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No Luck Using a Plunger To Unclog a Toilet? A Plumber Reveals the Step Most Folks Forget

Plus, tips for unclogging a toilet without a plunger using pantry staples

Few home issues cause stress quite as fast as a toilet that won’t flush properly. All those anxiety-provoking questions began to flood your mind: Will it overflow? Will it ruin my floors? Will I have to shell out hundreds of dollars to a plumber to fix it? Let us ease your mind. We called the plumbers, so you don’t have to, and asked them how to unclog a toilet and get things flowing again as efficiently and affordably as possible. Here, their savvy solutions.

What causes toilet clogs?

The answer may seem painfully obvious, but the truth is, there are number of issues can keep a toilet bowl from draining properly. “Over time, mineral deposits, dirt and other debris can accumulate in your toilet bowl,” explains Rick Sun, handyman & plumber for Green Leaf Air in Richardson, Texas. “These deposits can reduce the flow of water and cause clogs.”

Other common clogging culprits: Non-flushable items like wipes, cottons balls and feminine hygiene products. The quality of toilet paper can also result in plumbing woes. You’d think that problem would come from paper too thick, but it’s really very thin paper that clogs the works. “Thin, low-quality paper can shred and build up in the pipes, causing blockages,” explains Sun.

How to unclog a toilet

First, if the toilet is clogged and the water is running, you’ll want to turn off the water valve near the toilet’s base, advises Mike Grijavalva, journeyman plumber and owner of Sacramento Plumbing Solutions in Sacramento, California. Then give it a few minutes (in case things break up on their own) and try flushing the toilet again.

Sun then recommends a gentle, “low-water” flush. To do: forcefully pour a bucket of water into the bowl, which can help dislodge minor clogs.

Related: How to Fix a Running Toilet + Why Ignoring It Could Cost You Thousands of Dollars

When to enlist a plunger

If no progress has been made, it’s time to break out the plunger! “Skip the old school cup plungers and buy a flange or accordion plunger,” suggests Grijavalva. “It will make a huge difference as the flange creates a much better seal for pumping.” You don’t have to spend a bundle on one of this: We love this $13 accordion plunger that comes in all sorts of fun colors (Amazon).

The how-to for success involves a step most folks forget: Coat the rim of the plunger with petroleum jelly before using it in the toilet. This will moisten the plunger’s rubber seal so it sticks to the porcelain. Once the plunger is in the bowl, you should feel suction — not air — coming out of the plunger’s edges. Next, start pumping and count to 20 as you do, then give it a few minutes and try again.

This YouTube Video explains the process clearly:

How to unclog a toilet without a plunger

The pros agree that there is one common household item that can make unclogging a toilet a cinch: And that’s dish soap!

bottles of dish soap

Grijavalva recommends pouring one cup of dish soap into the toilet bowl and letting it sit for a few minutes. Then, follow that up by pouring in a few kettles of boiling water. The slippery detergent helps lubricate the pipes so the blockage easily dislodges on its own.

What else can you enlist to help the unclogging process

There are actually two more household staples might do the trick. “If dish soap doesn’t work, pour a good amount of baking soda and vinegar into the toilet – just make sure it’s not so much that it overflows,” cautions Grijavalva. The fizz formed by the chemical reaction between the acidic vinegar and alkaline baking may dissolve the blockage

A word of caution from Sun: “Avoid pouring harsh chemicals such as drain cleaners or bleach down the toilet, as these can damage your pipes and cause further problems.”

If a clog is severe or reoccurring, it’s best to contact a licensed plumber to avoid causing further damage.

How to prevent a toilet from clogging

Clogs aren’t always preventable, but Sun says there are two important steps you can take to try and avoid them:

  • Regular cleaning. Wiping down the toilet bowl and rim at least once a week can help prevent mineral deposits, dirt, and other debris from building up and clogging your toilet.
  • The right toilet paper. Invest in high-quality toilet paper that dissolves easily in water and doesn’t clump or shred. Older plumbing especially isn’t made to handle even “flushable” wipes or multi-ply toilet paper.
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