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How to Fix a Clogged or Plugged Toilet Bowl

One of the most common plumbing issues to occur in the bathroom is a clogged toilet. It’s the most common because it’s also the most likely. Let’s just say the risk is high!

It makes sense when you think about how often a toilet is used and everything that goes in it…and then what it has to drain away.

It’s actually amazing a plugged toilet doesn’t happen more often!

Regardless of the statistics, if your toilet is clogged you need to know what to do to fix it successfully.

You might think that without a plunger you’re out of luck, or perhaps you’ve tried plunging without success.

Don’t despair – let’s take a look at what might be going on with your plugged toilet and then use the right tools and techniques to adequately clear the annoying stop-up.

How a Toilet Gets Clogged

Understanding how a toilet drains and how it can get blocked up will make your job a little easier.

A toilet drains simply by the momentum of water moving from the bowl, through a loop just below called a trap, then turns a sharp corner in the “bend” or drain line below the floor.

Usually the pressure of the water, which is controlled by gravity, or more aptly a siphoning action, is enough to carry waste water and its contents through this pipe maze and on into the main waste line.

If at any point in the track just described gets stopped up, then the water in your toilet bowl won’t drain.

This happens when large objects, too much toilet paper, or things you’d think can go down (like paper towels!) get forced into the works.

If you’re really unlucky, the toilet overflows when it gets clogged.

It’s not the worst thing in life, but it certainly isn’t fun!

A good tip…

If you attempt to flush, be prepared to stop water from flowing from the tank into the bowl if it’s not draining.

For example, if the water level in your bowl is already high, and you attempt to flush to force the water down it can overflow.

So, if you try this and the water level starts to rise towards the rim of the bowl you’ll want to quickly reach into the tank and manually close the flapper.

The flapper is at the bottom of the tank, and is the rubber or plastic part that lifts up to allow water to gush down from the tank into your bowl.


To make things worse, it’s also possible that a clog in another part of your home’s plumbing can cause a plugged toilet.

You’ll know this is the case when you have other clogs nearby such as in the shower or sink.

If this isn’t happening to you, then you know your stoppage is either in the drain line or the toilet’s “P” trap.

How to Unclog a Toilet

Plunger for plugged up toilet

Follow these steps and guidelines to clear the blockage correctly in your toilet.

It may require getting a tool you don’t have, but that will beat hiring a plumber and paying their price.

One preliminary tip:

If you can avoid it, don’t flush the toilet if you think it’s clogged. Most ordinary plugged up toilets can be fixed with plungers.

Give this a try first, in the way described, then move on if that doesn’t work.

For basic toilet clogs (plunger):

1. Use the best plunger for clogged toilets

Use what’s called a flanged plunger. These are the more fancier types that have sort of an extra cup on the end of it. See photo at right.

2. Plunge correctly

As you place the plunger in the water, do so slowly to get rid of any air inside the cup.

Then plunge up and down vigorously about 15-20 times, but be sure to keep the rubber head covered with water.

The force of the pushing usually is enough to force the clog through.

3. Use the “sucking” technique

If water hasn’t drained, it may be that you need to suck the clog up a little before applying push pressure again.

To create a sucking action, put the cup of the plunger down deep into the toilet’s drain hole. This creates a vacuum. Now, quickly pull the plunger up and out. You can try this a couple times.

4. Add water

If the water level is low enough, try filling a 2-3 gallon bucket up with water and pouring it all at once into the bowl.

This mimics an actually toilet flush, but since many tanks these days only bring in 1.6 gallons of water, this is a much more forceful way to “push through” more water to move the blockage along.

See if it drains away or if it’s just staying in the bowl. This can also give you an indication of how you’re doing if it’s hard to tell.

One great thing to try if the water level does drop over time is to pour in a gallon of super hot water.

Pour the hot water in gently, then quickly use your plunger to push the hot water along so it can go meet the material causing the block. 

Many times the hot water can help dissolve the contents of the blockage and help break it apart. 

One last thing to try is about a few good squirts of liquid dish soap. This can help grease the skids so to speak, and help stuff move along. Give a couple light plunges to get it down the line and wait a bit.

If the bowl still doesn’t drain, then move on to the more aggressive attach described below.

For stubborn toilet clogs (auger):

You’ll want to use what’s called a closet auger. This is a special type of auger designed specifically for plugged up toilets.

Their design keeps you from scratching the surface of your toilet bowl and drain.

See photo at right for example. If you’ll own a home for years to come, this handy device is worth the investment and having around.

Clearing stubborn toilet clogs

Place the auger into the bowl so that the bend of it (rubber coated portion) is at the bottom, as if it’s going down the drain.

Feed the cable with the hook and spring end moving out. When you feel too big of a resistance for it to continue, change direction (usually clockwise) to retract the cable and pull out the obstruction.

If you can keep going though, do so. Once you push the clog past the wax ring and into the main line, it should move much easier.

When you pull the auger out, be sure  to have a large plastic bag nearby so you’re dripping any yucky water on your bathroom floor.

Clean auger thoroughly and try to dry in outside if it’s warm. These things tend to really rust despite their job function being in and around water.

If neither of the above methods work, then you could either have a clog on down the line in the waste stack after all or you have a ridiculously stubborn blockage.

The bad news is that this may require removing the toilet (if you’re convinced the plug-up is in the bowl still).

You can take it outside, lay it upside down and use the auger to really work at the clog and get it fished out. Then flush everything with your garden hose to get things clean again before reinstalling.

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