How to Unclog a Toilet

The best weapon against a clogged toilet is a plunger. If you don’t have one, there are a few other things you can try.
Written by Patrick Price
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
A clogged toilet can be a stressful situation, especially if you don’t have a plunger or if the plunger doesn’t work. Luckily, there are a few options when your toilet won’t unclog. Household items such as dish soap, baking soda, vinegar, a coat hanger, or bleach could potentially be used in an emergency.
We’ve all experienced that heart-stopping moment when the toilet bowl is filling and suddenly we realize it’s not going to flush. Dealing with a clogged toilet is unpleasant and potentially damaging to your plumbing and subfloor. If it occurs while you have company, it can also be rather embarrassing. 
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How to unclog a toilet with a plunger

The best way to unclog a toilet is with a
. If you don’t have one of these handy tools in your home, it’s worth investing in one. They can be found at most large stores for $5-$30 depending on the quality. A plunger will pretty easily fix the vast majority of clogged toilets.
Here’s what you’ll need to do:
  • Place the plunger gently down into the toilet bowl, rubber end first 
  • The rubber “cup” will fit over the hole in the bottom of the toilet bowl that connects to the drain (this is called the toilet’s flange)
  • Once you have a good seal, press down gently one time—this will clear the air trapped in the plunger and avoid spraying toilet water everywhere
  • After the first thrust, plunge in and out in a vigorous yet controlled rhythm 
  • Make sure you keep a good seal around the flange the entire time.
  • The plunger will force water to move back and forth in the pipe which should dislodge most blockages
  • For the best effect, keep as much of the rubber portion of the plunger covered by water as possible
If you don’t see immediate results, don’t be discouraged. It could take a while—keep at it! Plunging is very effective and only the most stubborn clogs will be able to withstand the pressure. 
If, after several minutes, there is no improvement, you might have a more serious plumbing issue. It may be time to contact a professional plumber

How to unclog a toilet without a plunger

Unfortunately, disaster does not wait for you to be ready. You might find yourself with a toilet crisis on your hand and no plunger in sight. What then? 
Unclogging a toilet without a plunger is not an ideal situation, but there are a few clever tricks that homeowners have developed over the years.  

Use soap and hot water

One way that you can try to dislodge the clog is with good old-fashioned soap and water! 
  • Start by adding a generous dose of dish soap to your toilet bowl. The slippery soap will mix with the unpleasant contents of the bowl and the clogged pipe below. Often, this alone will be enough to get things moving. 
  • If that doesn’t work, use a cup or bowl to ladle a good portion of the contents out of the toilet. If you have an old bucket, you can use that to store the removed toilet water. Some homeowners suggest ladling directly into the bathtub. If you do decide to do that, you’ll probably want to give the tub a good scrub afterward!
  • Once you’ve cleared enough room, pour a mixture of hot water and more dish soap into the toilet bowl. You’ll want the water to be very hot—but if it is too hot (near boiling) it can actually crack the porcelain and you'll have a much bigger mess. The heat, soap, weight, and pressure should be enough to force the blockage through. 
  • With the hot, soapy water in it, let your toilet sit for about half an hour. Then try flushing again. 

With baking soda and vinegar

This method will be fun for those homeowners that enjoy a bit of DIY chemistry experimentation. 
First, you’ll need to empty a good amount of the toilet bowl's contents—otherwise, this will cause a big mess. 
Next, you’ll add baking soda and vinegar to the toilet. Do not mix them beforehand. Toss the baking soda in first, then the vinegar.  You’ll want twice as much vinegar as baking soda - yes the ratio is important! 
This little concoction will bubble and fizzle a lot, so it is important that you don’t add too much! One cup of baking soda and two cups of vinegar should be more than enough. Let it sit for 30-60 minutes then try again to flush. 

With a coat hanger

If science and water pressure have all failed you—it might be time for brute force! Large stubborn blockages can sometimes be dislodged with a coat hanger
Unravel the hanger until it is a straight(ish) line. Feed the wire down into the drain until you feel it make contact with the block. Poke, push, tug, and otherwise just prod at it—inelegant perhaps, but often quite effective. 

With bleach

Bleach can break down stubborn organic material and clear the way. The process is pretty similar to the dish soap method described above. Remove some water, then add a mixture of hot water and bleach. 
Be careful though! Bleach can be extremely dangerous when mixed with other chemicals. Some dish soaps will create dangerous gasses when they mix with bleach. If you’ve already tried the dish soap method and it didn’t work, don’t add bleach to the same standing water. 

Call a plumber

Alas, even the most courageous homeowner meets those fights which they simply cannot win. If all else fails, it might be time to call for reinforcements. A professional plumber should be able to clear the blockage in no time and get your toilet running again. 

Does homeowners insurance cover clogged toilets?

Damages from clogged drains are usually covered by homeowners insurance, but it is not guaranteed that they are. Whether or not your insurance will cover any damages/expenses that result from a clogged toilet will depend on the exact terms of your policy and what caused the clog in the first place. 
Every policy is different, but insurance companies typically care most about what the cause of the damage is. The cause, in this case, is not being a clogged toilet but rather how it got clogged. Different causes of damage are referred to as
, and your policy should specify exactly what perils it covers. 
As long as the cause of the clog originated within the boundaries of your property, most policies will cover it. If, on the other hand, the clog is from backflow in the public sewage system, insurance probably won’t cover it. 

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Clogged toilets will typically unclog themselves over time, but it depends on what exactly is clogging the pipe. Most things that get flushed down a toilet will gradually dissolve in water. 
Depending on the severity of the clog, however, you may be waiting a long time. And the toilet may only partially unclog before the next flush, which will leave you right back in the same position.
A plunger is best. Failing that, try adding dish soap. If that doesn’t work, you should probably shut off the valve at the base of the toilet to stop more water coming in. Then try a little more dish soap mixed with hot (but not boiling) water. Still no luck? It might be time to try prodding at the blockage with a coat hanger.
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