How to unclog a toilet. . . and keep the problem from recurring

Flushing the toilet. It’s a trivial everyday action—until the day when the normal result isn’t seen, and the normal sound isn’t heard. The water from the tank spills into the bowl. . . but instead of spiralling down, it starts filling up. Anxiously, you watch as it approaches the lip… What to do?

Unblocking 101

Obviously, the toilet is blocked. You first need to make sure the obstruction is affecting only the toilet or its drainpipe. To check, turn on the tap in a nearby fixture (e.g., sink or bath). If the water drains away properly, then the toilet is the problem. You want to attack that problem using a toilet plunger: in most situations, you’ll succeed in dislodging whatever’s clogging the pipe.

Get the right plunger

The proper plunger for unblocking a toilet isn’t the reddish-brown “cup” type, which is best suited to sinks and washbasins. A toilet plunger is typically black, and has a flange that extends into the bowl’s exit hole, made of more flexible rubber to provide a better seal with the sides of the bowl. That seal is key to achieving enough suction to dislodge whatever it is that’s clogging the toilet.

How to proceed:

  • Lower the plunger into the toilet bowl (remove some water, if necessary, to avoid making a mess).
  • Centre the plunger with the flange in the exit hole and push down until a good seal has been made.
  • Pump vigorously several times, and then remove the plunger in a quick, clean motion.
  • If the bowl still doesn’t empty, repeat the above steps.

If the clog clears, push the flush handle to make sure everything is working properly again. All that remains is to thoroughly rinse the plunger.

Use a snake, if need be

If plunger action won’t clear the clog, you’ll need to use a drain auger (often called a plumbing snake). It consists of a flexible metal coil with a crank handle at one end. At the other end is a corkscrew-like attachment designed to dislodge the obstruction. You need to be careful using an auger, because the metal can scratch the toilet bowl’s porcelain finish.

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