Buyer’s Guide: Plungers
If you’re looking to unclog a drain—sink, shower, tub, or toilet—consult this shopping guide to find the most dependable tool.
It happens to all of us at some point or another. A shower drain backs up and refuses to empty out the tub, a sink fills up far faster than it empties itself out, or—the most dreaded moment of all—the toilet refuses to cooperate when we flush. Under these less-than-ideal conditions, it’s important to have the right tool on hand, as well as the know-how to use it properly.
But a plunger isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for each of these scenarios. Depending on the type of drain you need to unclog, one may be more helpful than the next. So, read on for an overview of the various kinds and the best ways to use them, plus a few recommendations on the most popular choices from each category.
Sink and Shower Plungers
When you’re dealing with a flat drain—i.e., a sink, shower or tub—all you really need is a cup-shaped plunger that can provide some suction, creating a pressured push to get things moving right along. The best plunger for a clogged sink drain is one with a simple round rubber cup large enough to cover the drain; the edge of the cup should come in direct contact with the bottom of the sink in order to create the strongest possible seal around the drain before you pump and release. (A shorter handle, usually four or five inches long, is a bonus for more controlled plunging action!)
You won’t want to try unclogging a toilet with one of these, though; its size and shape won’t allow it to get the job done.
For the dreaded task of dealing with a stopped-up toilet, you need a plunger with a base made to reach into the recessed drain. The most effective options on the market can be categorized out into few different shapes:
• A beehive plunger (pictured at left in the lineup above) looks just like its name implies: It’s a rounded cylinder that’s widest in the middle, similar to a cartoon honey hive drawn in the shape of an exaggerated barrel. This silhouette, along with the flange (an extended cylindrical lip) at the far end, makes it a universal tool that can fit into almost any toilet drain. If the toilet drain is fairly wide, you can press the beehive plunger further into the recess until you’ve completely sealed the drain; if narrow, less of the beehive will fit, but you’ll maintain a strong seal.
•A bellows-style plunger (pictured middle) looks a bit like an accordion along the outer edges of its bowl. This design allows for the plastic bowl to collapse and expand much like the musical instrument does as you apply pressure and pull back. This creates better water displacement than a traditional plunger and releases the clog a little quicker with less effort. (These accordion-style tools are also made with slightly shorter handles for use on sink and tub drains, so choose the right handle length for the job at hand.)
• A traditional flanged plunger (pictured right) looks a lot like a cup plunger, but a narrow flange or tiered flange will fill the drain to create a seal when it’s plunged all the way to the bottom of a toilet bowl. It may require more effort to unclog the toilet than a beehive or accordion plunger, but not much.
Of these options, all will get the job done. If you’re looking to release a toilet clog in just one or two quick tries, though, either an accordion/bellows or beehive plunger is your best bet.
No matter the type of plunger you pick up, consider this important accessory to keep your bathroom or kitchen sanitary: a drip tray. When a plunger is not in use, especially just after it’s been utilized and rinsed, it’s wise to keep the instrument itself up off of the floor. Drips of dirty toilet water are not only unsettling, but they can cause water damage wherever you keep your plunger handy (such as a wooden cabinet interior).
Some plungers come with a tray that collects excess water and even conceals the business end of the plungers. Don’t worry if the plunger you pick doesn’t, you can often still purchase one separately.
The Best Bets for Clearing Clogs
After comparing plunger reviews from consumers and publishers alike, we’ve rounded up three of the most highly rated options available today. Sure, most of these tools fall in the under-$20 range, but when you’re in a mess you don’t want to rely on anything but the best plunger to get you out fast. Narrow your search fast with these bonafide favorites below.
Best Plunger for Sinks and Tubs (Cup): Liquid Plumr Mini Sink and Drain Plunger, $14
Compact design and durability earn this mini sink and tub plunger an average of 4.6 out of 5 stars from Amazon shoppers. Made by the ever-popular toilet chemical manufacturer, the Liquid Plumr Mini Plunger’s 5-inch flat cup unclogs small drains with ease in bathroom and kitchen basins. Available on Amazon.
Best Plunger for Sinks and Tubs (Accordion): Plumbcraft Mini Plunger, $3
This compact bellows-style tool received 4.2 out of 5 stars from Home Depot reviewers for its work in tubs, showers, and sinks with drains smaller than 4-½ inches. With a textured handle providing a good grip for tough flat-drain clogs, the Plumbcraft Mini Plunger’s ribbed design is effective at displacing water and creating pressure sufficient enough to clear things up quickly. Given its petite size—7-½ inches tall total—it also offers easy storage after the dirty work is done. Available at HomeDepot.com.
Best Plunger for Toilets (Beehive): Korky Max Beehive Plunger, $14
Beehive plungers are known for their universal fit, covering both older and newer toilet bowls with openings ranging from round to keyhole thanks to a rounded design. But in addition to sealing toilet drains up to 6 inches wide, the Korky Beehive (awarded 4.5 out of 5 stars on HomeDepot.com) brings something extra to the table: Its T-shaped handle makes it easy to apply maximum pressure and control without risk of gross splashback. Available at HomeDepot.com.
Best Plunger for Toilets (Accordion): E-Z Bellows Plunger, $7
Looking for the extra oomph of an accordion-style plunger? This bellows plunger features a 7-inch cup and 12-inch plastic handle that’s extremely durable. Easy to use and known for getting the job done on the first try, the E-Z Plunger is a hit with Home Depot shoppers (4.2 out of 5 stars) for its reliability and low price. Available at HomeDepot.com.
Best Plunger for Toilets (Traditional Flange): Neiko 60166A, starting at $14
Thanks to a cup with tiered flanges ranging 4 to 6 inches wide and heavy-duty suction, this plunger gets the job done on most toilets. Meanwhile, the lightweight aluminum handle resists both mold and rust and even features a hole at the end for hanging in a supply closet with your dustpan and broom (although we recommend purchasing the kit with a drip pan and stand to protect your flooring or cabinetry). Amazon shoppers gave high marks (4.5 out of 5 stars) for its durability, affordable price point, and ease of use. Available at Amazon.