How To Use A Plunger To Unclog A Toilet

How To Use A Plunger To Unclog A Toilet

Most everyone has seen a plunger tucked away under a bathroom sink, or situated discreetly behind a toilet, at some point in time. If you have never found yourself in a scenario that required the use of such a tool, consider yourself lucky.

However, it suffices to say that few will go a lifetime without having to call upon a plunger’s helping hand.

In any event, it pays to familiarize yourself with the basics of plunger use, or else risk finding yourself in a troubling situation, should a clog occur. With a dose of knowledge and the right plunger for the job, you will have little reason to ever fear a clogged drain again. 

The following is a comprehensive guide to plunger selection and general usage. The information contained within, when put to work, can save you from placing a costly call to the local plumber, in a number of cases.

How To Use A Plunger?


While one might be inclined to believe that the use of a plunger is a relatively straightforward affair, there are several key steps that one must adhere to, in order to achieve the best possible outcome. Overlooking the importance of these steps will often leave you in no better of a position than you were initially faced with.

Follow the following steps to remedy even the most stubborn of toilet clogs.

  1. Select The Correct Plunger: Believe it or not, there are multiple types of plungers for one to choose from (more on that in a minute). However, when unclogging a stopped-up toilet, there is no substitution for a quality flange-style plunger .
  1. Allow Water Level To Settle: In most cases, the water level in a freshly clogged toilet will climb to, or over, the rim of the bowl. Excess water of this amount makes plunging nearly impossible, due to the risk of potential water overflow. Therefore, one should wait approximately 7-10 minutes before beginning their plunging efforts. This allows the water within the toilet bowl to recede to operable levels. Ideally, the water contained within should be approximately half of the depth of the toilet bowl itself.
  1. Align Plunger Within Drain: You will now align the cup of the plunger, with the toilet drain located at the bottom of the bowl. The plunger’s flange should properly engage this drain, creating a tight seal. When located in this manner, the plunger’s cup should be submerged beneath the water’s surface.
  1. Push/Pull Plunger: With everything set in place, you will now forcefully push and pull on the plunger’s handle in an alternating fashion, for a period of approximately 20-30 seconds. Each movement should be powerful and deliberate, as this provides the best possible chance of a successful outcome.
  1. Check For Success: After a period of 20-30 seconds, remove the plunger from the toilet bowl, thereby breaking the seal that has been created. In most cases, a gurgling noise will be overhead, indicating that you have successfully cleared the clog in question.
  1. Perform Flush Check: When it appears that the clog has been cleared, a flush check should be performed. This involves flushing the affected toilet while remaining on standby in case of overflow. If the toilet’s water level begins to rise one more, quickly turn the water supply shutoff valve located along the backing wall, and repeat the plunging process. However, if the toilet flushes as anticipated, no further work will be required.

How Does A Plunger Work?

how does a plunger work

If you have ever used a plunger to unclog your toilet, you have physics to thank. A plunger operates off the basic principles of pressure and suction, applying both in a manner that can easily clear pipe obstructions.

When you push downward upon a plunger’s handle, pressure is exerted into a clogged pipe. This pressure is prevented from escaping due to the airtight seal created between a plunger’s cup, and the toilet bowl below.

Therefore, all pressure created is imparted directly upon a pipe’s obstruction.

Likewise, the upward tug of a plunger’s handle creates an intense suction, which works to raise the level of the water located below the point of a pipe’s clog. In many cases, this unseats an obstruction, allowing it to be driven downward upon the next stroke of the plunger .

Choosing The Right Plunger

Contrary to what many would believe, there are actually several different types of plungers available to consumers. Therefore, it pays to understand the differences between each of these plunger types, when selecting the best model for your particular needs.

  • The Standard Plunger A standard plunger, also known as a sink plunger, is designed for use on flat surfaces, such as those that accompany a shower drain or kitchen sink/sink drain. However, plungers of this type prove ineffective when used on toilets.
  • Toilet PlungerA toilet plunger, also known as a flange plunger, is designed for use on a wide variety of drains. However, a plunger of this type is most often utilized when unclogging toilets, as a toilet plunger features a flanged lip that provides a better seal for recessed toilet drains.
  • Accordion PlungerAccordion plungers are constructed of hard plastic, and are designed for use on toilets. Though these plungers are capable of generating significant suction and pressure, they tend to be relatively difficult to use.

Parts Of A Plunger

  • 1. Handle – A plunger handle is often constructed of wood, and is designed to provide a point of grip for consumers. 
  • 2. Cup – A plunger’s cup is typically bell-shaped in nature, and allows for the necessary compression to achieve both pressure and suction. In most cases, this “cup” is made of rubber.
  • 3. Flange – A plunger’s flange in the ring-shaped seal that serves as the outermost edge of the unit’s cup. This flange prevents suction/pressure loss while a plunger is in use.

Where Can You Use A Plunger?

  • Toilet – Plungers tend to be highly effective at unclogging obstructed toilets. This is best accomplished with the use of a toilet/flange plunger .
  • Sink – In most cases, a clogged sink is easily remedied with the use of a standard plunger . However, a toilet/flange plunger can also be used for such purposes, by simply folding the unit’s flap upward into its cup.
  • Shower – Like a sink drain, shower drains can be unclogged with the use of a standard plunger , or with a toilet/flange plunger. Either of these plunger types will provide sufficient suction/pressure for clog removal.

What To Do When Plungers Fail

Though plungers are typically quite effective at clearing the vast majority of toilet clogs, there are times when secondary measures prove necessary. Rather than panicking, or calling a plumber, try one or more of the following tricks when attempting to unclog a toilet that has not responded to the use of a plunger.

Hot Water & Soap

hot water and soap

In many cases, a clogged toilet can be cleared with the use of nothing more than hot water and household dish soap. To do so, simply place a pot of water on the stove, warming it to a point just shy of simmering.

Meanwhile, check to make sure that the toilet bowl is no more than half full with water. If additional water is present, manual removal will be necessary.

With this matter handled, you will pour a fair amount of dish soap into the toilet bowl itself.

Pour the pre-heated dish soap into your toilet’s bowl, allowing it to mix with the soap that had been previously added. Allow this soapy water to sit for a period of 5-minutes, before attempting to flush your toilet. 

Vinegar & Baking Soda

vinegar and baking soda

As most are well aware, vinegar and baking soda react rather violently when mixed together. But, did you know that this reaction is often sufficient to clear a clogged toilet?

As funny as it may seem, the introduction of vinegar and baking soda into a toilet’s bowl is a rather common means of eliminating an obstruction. In fact, this homemade concoction often works better than many commercial drain cleaners.

In order to complete this process, pour a cup of baking soda into the affected toilet bowl, before slowly adding 1-cup of vinegar. You should notice an immediate reaction taking place.

Allow this mixture to sit for a period of 20-30 minutes, before adding 1-gallon of preheated water into the toilet bowl. In most cases, this will be enough to loosen the offending obstruction.

Use A Toilet Snake

toilet snake

In certain instances, you will be unable to clear a clogged toilet without manual intervention. This often calls for the use of a pipe or drain snake.

A device of this type can be fitted through a toilet’s drain opening, into the pipe below. The drain snake can then be manipulated back and forth to dislodge the offending blockage.

Though it may be tempting to utilize a metal coat-hanger as a DIY snake drain, doing so is not advised. A metal coat hanger is highly likely to scratch, or otherwise damage a toilet’s porcelain surface.

Additionally, a coat-hanger is highly unlikely to bend as required when attempting to navigate through the P-shaped bend in a toilet’s piping.

How To Clean A Plunger

The use of a plunger often raises an additional question that must be contended with. “Just how should one go about cleaning a plunger ?”

This can present quite the conundrum and is seldom pondered until one is left standing with a freshly used plunger in hand.

Luckily, cleaning a plunger is far less troublesome than one might think. Quite the contrary, a plunger can be cleaned rather hygienically in a matter of minutes, using little more than typical household goods. 

Following these 3 simple steps to clean your plunger with ease.

  1. Add Liquid Bleach To Toilet: Begin by adding 3-4 cups of liquid chlorine-bleach to your toilet’s bowl. 
  1. Rinse Plunger In Bleach Solution: You will now stick your plunger’s rubber cup into the toilet’s bowl, swirling it around while doing so.
  1. Flush Toilet To Rinse: With the cup of your plunger still in place, flush the toilet. Allow clean water to rinse away any last bleach residue from your plunger .

Final Thoughts On How To Use A Plunger

Many often overlook the true value of a quality plunger within the family home. This tool not only minimizes headaches but also has the potential to prevent costly, often unnecessary, calls to the plumber.

However, this has little bearing, should you not know how to plunge a toilet, when the need arises.

By following the steps outlined above, you will be better armed to tackle even the toughest of clogs, thereby taking control over your plumbing issues. Though often thankless in nature, unclogging the occasional toilet comes as a necessary part of homeownership.

By going about such a task the right way, hardship will be avoided, and your plumbing will be back in service in record time.