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How to Unclog a Toilet

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What to Do When a Toilet is Clogged
A flapper controls the flow of water from the bottom of a toilet tank.

If your toilet is not flushing properly, take immediate steps before plunging. 

  • To keep the toilet from overflowing, either remove the lid of the toilet tank and close the toilet flapper or turn off the water supply to the toilet at the shut-off valve. 
  • Place towels or newspapers on the floor around the toilet in case of splashing. 
  • If the obstruction is a solid object like a children’s toy or hand towel, see if you can remove it by hand. 
  • Wear rubber gloves before reaching into the toilet bowl or touching objects that have been there. 
  • If you smell gas, open the bathroom window and contact a plumber immediately as an issue with the sewer may be causing the toilet problem.

Tip: Partial clogs may eventually clear themselves, but can also build up to more serious obstructions. It can be easier to clear one sooner rather than later. 

How to Plunge a Toilet
A person uses a plunger to unclog a toilet.

Start by using a plunger, which creates a vacuum to force clogs out of drains. Heavy-duty plungers with either ball-shaped heads or rubber flanges on the bottom are much more effective than conventional suction cup-shaped plungers. 

  • Make sure the toilet bowl contains enough water to submerge the head of the plunger. 
  • Place the plunger over the hole in the toilet. 
  • Maintain a seal and plunge up and down rapidly, keeping the plunger under the water level and lifting it only an inch or so on every upstroke. 
  • Be patient, as it may take multiple plunge cycles, of a dozen plunges per cycle, to loosen the clog. 
  • Flush to see if the clog has cleared. If not, repeat. 
  • Clean the plunger as needed before returning it to storage. 

Tip: Before using the plunger, run hot water over it to loosen the rubber so it forms a better seal. 

How to Snake a Toilet
A person uses a plumbing snake to unclog a toilet.

To unclog toilets that couldn't be fixed with a plunger, use a toilet auger. Also called a plumbing snake, this flexible coil of wire is designed to extend into pipes and clear obstructions without damaging the plumbing. 

  • Feed the end of the cable into the toilet, taking care not to scratch the bowl. 
  • Crank the handle clockwise and push the auger until you either snag the obstruction or break it up so it can be flushed. 
  • If you snag the obstruction, pull out the auger.
  • Clean the auger as needed. 

Tip: If you don’t have an auger, an unbent coat hanger or garden hose can be used as a snake, but may not be as effective. 

Not every every homeowner has, or needs, drain cleaning equipment readily available. You can rent augers and other drain cleaning tools from The Home Depot's Tool Rental Center to help keep your expenses down and the shelves in your workshop less cluttered.

Use a Drain Cleaner
A container of chemical drain cleaner.

To learn how to unstop a toilet without a plunger or auger, consider a chemical drain opener. Some products or home-made solutions can break down a clog over time. 

  • Commercial products for enzyme waste removal can liquify solid waste when poured into the toilet according to manufacturer’s instructions. 
  • Make your own drain cleaner by pouring one cup of baking soda and two cups of vinegar into the toilet and adding a half gallon of hot water. Dish soap can also help loosen some obstructions.
  • When using either method, allow the solution to sit overnight and then flush the toilet to see if the obstruction has cleared. 

Tip: If you use a commercial drain cleaner with corrosive chemicals, make sure that it’s made for toilets, as some brands can damage the plumbing. Consider these a last resort before calling a plumber. 

Avoiding Toilet Clogs
A person cleans the water jets at the edge of the toilet rim.

Take steps to minimize toilet clogs in the future. 

  • Do not use excessive amounts of toilet paper. Bidets offer a hygienic way to keep clean while using less paper. 
  • Only flush appropriate items down the toilet. Do not flush heavy paper items such as paper towels, sanitary products or non-flushable wipes. 
  • Keep the water jets around the edge of the toilet rim clean. If the jets become stopped up over time, the toilet will fail to flush at full power and make it more likely that obstructions will accumulate. Weekly scrubbing the rim with a toilet brush should be effective.
  • If you have small children, make sure they know not to flush toys and other inappropriate items. 

In many cases, plungers can be the best way to unclog a toilet and should be considered essential tools in the bathroom. When considering how to fix a clogged toilet without a plunger, try an auger or a chemical cleaner before calling a plumber. If you need to rent a drain cleaner tool, look into renting one from us.