Have you ever tried to plunge into a clogged toilet and end up with a frustrating mess? Or, perhaps your toilet clogs often despite using single-ply toilet paper. There are many reasons a toilet may clog but thankfully there are many more solutions that you can try.
When nothing else you’ve tried seems to work, you may need to take drastic measures. Removal of the toilet or a plumbing snake can unclog toilets. If you have tree roots in the main sewer line, a mechanical auger or formulated root killer can break up clogs. Regardless, there are a few things you can do before you need to call a professional plumber.
Read on to learn about all of the ways you can clear a clogged toilet.
What Causes A Clogged Toilet?
The Toilet Is An Old Toilet
Older low-flow toilet models from the mid-1990s were meant to conserve water.
However, when there is less water, waste matter does not break down quickly enough or there is not enough pressure to flush it out of the drain.
Without enough pressure or water, the waste is more likely to stay behind in the toilet or sewer line, building up and forming clogs.
Overuse Of Paper Products
The overuse of paper products each time the toilet is used is a major cause of clogging.
Today, multi-ply toilet paper and wet wipes offer comfort when wiping. However, they are considerably thicker. If you use them too much they can clog the toilet.
The same is true for paper towels which are never meant for the toilet. These materials do not dissolve quickly and can build up in your pipes.
Other Items Have Been Flushed
If items other than toilet paper get flushed down the toilet they can create severe clogs, especially if they are not dissolvable.
These items get stuck in the toilet drain or plumbing lines. Any waste or paper products moving through the lines can also stick to non-dissolvable items making clogs even worse.
Examples of non-flushable items that cause clogs are the following:
- Ear swabs
- Facial tissue
- Cat litter
- Feminine hygiene products
- Cotton balls or pads
- Baby wipes
The Sewer Line Is Blocked
Tree roots love moisture and warmth and they will grow toward sewer lines.
If the tree roots can find any gaps or cracks they will grow into these blocking the pipe or collecting waste material on their way out. As a result, clogs will happen.
Generally, if the sewer line is blocked all of the drains in a home will slowly drain, gurgle, or be completely backed up.
The P-Trap Is Clogged
Toilets typically have a P- or S-trap in their plumbing connections.
P-traps are curved, U-shaped piping, and S-traps are “S” shaped. These traps hold water in the “crook” to prevent sewer gasses from entering the home.
These traps can also catch small items and waste material, keeping them from entering the lines. If there is too much debris or waste in the trap then water can backflow.
Plumbing configurations and regulations determine the type of trap used with toilets. You may have to remove the entire toilet to access a trap or try one of the methods in this article to clear it.
This video demonstrates how to remove a toilet:
Five Steps To Physically Unclog A Toilet
1. Plunge Away
When people think of plungers, they may first think of the style that has a half-bowl on the end. However, toilets will plunge best when you use a plunger that has an accordion head.
This is because you need vacuum and pressure to forcefully move things along in pipes.
Complete the following steps to plunge away:
- Wear gloves and then insert the plunger end into the toilet bowl hole.
- Press the end tightly into the hole, and you should feel like there is a suction-type hold.
- Push down on the plunger and pull back up to create movement within the pipes using pressure.
- Repeat this in several quick successions.
- Remove the plunger and if water flows, then the clog is clear.
- Flush the toilet to ensure the clog is gone. If not, repeat or try another method.
2. Use An Auger
When a plunger cannot free the clog, a toilet (or closet) auger is an option.
An auger is a long flexible plumbing tool that forces through a blockage to break it up. It typically has a manual crank to wind it down drains with 1 ½- to 3-inch diameter pipes.
The head will rotate and may have a spear-like tip to push against clogs.
To use an auger, do the following:
- Place the pointed end in the toilet, facing the curved end towards the drain.
- Crank the handle and allow the motion to propel it forward. Never force it by hand.
- Once you encounter resistance, you have found the clog. At this point, apply pressure to move it forward.
- When you feel it more freely move, you have broken through the clog.
- Remove the auger and flush the toilet. Take note if the toilet drains well.
- Repeat if needed or use another method.
3. Use A Plumber’s Snake
Much like an auger, this tool can reach down further into plumbing and drains.
However, a plumber’s snake is designed with a spring-like end to pull out plugs rather than push them through. They may also push clogs that are in the process of breaking down.
These are better-suited tools for smaller diameter pipes ranging from 1 ¼- inch to 2-inches.
To use a toilet snake, do the following:
- Wear gloves, and crank or feed the cable in by hand (models vary).
- The snake may need to be rotated annually to get it to move through bends in piping.
- Once you are unable to push or rotate it any further, you likely have reached the clog.
- Slowly twist it, and the material will cling to the coiled end.
- Stop twisting and carefully pull the snake out. If there is waste material stuck to the end of it, dispose of it in a sealed plastic bag or bucket.
- Flush the toilet and observe if the water flows. If not, repeat or try a different method.
4. Use A Wire Coat Hanger
If you don’t own an auger or plumber’s snake, you can try using a wire coat hanger.
It will not be able to extend as far down but can help you address any clogs that are closer to the toilet drain.
Follow these directions and tips carefully when using a wire coat hanger:
- Straighten out a wire coat hanger.
- Cover one pointed end with an old cloth. Secure it in place tightly with duct tape.
- Tug against it to check that it is tight, or else the cloth and tape will clog your pipes if it comes off.
- This also protects your toilet bowl from becoming scratched.
- With gloves on, push the covered end into the drain.
- Use a twisting motion to push against the clog.
- If water starts to drain while you are doing this, you have loosened the clog.
- Remove the wire and flush the toilet to see if this method has resolved the issue.
- If the clog remains, you may need a longer tool (as mentioned above) or a different method.
5. Try A Wet/Dry Vacuum
A wet/dry vacuum can apply pressure to pull clogs out of pipes.
For your safety, only use a vacuum that is manufactured to be used with water. A wet/dry vacuum should also be plugged into a GFCI outlet.
Before you begin, lay down towels around the toilet, have a bucket and plastic garbage bag nearby, and put on gloves.
How to use your wet/dry vacuum to clear a clog:
- If possible, empty the toilet bowl of water.
- Put the wet/dry vacuum hose nozzle into the bowl’s hole as far as it will go.
- Stuff or wrap a towel around the protruding part of the hose to create a seal around the hole.
- This is to help you create a sealed area for better suction.
- Flip the switch to “wet”. Then, turn on the wet/dry vacuum to suck up the clog.
- Check that the clog has cleared by removing the hose and flushing the toilet.
- If the water is slow-moving, you likely loosened the clog and should try the process again.
Three Chemical Solutions To A Clogged Toilet
1. Baking Soda And Vinegar
Baking soda and vinegar can work together to loosen debris and break it down.
To use this inexpensive method, complete the following steps:
- Lay down towels around the toilet.
- If the toilet bowl does not have water, add 2 cups of water to it.
- Pour in 1 cup of baking soda and mix with a toilet brush.
- Pour in 2 cups of vinegar to create a fizzy reaction.
- Let it sit for 10 minutes (or longer).
- Flush to see if the clog appears.
- If not, use hot tap water and repeat. Let it sit for at least 30 minutes.
2. Boiling Water And Dish Detergent
Boiling water can break up biodegradable materials more quickly. Dish detergent lubricates surfaces and breaks up grease to help wash away debris.
Please note: If you have PVC pipes, boiling water can loosen joints. So, use tap water at the hottest setting instead.
Complete these steps:
- Squirt a generous amount of dish detergent into the toilet bowl (1 firm squeeze).
- Pour a gallon of hot water into the toilet, making sure not to overfill the bowl.
- Let it sit for 30 minutes or longer. If the solution is working, you will see the water lower down.
- Flush the toilet to see if the clog has cleared.
You can purchase enzyme products that are specially formulated to unclog toilets while protecting the integrity of your plumbing. Enzymes naturally “feed” on organic waste materials helping them to disintegrate.
To use an enzyme product follow all safety and usage instructions on the label. Please note that these products will work on organic waste, but not on clogs from things such as children’s toys.
Find A Professional Plumber
When To Look For A Plumber
If any of the above DIY methods fail, or water is overflowing without stopping, it is time to contact a professional plumber. They can evaluate your plumbing system to get to the source of the problem.
Cost For A Repair
The average cost to unclog or repair a toilet can range from $50 to $700. The price varies depending on what a professional needs to do to clear the system as well as a charge for a service call.
Routine Toilet Maintenance
Keep Sewer Lines Clear
If all of the drains are gurgling, you likely have a clog in the main line. As mentioned above, this can be from tree roots invading the pipe.
Drain cleaners that use an herbicide called dichlobenil or copper sulfate can kill roots. Read all information and safety usage before pouring these into your toilet.
Plumbers also have long augers that have mechanical heads designed to break up roots. In severe cases, the sewer line can be completely replaced.
Check Toilet And Tubes For Cracks
Check that your toilet is not leaking at the base or that there are no other signs of leaks in your plumbing. A plumbing professional can assist with this as well as repair any issues found.
Don’t Overuse Toilet Paper
Most people tend to use 4 to 10 sheets of toilet paper each time they go. If clogging is an issue, try using less or single-ply paper to see if the issue will resolve.
If paper products are the main culprit, you could also dispose of them in a covered and plastic-lined trash bin instead of the toilet.
Make sure all household members understand that toys and other garbage should not go down the toilet. Keep a waste basket in the bathroom for non-flushable items, including thicker paper products such as wet wipes and paper towels.
Toilets won’t usually unclog themselves so it is best to keep it clean and well taken care of.
Ruben has a diverse background in the home services industry, with experience running a construction company, a kitchen and bath showroom, and a moving and relocation company. This breadth of experience has provided him with a wealth of knowledge and expertise in various areas of home improvement in general and specifically in the heating and plumbing niche.