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Tools & Tips for Unclogging a Toilet or a Drain

When a toilet won't flush, it is one of the most panic-inducing situations known to man. You are minding your own business when suddenly, the water is not receding, but rising. You hold your breath and hope. Then, your plumbing eventually wins the battle and the water goes down with a satisfying (and nerve calming) slosh. However, if it doesn't just go away – and you cross that threshold into danger territory, you know the water will just keep coming and the fear of an overflowing toilet takes over! We want you to be able to defend yourself against clogs and the best way to do that is to arm yourself with the right equipment.

To Plunge or Not to Plunge…That is the Question

 When you find yourself in a situation similar to the one described above (or with any clogged drain), after you've turned off the water, your first weapon of choice should be your plunger. However, knowing which plunger to choose may not be as obvious as you think.

 Cup Plunger: This is the plunger that most of us think of when we hear the word. The handle is usually made of wood and the bottom is a bowl-shaped cup made of rubber. If you were to grab this plunger for a toilet, you have chosen poorly. This plunger is made for flat surfaces like those around the drains in sinks, bathtubs, and showers. It cannot form a proper seal over the curved surface of your toilet, for that you will need…

Toilet Plunger: As its name implies this is the correct plunger to use on a toilet, but don't be fooled by the name.It is a bit of a misnomer because it can be used on almost any drain. This plunger has the long wooden handle with the rubber cup at the bottom, but it also has a rubber flange attached to the cup. The flange makes this plunger the perfect tool for the job of clearing out your toilet, it can form a good seal over the basin of the bowl and allows you to create maximum suction. Now this plunger is not a one trick pony, simply tuck the flange into the cup of the plunger and voila you have changed your toilet plunger into a Cup Plunger and with minimum effort! Now, of course, we do not recommend using the same plunger on your toilet and anything else because this is unhygienic and frankly gross. Not impressed with the versatility of your toilet plunger? There is another option…  

Accordion Plunger: A departure from your traditional wood and rubber plungers, the accordion plunger is made of sturdy plastic and features, as you might have guessed, an accordion style cup. This plunger enables the user to generate more force and in turn create stronger suction. We must warn you that this plunger is not without its faults. The hard plastic can make this plunger difficult to use and can scratch your toilet bowl.  

Now that you can choose your weapon with confidence there are a few steps you must take to ensure that you are plunging to the best of your ability and putting up the best fight possible.

1. Make like Paula Abdul and Plunge "Straight Up"
Hold the plunger vertically for the best seal. Angling the plunger can cause the seal to come lose and result in less force. 

2. Be an Optimist and Keep the Toilet Bowl (sink, tub, or bath) Half Full
You don't want too much water where you sink or your toilet will over flow, but you do need enough so that the base of your plunger is fully submerged in the water, allowing you to get the proper seal.

3. Burping, It's Not Just for Babies
You don't want a ton of air to get trapped underneath your plunger because it will not allow you to generate enough force to remove the clog. When initially sealing your plunger, press down slowly to lessen your chance of capturing too much air. However, if you find yourself in a situation where you have excess air simply tilt the cup while it is under the water. The escaping bubbles will let you know it is working. 

4. Torn and Cracked Plungers Do Not Spark Joy
Take a cue from,tidying expert, Marie Kondo, thank them for their service and throw them out, they will be ineffectual!


You're Giving It All She's Got, Captain…

But the plunger has let you down, you might have lost the battle, but not the war. There is still another tool in your arsenal you can reach for: the plumbing auger (also known as a plumbing snake). Similar to plungers, you must choose the best auger for the task at hand.  

Cable Drain Augers: This drain snake is the most commonly used in home auger. It is a long flexible cable with an auger (uncoiled spring) attached at the bottom of a crank at the handle. This snake works by sliding it into the drain and using the crank to go deeper into the pipes until you reach the clog and the auger can break it up or attach itself to the clog and allow it to be removed. 

Flat Tape Augers: A flat tape auger is very similar to a cable drain auger but is designed to be used on much narrower pipes. These snakes can fit into drains that have a circumference as little as 2 inches. A flat tape auger will use a flat cable and will sometimes have a spear attached to the end instead of a corkscrew. These kinds of flat tape augers are used to push a blockage through a pipe rather than pull it back up the pipe. They are generally used in the same way as a cable drain auger, with the user turning a handle to guide it down the pipe.

Power Augers: Power augers are again similar to a cable drain auger, with the main difference being that they are powered through a motor or the ability to attach to a power drill. This makes them easier to use, but they are also generally more expensive. Additionally, they spin the cable/corkscrew much faster, making them more effective for dealing with tough blockages.

Toilet Closet Augers: This snake is made specifically for the toilet, so it tends to be more flexible and is less likely to scratch your bowl. They come in both manual and power versions.

If your auger is proving to be as ineffectual as the Dothraki fighting the Wight Walkers in Game of Thrones, it is time to call in Arya or in this case a professional plumber. To help avoid clogged toilets, avoid flushing the following items down the drain:

  • Paper Towels
  • Tissues
  • Flushable Wipes
  • Feminine Products
  • Cotton Balls or Q-Tips
  • Diapers
  • Floss

Get more expert tips and recommendations to help with plumbing and other home maintenance issues when you sign up for vipHomeLink's homeowner app.The perfect tool full of features to makes homeownership a breeze.

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