How to Unclog a Toilet With a Plunger

Unclogging a toilet is one of those chores that no one really wants to do, but it’s an inevitable part of homeownership. Fortunately, in many cases, a simple plunger can get the job done. Here’s an in-depth guide to using a plunger to clear toilet clogs quickly and effectively.

What You’ll Need

To unclog a toilet with a plunger, you’ll need the following supplies:

  • Plunger – A standard flanged plunger is best for clearing toilet clogs.
  • Gloves – Disposable gloves will keep your hands clean while you work.
  • Old towels – Place towels around the base of the toilet to soak up any overflow.
  • Bucket (optional) – You can fill a bucket with hot water to help loosen the clog.
  • Drain cleaner (optional) – A chemical drain opener can help break up stubborn clogs.

Before you begin, here are a few tips:

  • Always turn off the toilet’s water supply valve before attempting to unclog. This prevents water from continuously flowing into the bowl.
  • Clear the area around the toilet of any items or obstructions. This gives you room to work.
  • If there is standing water in the toilet bowl, scoop it out and dispose of it. This allows you to get better suction with the plunger.

How to Use a Plunger to Unclog a Toilet

Follow these step-by-step instructions to effectively use a plunger to remove toilet clogs:

1. Turn Off the Water Supply

The first step is to turn off the water supply to the toilet tank. There is usually a water supply valve below the tank or behind the toilet. Turn it clockwise to shut off the flow of water into the toilet.

Water supply valve below toilet tank

This prevents additional water from entering the bowl while you work to unclog the toilet. It allows you to get better suction with the plunger.

2. Drain the Toilet Bowl

Next, use a small cup to scoop out any standing water in the toilet bowl. Dispose of the water in a sink or bucket.

Removing the water allows you to create a tight seal with the plunger over the drain opening. This is key for generating the most forceful suction.

Draining water from toilet bowl

3. Inspect the Drain

Take a look down into the drain at the bottom of the toilet bowl. See if you can spot any obstructions. You may be able to clearly see the clog, such as a toy or wad of toilet paper.

Other times, you’ll just see water. But take note of any blockages visible in the drain opening. This helps target the clog.

4. Seal the Plunger Over the Drain

Next, take the plunger and place it upside down in the bowl, so the rubber suction cup completely covers the drain opening. Push it down firmly to create a tight seal over the drain.

Sealing plunger over drain

You don’t want any air or water leaking out from under the plunger. The better the seal, the more effective the suction you’ll create.

5. Plunge Vigorously

Here’s where the work begins! With the plunger sealed tightly over the drain, force the handle up and down 4-5 times in quick, vigorous strokes.

Plunging up and down

This forces air into the drain line, creating internal pressure. When you push the plunger down, the pressure dislodges the clog and forces it through the pipes.

Repeat the plunging motion over and over until the drain is clear. Give an extra push on the final stroke to drive the clog through.

6. Remove the Plunger

Once you’ve plunged sufficiently, break the seal and remove the plunger. Set it aside, standing upright to avoid making a mess.

Check the water level in the bowl. If it starts draining and lowering, the plunging was successful. The clog has been dislodged and forced through the drain pipes.

Water draining after plunging

However, if the water remains high and won’t flush, the clog remains. Simply seal the plunger and repeat the vigorous plunging process until the drain is clear.

7. Flush the Toilet

After successfully unclogging the toilet, you can flush it to rinse away any remaining debris. Turn the water supply back on and allow the tank to refill.

Once full, flush the toilet a few times to verify it’s draining properly. Make sure water flows freely down the bowl.

Flushing toilet to test drainage

If flushing causes water to back up, it means there is still a partial blockage. Just repeat the previous plunging steps until the clog is completely cleared.

8. Clean the Plunger

Finally, take a minute to clean the plunger once you’re done. To sanitize it after use:

  • Rinse it off in the sink to remove any debris.
  • Submerge the bell end of the plunger in a bucket filled with bleach and hot water.
  • Allow it to soak for a few minutes, then rinse it off.

Proper cleaning prevents the spread of bacteria and germs between uses. Store the plunger somewhere discreet until the next time you need it.

Tips for Getting the Best Results

Here are some handy tips for getting the most unclogging power out of a plunger:

  • Soak a towel in hot water and lay it over the drain for a few minutes before plunging. The heat can help loosen and dissolve the clog.
  • Pour a pot of boiling water down the toilet to heat up the bowl and pipes right before plunging. This melts or softens the blockage.
  • Add dish soap – Squirt some soap into the toilet bowl and let it sit for 5-10 minutes. Detergent helps break up grease and grime clogs.
  • Use a rapid, forceful plunging motion to create powerful suction and pressure. Slow, gentle pushing won’t effectively unclog the drain.
  • Plunge for several minutes at a time – It can take 100-500 strokes to successfully dislodge a stubborn clog.
  • Work at different angles – Shift the plunger over the opening to plunge from all sides for maximum coverage.
  • Consider wearing goggles – Vigorous plunging can sometimes splash water out of the toilet. Protect your eyes.

Unclogging Tips for Specific Clogs

You may need to tailor your unclogging method depending on the specific type of clog:

For Paper Clogs:

  • Allow the paper to soak for 10-15 minutes before plunging to soften it.
  • Use very hot water and add dish soap to help break up the wad.
  • Repeatedly plunge at different angles to push through the blockage.

For Organic Material Clogs:

  • Use an enzyme cleaner before plunging to help dissolve and loosen the clog.
  • Hot water can emulsify fats and grease that clump together.
  • Plunge rapidly and forcefully to push the material completely through the pipes.

For Toy or Object Clogs:

  • Try to grab or dislodge the object with a closet auger if you can see it.
  • Repeated plunging may loosen the object and cause it to go down.
  • You may need to remove the toilet to retrieve the stuck item.

Using a Plunger Along With Other Tools

While a plunger is often effective on its own, you can also combine it with other useful unclogging tools:

  • Drain Auger – A thin cable you feed down the toilet to break up and grab clogs. Use it first for serious clogs.
  • Closet Auger – Like a drain auger but designed specifically for toilets. Great for removing objects.
  • Drain Cleaner – Chemical agents dissolve blockages. Pour into drain before plunging.
  • Baking Soda and Vinegar – Bubbling reaction helps dislodge clogs. Flush down drain, wait, and then plunge.
  • ** Wet/Dry Shop Vacuum** – Sucks water out of bowl to allow plunging. Can provide extra suction.

Test different tools and find the right combination that works best for your particular clogging situation. With some patience and perseverance, you can successfully clear out even the most troublesome toilet blockages.

Preventing Future Clogs

While dealing with the occasional clog is inevitable, you can take steps to help prevent clogs from occurring in the first place:

  • Don’t flush inappropriate items – Avoid flushing anything besides toilet paper, including wipes and feminine products.
  • Install a toilet paper holder – Keep paper off the floor where it can accidentally fall in.
  • Use a toilet brush – Regularly scrub the bowl to stop buildup.
  • Pour hot water into drain weekly – Melt fats and oils before they clog pipes.
  • Have sewer line inspected – Check for roots, damage, and improper grade angle.
  • Don’t pour grease down sinks – Fats solidify and cause blockages. Collect and dispose of properly.

When to Call a Plumber for Clogged Toilets

While DIY methods can clear many toilet clogs, there are times to call in a professional plumber for help:

  • You’ve plunged repeatedly with no success unclogging the toilet.
  • Overflowing water from toilet won’t stop, causing a flood.
  • Backed up sewage is coming up through multiple drains.
  • You have a chronic clog that keeps returning in the same spot.
  • Drain pipes have major blockages you can’t clear on your own.
  • You need professional drain cleaning and sewer line inspection.
  • Toilet needs to be removed from the floor to deal with clog.
  • Your plunger could push the clog further down and cause bigger problems.

Don’t hesitate to call a plumber for a troublesome clog you can’t seem to eliminate on your own. They have powerful tools, augers, high-pressure water jets, and drain cameras to fully clear blockages that are beyond the reach of DIY methods.

FAQs About Unclogging a Toilet with a Plunger

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about using a plunger to clear a clogged toilet:

What type of plunger is best for unclogging a toilet?

The best type is a standard flanged plunger with a flat rubber suction cup on the end and a wood handle. The flange allows it to seal tightly over the toilet drain opening.

How do I get the plunger to stick to the toilet drain?

First drain all water out of the bowl. Firmly push the plunger down to flatten the cup and create an airtight seal over the drain hole. The plunger should stick in place.

How long should I plunge the toilet to unclog it?

Plunge vigorously for several minutes at a time, or up to 15 minutes. Repeated quick, forceful plunging generates the most effective suction.

Do I need to take the toilet seat off when plunging?

No, you can usually plunge effectively with the seat still on. The wide rim of the plunger should fit down into the bowl. Remove seat if it blocks plunging.

What do I do if plunging isn’t working?

Check that you have a tight seal over the drain hole while plunging. Try submerging the plunger in hot water first to soften it up. Consider using a drain auger or chemical drain cleaner along with the plunger for extra unclogging power.

Why does my toilet keep clogging?

Frequent clogs usually mean there is a partial blockage lurking in the drain that needs full removal. Clogs can also be caused by flushing inappropriate items, a buildup of mineral deposits, or underlying issues with the pipes.

Is it safe to use a drain auger and plunger at the same time?

No, you should not simultaneously plunge while using a drain auger cable to clear clogs. The two tools can become tangled around each other, causing serious problems.

Can plunging a clogged toilet cause damage?

It’s unlikely, but excessive, overly forceful plunging could potentially damage fittings inside the tank. Be firm yet gentle. Pushing too hard may also send the clog further down pipes rather than clear it.


Unclogging a toilet is an essential home maintenance skill. As we’ve seen, a simple plunger can do the job quickly and effectively if used properly. Be sure to seal it completely over the drain and plunge vigorously using short, rapid strokes. Combining a plunger with hot water, dish soap, and other tools will also help clear difficult clogs. With a little patience, you can harness the power of plunging to remove blockages and get your toilet flushing freely again.