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If your toilet’s overflowing or your sink’s stopped up, it’s time to take the plunge! About 90 percent of the time, a clog can be cleared with just a couple of thrusts of a plunger. To make the messy job easy, though, it’s important to have the right kind of plunger and the proper technique. As it turns out, not all plungers are created equal; some are best suited for sinks and showers, while others are appropriate for use on toilets. Once you’ve determined the best tool for the job, success is all about form. Contrary to popular practice, repeatedly flushing while frantically pumping won’t release the blockage any faster—instead, it will break the plunger’s seal and ruin the suction. To keep the water flowing freely down your pipes, avoid those amateur mistakes and learn to plunge like a pro with these valuable tips.
Pick the Perfect Plunger
Start at the very beginning: While there’s probably a shelf full of plungers available for purchase at your grocery or home improvement store, the two most common styles are the cup plunger and the flange. It’s smart to stock one of each and be familiar with their strengths so you can determine which one’s right for your mini emergency.
The Cup: When you think of a plunger, the image that comes to mind most often is that of a simple wooden handle attached to a rubber cup. It’s this cup that gives the tool the name “cup plunger.” This design is most effective on flat-surface drains, which are found in the sink and bathtub. While it works well for a sink, shower, or bathtub clog, the cup plunger can’t create a sufficiently airtight seal in the curve of a toilet drain to produce adequate suction.
The Flange: A toilet clog calls for a different type of plunger entirely: the flange plunger, which has an extra ring of rubber (the flange) around the cup. The flange is inserted into the toilet drain, sealing in the air and increasing the suction power. In a pinch, you can fold the rubber ring back into the bell of the plunger and use it to unclog a tub or sink drain, but a true cup plunger will be more effective.
Properly Plunge the Sink, Shower, or Tub
When using a standard cup plunger, start by covering the overflow drain, if there is one, with a wet towel. Doing so prevents air from escaping and decreasing the suction power. While you’re at it, it’s a good idea to seal off any nearby drains in sinks or tubs to ensure better results. To further improve the plunger’s suction power, create a tighter seal by lining the rim of the cup with a small amount of petroleum jelly.
Next, place the rubber bell securely over the sink or shower drain and completely submerge the bell in the standing water. Plunging can get messy, so if there is too much water, scoop out the excess into a nearby bucket in order to minimize cleanup. Push down on the handle—gently at first—forcing the air out. Then continue plunging with quick and deliberate thrusts, directing the pressure down the drain without lifting the plunger enough to break the seal. Continue this action for approximately 20 seconds. When you pull the plunger away, the clog should be cleared.
Note: If you choose to use drain-clearing chemicals, don’t use a plunger at the same time. If you do, you risk splashing around harsh, toxic substances that can cause burns or, if they come in contact with your eyes, even blindness.
Correctly Clear a Toilet Clog
If your toilet looks like it’s about to overflow due to a clog, don’t continue flushing the handle in the hope that the bowl will drain. Instead, allow 10 minutes for the water level to drop. Then, locate the water supply hose on the wall behind the toilet and turn the handle clockwise to close the valve. Next, examine the water level in the toilet bowl. If the bowl is too full, move the excess water to a bucket. If the bowl is almost empty, however, add enough water to fill the bowl halfway. Having an adequate amount of water in the bowl will improve the suction and ultimately lead to a more successful plunge.
Remember to use the flange-style plunger for optimal suction, and make sure that the flange is extended. Submerge the plunger (the top of the bell should be covered with water) and make sure the rubber ring is inserted directly into the drain opening. Push and pull on the handle with quick, concentrated thrusts for 20 seconds without lifting the plunger out of the drain and breaking the seal. Usually, this is all it takes to clear the clog. If the toilet remains stopped up, it may be time to put away the plunger and pull out the drain snake—or call in a plumber to diagnose a bigger problem.