How to unclog a toilet

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How to unclog a toilet

Post by Jeriah » Sun Jan 04, 2009 6:39 pm

Many of you may know that a toilet can be flushed, even in the absence of a municipal water supply simply by dumping a bucket of water into the tank and flushing as per normal, or by simply dumping the water into the toilet bowl itself. Assuming the "downstream" end of the sewer system (or your septic tank) is functioning (or at least not blocked), your toilet should continue functioning indefinitely. (You will probably find, however, that it will be reserved for going "number two," as it's easier to pee on a bush than haul a bucket of water to flush a little urine!)

This being said, there is a basic item of bathroom maintenance that is unfortunately widely misunderstood: how to unclog a toilet. Your toilet may still be there in the PAW, but your local plumber or handyman may not be. Therefore, you're going to need to know how to deal with this "shit" yourself.

First, try not to clog up your toilet in the first place. Definitely don't flush used condoms down the toilet, don't flush newspapers or pages of the Sears catalog (if you can find one!), etc. Only urine, feces, and toilet paper should be flushed, and too much TP is the most common source of toilet clogs. Tampons, some baby wipes, etc. can be flushed when all is in good order, but for my money, I'd avoid flushing them if services are questionable.

But, let's say that you either ignored this advice, or managed to drop a log the size of 60mm mortar round, and clog your toilet. What's to be done? Your first instinct may be to pour a bottle of liquid plumber down there. THIS IS WRONG. When I worked at Ace Hardware, people came in all the time, asking for something to pour into their clogged toilet. I informed them that, sadly, it's not that easy. There are a few problems with drain openers: they're either caustic or acidic, they'll fuck up your septic system if you have one, they can be hard on your pipes, and THEY DO NOT WORK ON TOILETS. Most of them need to be flushed with hot water, which obviously doesn't work in a toilet. Also, the trap in a toilet will prevent the product from getting to the clog. They are fine for sinks and bathtubs, however.

Obviously, the first thing you want to do is try a plunger. These are cheap and effective for most clogs. I like the kind that have an inner bell that helps you get a good seal by going down into the drain a bit; the Master Plunger is super powerful but being rigid plastic, you may not be able to get a good seal with it. Even the cheap plungers can work, if they fit your bowl right. I think most of us know how to use a plunger, so let's say that doesn't work. What then?

So, do you call a plumber and spend a hundred bucks to have him fix it for you? Sorry, Joe, but times are tough all over--I'm going to do the job myself with a ten dollar tool, and spend the other ninety bucks on booze.

The tool you need is called a Toilet Auger. A toilet auger is basically a three foot steel spring with one end opened up into a "worm" (this will be familiar to any 16th to 19th century cannoneers on here, for the rest of you, just think "corkscrew"). The other end is attached to a crank-type handle, and there's a curved metal tube that guides the spring. Toilet Augers are available in two sizes that I know of: 3/8" nominal, and 1/2" nominal. The 3/8" ones cost about ten bucks and work for most clogs. The 1/2" ones cost sixteen bucks. I haven't used them but I imagine they're stiffer and therefore easier to force down the drain.

What you do is, pull up on the handle to retract the spring into the tube, so the worm end is flush with the tube. Then, carefully push the end of the tube into the toilet drain. Try not to scratch your porcelain! Turn the crank handle clockwise while pushing down on it to drive the auger into the toilet drain. This part might be messy or stinky. The auger will proceed SLOWLY; if you try to force it the spring will just bend. This is the advantage of the 1/2" model, but I just did it with the 3/8" model and it worked fine. Remember, you're turning the handle clockwise as you push gently, you're not just ramming it in there (that's what she said). Eventually, it will bottom out, and the handle will butt up to the tube.

When this happens, back the auger out, pulling on the handle and turning the handle, you guessed it, counterclockwise. Progress in reverse is also slow, and remember, don't yank, just crank, counterclockwise. The auger will work its way back out. Once its all the way back out, pull the tube from the toilet You may have to jiggle it a bit to help the worm clear the hole (that's what she said).

At this point you should be able to flush the toilet normally. WASH THE AUGER, it's covered in poop. Dry and oil it before putting it away, or it will rust. I don't think that spring is stainless!

That's all I got.

(Just did this myself, obviously.)
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Re: How to unclog a toilet

Post by BobtheBreaker » Sun Jan 04, 2009 7:44 pm

Cable diameters are associated with pipe diameters. 3/8" inch cable is often used for residential 3" water closets and 1/2" is used for commercial 4". The property they are looking for is resistance to kinking given the internal volume of the pipe.

One point of personal preference/finesse. If you break the clog, with a hefty bowl, and all the water drains out. Leave the line in and flush the toilet a few times while turning the handle in alternating directions and again also as you back it out. Your classic feminine pad, TP/paper obstruction is a soft blockage; you can literally poke a hole in it and it will heal itself minutes later. Plus, it knocks most of the crap off the cable.
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Re: How to unclog a toilet

Post by Impus » Mon Jan 05, 2009 2:04 am

IMHO every home should have a drain snake and a drill that'll drive it. Especially longhairs.
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Re: How to unclog a toilet

Post by MacAttack » Mon Jan 05, 2009 3:15 am

The worst thing in a PAW is the lack of running water.

Now of course you can haul water to your house from any number of sources. Thats great.

The bad thing I'm asking about is just how long will your section of the sewage system work with no one else flushing water down their drains to keep the main pipes clear and working?

Its four months into the PAW and your water is fine, your food is great and the ammo situation is holding steady, but now the drain is clogged and the kids and you need to go, BAD.
What do you do?


I could just imagine a pile of poo building up around connection your homes pipe makes to the rest of the city system, until finally you get a back up from 20 feet down the line.


Now we all need to have a 30 foot pipe snake laying about the house?

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Re: How to unclog a toilet

Post by Dark Angel » Mon Jan 05, 2009 6:22 am

Lol augur i grew up calling those things pipe snakes. Good list of things to do though :)
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Re: How to unclog a toilet

Post by rhi » Mon Jan 05, 2009 8:12 am

For non-PAW situations, I've had good luck with Power Plumber. Seems to blast through the "log jams" every time.
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Re: How to unclog a toilet

Post by Brash » Mon Jan 05, 2009 8:43 am

I haven't used a plunger in years. I don't even own one. If you cut the bottom off a two litre coke bottle you can use that. It forms a fairly good seal and puts enough pressure down a toilet to empty it of water entirely. Instant unblocked toilet. :D
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Re: How to unclog a toilet

Post by Jeriah » Mon Jan 05, 2009 9:13 am

Update: problem recurred several hours later. Repeated exact same procedure. This time, on retracting the auger, it had a toothbrush bound up in its coils. :shock: I must have knocked it into the bowl somehow, probably while drunk, and either forgotten about it or failed to notice. :lol:
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Re: How to unclog a toilet

Post by Impus » Mon Jan 05, 2009 10:13 am

There's a "high fiber diet" joke in there somewhere...
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Re: How to unclog a toilet

Post by Allen » Mon Jan 05, 2009 11:46 am

Thanks for the info, and for NOT posting pics! :)

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Re: How to unclog a toilet

Post by naegling62 » Mon Jan 05, 2009 6:35 pm

Yeah my ex-wife used to flush Q-tips. That really worked well in the septic tank. Had a pump-grinder tear up one time......yeah it was a little green plastic army man. That cost a few hundred dollars.
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Re: How to unclog a toilet

Post by mega-hertz » Tue Jan 06, 2009 8:25 am

this thread is useless with out pic.s :twisted:
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Re: How to unclog a toilet

Post by Loquinho » Thu Jan 08, 2009 7:49 am

In Brazil the common method is to fill a bucket with water from the sink and then pour it into the toilet all at once. It creates a fairly high pressure in the drain, especially if you are pouring right into the drain from a good height. This doesn't work so well with the clogs that fill the toilet up to the brim.
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Re: How to unclog a toilet

Post by crypto » Thu Jan 08, 2009 8:33 am

Maybe it's just US toilet design, but typically by the time the tank has dropped a gallon of water into the bowl it's pretty close to overflowing already.
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Re: How to unclog a toilet

Post by Dead Zed » Thu Jan 08, 2009 10:19 am

A trick a plumber friend taught me. Use a toilet brush rather than a plunger. Place the brush in the bottom of the bowl and move it rapidly up and down 3-4 inches several times. I've used it succesfully on clogs that a plunger wouldn't budge.
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Re: How to unclog a toilet

Post by Dr Jekell » Fri Jan 09, 2009 12:44 am

I have heard that a 1kg block of C4 will take care of 99.99999% of your toilet blockages.

Is there any truth to this rumour? :mrgreen:
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Re: How to unclog a toilet

Post by Chef » Fri Jan 09, 2009 1:03 am

Sounds like it's time to get a new toothbrush. Unless it wasn't yours.
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Re: How to unclog a toilet

Post by Y.T. » Fri Jan 09, 2009 1:45 am

thanks for the tip on the Toilet Auger. :) though I'm beginning to think Jeriah has a poo fetish with all these posts. ;)

btw, on the subject of people flushing weird things... a few years ago a repair crew broke the sewer pipe outside my house -- then left and didn't tell anyone. This caused a backup problem on par with a greek tragedy, like mythic. Of course I didn't know about the broken pipe and call the landlord about it. And of course their first response was that it was my fault. His wife said "now dearie, are you sure you didn't flush something there, like a towel? you can tell us, it's happened before"

a towel. who the hell flushes a towel? :?: :?: like, what the hell are you doing that flushing the towel seems the best option?


oh, and the most helpful, memorable thing I learned in high school was how to stop an overflowing toilet (take the lid off the tank, lift the pump, prop it up with a toothbrush or similar item). for serious. 4 years and that's the most useful thing I walked away with. That has saved my dainty butt more times than I'd like to recall. Except for that one time where I tried it with those #@$%!!!! "low flush" toilets -- which should be called "auto-clog" toilets -- the double whammy being that they both clog instantly due to insufficient flushing water AND WILL INSTANTLY OVERFLOW LIKE NIAGRA when you do the lift-the-pump trick. just... no... no. the horror.
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Re: How to unclog a toilet

Post by Apollo-11 » Fri Jan 09, 2009 3:32 am

Or you could just turn off the valve at the wall. Sometimes those valves won't turn, or they start leaking around the stem when you start to turn them.

Toilet auger is one tool that is absolutely essential. There pretty much is no such thing as a clog that they won't unclog, unless it's way down there. Then you need a power auger and you need to go through one of the regular cleanouts. Those things are amazing... they will chew right through a tree root. I rented one for that purpose a couple of years ago.

The other tool that I dearly love is one of those water main shutoff tools, if you have a house attached to city water. If you happen to break a pipe, or some idiot with a backhoe digs up a pipe in your yard, you can turn it right off with no fuss. (Hint: the valve might not get used for decades... you should exercise it once a year or so.)
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Re: How to unclog a toilet

Post by inclinebench » Fri Jan 09, 2009 9:16 am

Along similar lines, but moving away from the toilet...I had a plumber tell me that a quick fix for a bathroom sink clogged with hair is to put some Nair down the drain, and it will dissolve the hair. He said that if your sink gets clogged with hair more than once a year (yes mine does, I think my wife should be bald by now) then about once a month do a little preventative maintenance by putting some nair down the drain. He also told me that if you are not on a septic tank, but on town sewer, to flush a little bleach down the toilet every now and then to kill the microbial beasties growing along the pipe walls. This helps keep the water flowing quickly and prevents buildups that lead to stoppage.

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Re: How to unclog a toilet

Post by meatshieldChris » Fri Jan 09, 2009 10:34 am

1) reach under the bathroom sink
2) squeeze the chromed U part of the drain lightly
3) if it crumbles as your thumb passes right through it, you have my house.

no end to the plumbing horrors. dishwasher feed hose popping off, sink pipe breaking half way down a wall, sink drain having nothing left but chrome holding it together...

I can't risk using those compressed air toilet uncloggers, it'll blow my house up in a stinky shower of water. best way I've found is to alternate full thrusts on the plunger with short quick thrusts...eventually one of the methods will break up the clog and push it down. holding the lever half-way down will refill the bowl slowly if you manage to plunge out all your water and the clog is still there. don't fully push it whatever you do, you'll be swimming in it!

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Re: How to unclog a toilet

Post by Dave_M » Sat Jan 10, 2009 2:23 am

Jeriah wrote:Definitely don't flush used condoms down the toilet, don't flush newspapers or pages of the Sears catalog (if you can find one!), etc.
So NOW you tell me!

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Re: How to unclog a toilet

Post by turdo » Sat Jan 10, 2009 5:49 pm

If someone is wasting water on the toilet in a post apocalypse ... Here's a shovel, take a walk and take a crap.

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Re: How to unclog a toilet

Post by Smitherman » Sat Jan 10, 2009 10:31 pm

My (then) 6 year old managed to flush a piece of broken glass (another long story). It got stuck in one of the bends of the toilet before it goes into the pipe in the floor. I tried that toilet snake thing. Didn't work worth a crap. I ended up having to pull out the whole toilet to take it out into the yard and fish out the glass from underneath with my bare hand. It was either that, or buy a new toilet like my wife wanted to.

Poetic justice: I used my 6 year olds little red wagon to haul the toilet through the house to the yard. 8)

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