wet/dry vacuum can be used in a similar way.
To use the wet/dry vacuum as a makeshift hydrojet, insert the hose into the toilet bowl as far as you can get it. Make sure the vacuum is set to blow, and then turn it on. If the pressure doesn’t push the blockage further down right away, the excess air will come back up into the bowl, which can cause some splashing. Have paper towels ready, or cover the bowl with plastic wrap while you work.
The pressure should push the clog down after just a few seconds. If it doesn’t, you can try turning off the vacuum, flipping it to suck, and then turning it back on. If the hose is far enough into the drainpipe, you might be able to suck out whatever is causing the clog.
It’s very important that you only use a wet/dry vacuum that is designed to be used with liquids for either of these methods. Standard vacuums will not only not work but will also put you at risk of electrocution.
4. Use a Plumber’s Auger
Another tool professional plumbers commonly use to clear stubborn toilet clogs is a plumber’s auger, also called a plumber’s snake. The auger is a long, flexible metal spring that is designed to move through the hole at the bottom of the toilet and reach deep inside the drain pipe. It usually has a handle at the top to spin the spring once it’s in the drain line.
To use the auger properly, snake it down into the toilet drain until you feel resistance from the clogged material. Then, very gently rotate the handle two to three times before pulling the auger out. Ideally, the spring will catch on the clogged material and drag the blockage out.
It’s essential never to be forceful with the auger when inserting, pulling it out, or rotating it. If the spring gets caught and then forced, the metal material can hit against the porcelain bowl and crack it.
5. Use Epsom Salt
Epsom salt is another solution that can help dissolve whatever is causing the blockage, even if it’s a severe one.
If the bowl is full of water, place about a cup of Epsom salt directly into the water and wait for a half-hour before flushing again. If there is no visible water left in the bowl, dump a cup of Epsom salt in and then flush to dissolve the salt.
The salt will mix with the water in the drainpipe, and once it’s in contact with the blockage, it will help dissolve toilet paper and human waste. If sturdier materials like paper towels or “flushable” wipes — which usually aren’t actually flushable — are the problem, this method probably won’t work.
6. Use Plastic Wrap
If you don’t have a toilet plunger available and a sink plunger isn’t doing the trick, you can create the required suction using another household item: plastic wrap.
Start by making sure there is water in the bowl. If the bowl is empty or dry, flush once to refill it. Next, take long sheets of plastic wrap and wrap them tightly over the bowl, making sure to leave plenty of room to hang over both sides once stretched across. Add multiple layers if possible, and press down on the plastic wrap to help it seal around the rim of the bowl.
Once you’re sure you have a good seal and two to three layers of plastic wrap covering the entire bowl, press down slowly but firmly in the middle. You may need to release the plastic wrap and push again. If the water starts to empty down the drain, it’s a good sign the makeshift plunger is working. Feel free to flush again if the water level gets too low.
If you’ve created an adequate seal, the air in the bowl above the water will be forced down into the drainpipe, which will push the water downward as well. Enough force can be created using this method to push the blockage down toward the sewer main.
7. Use Dishwasher Detergent
Dishwasher detergent is made to break apart stubborn material, and it can be useful for dissolving whatever is causing the blockage in your toilet. It’s also designed specifically to be safe for drain pipes, so it won’t damage the PVC drains like a more caustic drain cleaner might.
You can use any form of dishwasher detergent, including powdered detergent, liquid detergent, and dishwasher tabs or pouches. Simply add the amount you usually would to a full dishwasher directly into the bowl. If there is little to no water in the toilet, flush once after adding the detergent.
Let the mixture sit for about an hour before attempting to flush again. If the blockage is created by human waste or excess toilet paper, this method will be particularly helpful. If foreign objects or more absorbent paper products are the culprits, you’ll likely need to rely on another strategy.
Wrapping Up: What If Nothing Else Works?
If you’ve exhausted our list of methods to unclog a toilet and you’re still experiencing a blockage, chances are you need to hire a professional plumber to help. Plumbing pros have the tools and experience to remove clogs physically, and they can access areas further down into the pipe if needed to clear the clog.
More importantly, a professional plumber will be able to tell if your clog is a sign of a more severe problem. Sometimes, what seems like a clogged toilet can actually be tree roots growing into your sewer main, breaks in your drain pipes, or a myriad of other costly issues. While these are expensive to fix, it’s crucial that you call in a professional to have the job done correctly.