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

How to clear a clog with an auger (plumbing snake):

  • Insert the corkscrew end into the toilet bowl exit hole and down into the drain.
  • Feed the snake down until you feel it come up against the obstruction, then turn the crank handle to break up the clog.
  • If this doesn’t work on the first try, repeat the operation.

After the water drains away, push the flush handle to make sure the toilet is working properly again. After doing its job, of course, the snake will need to be thoroughly cleaned.

Call in reinforcements: i.e., a plumber

Toilet still clogged despite your valiant efforts? Other popular unclogging methods (e.g., various products, pumps) probably won’t work either. At this point, the problem is best solved by a professional.

The plumber will start by trying tools like an auger to unclog the toilet. If the initial attempts fail, he or she will have to remove the toilet, and check whether a hard object (e.g., a child’s toy or hairbrush) is blocking the drain. Once the object is removed, the problem will be solved.

The issue could also be an obstruction in the drainpipe between the toilet and a larger collector line. This type of blockage usually occurs when not enough water is flowing into the bowl when you flush. This may be because there is not enough water in the toilet tank. In modern toilets, the water level should be one inch (2.5 cm) below the fill line (or overflow pipe). To increase the level, adjust the control screw on the water inlet valve, inside the tank.

If the clogged toilet is in the basement, the cause may be a low-flush toilet connected to a drainpipe with certain undesirable characteristics. Choosing a low-flush toilet is, of course, recommended as an environmentally friendly option. But if you install one in a basement where the drainpipe has an insufficient slope, or is made of old, rough cast iron, this could cause flushed materials to build up inside the pipe.

For more information, see our Tips & Tricks instalment on low-flush toilets[1].

Putting an end to clogs!

Often, prevention is the best cure! Follow this advice to keep clogs from happening in the future.

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