a plunger next to a toilet is illuminated by a light shining down

Are you using a plunger the right way?

How to use a plunger correctly the next time your toilet clogs

The plunger is plumbing’s iconic tool. If you have a bathroom, you probably have a plunger. Just because it’s a simple tool doesn’t mean it isn’t handy though. It also doesn’t mean that everyone knows how to use a plunger properly. Did you know that most people don’t know the way a plunger truly works, or how to use it when their toilet is clogged? While C.A. Taciak & Sons doesn’t perform interior plumbing repairs, we know our clients can benefit from this DIY home maintenance tool!

How they work

A plunger uses the power of suction to dislodge clogs in your drain.  The suction is created and harnessed through two steps:

  1. The rubber portion is pressed tightly against the porcelain around the drainage hole. This creates a tight seal.
  2. Rhythmically pumping the plunger moves air and water back and forth in the drain line.  This unsticks the clog.

Pushing and pulling the clog using the power of suction breaks it up and gets your drain flowing again.

Pick the right kind of plunger

Did you know that there are two different kinds of plungers? The two types of plungers are the “cup style” and the “flange style.”

Cup-style plungers are probably the first image that pops into your head when you think of a plunger.  They have a rubber head that resembles a dome. Cup-style plungers work great on drains at the bottom of relatively flat surfaces which allows the cup to create a better seal.  A cup-style plunger works best to unclog sinks, tubs, and showers.

Flange-style plungers have a protruding “funnel” on their bottom portion. This protrusion goes into the drainage hole at the bottom of the toilet bowl. This allows a seal to be created in the irregularly shaped drainage opening of the toilet. Long story short, if you are trying to unclog a toilet, a flange-style plunger is the tool you need.

Since our goal is to teach you how to effectively unclog a toilet in this how-to guide, we’ll be talking about the flange-style.

Correct usage

So now that you’ve got the right tool for the job, let’s talk about the correct way to use a plunger to unclog your toilet.

  • Step 1: Make sure the water level in the toilet bowl is at a normal height.  If the water level is too high, you’re asking for a lot of mess once you get “pumping.”  If the water level is too low, there may not be enough water to left to push against the clog.
  • Step 2: Form a seal between the flange and the toilet bowl. Don’t be afraid to muscle it. The tighter the seal, the more effective you will be.
  • Step 3: Pump the plunger rhythmically for 20-30 seconds while maintaining the seal between the plunger head and the toilet drain opening.
  • Step 4: Try a test flush if the water is low enough.

Plunger Pro-Tips

  • Never use a drain cleaning chemical along with a plunger. You could accidentally splash acid onto you or all over your bathroom and cause damage. Saying your scar is from unclogging a toilet is way less heroic than say, a fight with a bear.
  • Any time you plunge, it is a good idea to put some rags around the base of the toilet to sop up any spills and splashes. This saves you some cleanup time later.
  • Don’t break the seal of the flange to the toilet. The suction this seal creates is what dislodges the clog.   
  • Don’t plunge if the water level is just below the seat or about to overflow out of the toilet. This will just create a huge mess during plunging. Give your toilet some time to drain down. Most clogs aren’t complete and will allow a toilet to drain off slowly. Give your toilet about 10 minutes to drain down some.
  • Don’t panic if your toilet starts to overflow when you flush!  All you need to do is carefully take off the lid of the toilet tank and depress the “flapper” inside. By closing this flapper you will stop the water mid-flush and prevent the toilet from overflowing.
  • Make sure you use the right plunger for the job! You should use a flange-type plunger for toilets.  The unique design of this plunger ensures a tight seal between the plunger and the toilet bowl.

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