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. 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. 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!

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 clear a clogged 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 what’s called a flanged plunger. These are the more fancier types that has sort of an extra cup on the end of it. See photo at right.
  2. 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. 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. Try pouring a little bit of water into the clogged toilet. See if it drains away or if it’s just staying in the bowl. This can give you an indication of how you’re doing if it’s hard to tell.
  5. If the bowl doesn’t drain, then move on to the more aggressive attach described below.

For stubborn toilet clogs (auger):

  1. 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.
  2. Clearing stubborn toilet clogs
  3. 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.
  4. Clean auger thoroughly and try to dry in outside if it’s warm. These things tend to rust for some reason!

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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