How to Unclog a Toilet with Dish Soap

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Toilet (Photo: @amynmc via Twenty20)
Few things are more stressful than watching toilet water rise precariously close to the brim after a flush. One wrong move and the situation could go from bad to worse.
Clogged toilets often strike when you’re away from home and unfamiliar with a toilet’s operational quirks. There’s little you can do in the moment aside from plunging … assuming you have a plunger nearby. If not, sometimes all it takes to save the day is hot water and a little dishwashing liquid.
Here’s what you’ll need:
  • A pot, kettle, or anything you can safely boil water in
  • A gallon of warm water (16 cups)
  • A half-cup of liquid dish soap or dish detergent
  • Towels or rags

How to Use Dish Soap and Hot Water to Unclog a Toilet

  1. In a kettle or stockpot, bring a gallon of water to a boil.
  2. While you’re waiting for the water to boil, squirt a half cup of dish soap directly into the toilet bowl. Allow the soap at least 10 minutes to settle. If you don’t have dish soap handy, that’s okay! Hand soap or any liquid soap will do the trick, so long as you use a half cup of it.
  3. When the water is boiling hot, slowly pour it into the toilet where it can mix with the liquid soap. Be careful not to pour too quickly and splash yourself with boiling water. The soap is doing most of the heavy lifting here. In fact, it may be enough to clear the clog on its own. Otherwise, the hot water can provide the extra push it needs to break up the clog and move things along. Before you attempt a second flush, give the hot water and soap mixture a little more time to work its way through the clog. Another 10 to 15 minutes should be plenty of time.
  4. At this point, you may notice the toilet water beginning to recede. If the water level has yet to budge, it’s crucial that you turn off the water valve located behind the toilet bowl before flushing again. This is a precautionary measure to prevent overflowing in case the clog has not yet cleared. You might also consider clearing the area around the toilet of any rugs or furniture and covering the floor with old towels or cleaning rags.
  5. On the off chance you do in fact have access to a plunger, and your first plunging attempt was ineffective, now is a good time to try again. The key is creating a strong seal over the toilet’s drain hole while plunging vigorously up and down. This may be enough to clear the clog on its own. At the very least, it will help shift the clog and drain some of the excess water in preparation for your flush. While plungers tend to be our first line of defense against toilet clogs, it’s important to note that some are more effective than others. The most common is the red rubber force cup plunger, often with a wooden handle. These can certainly help in clearing drain obstructions, but a flange-style plunger is much better suited for toilets because they have a funneled underside that fits perfectly into toilet drains, creating a much stronger seal.
  6. Now you’re ready to flush. If the hot water and liquid soap have loosened the clog, the water should go down, leaving you with an empty toilet bowl (and a crisis averted).
If this doesn’t work and your toilet water level shows no sign of receding, it may be time to call a plumber.