Bath

Here’s how to unclog a toilet without a plunger

Stop the flushing and start here

Water flushing down a toilet bowl Credit: Getty Images / ByoungJoo

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Ah, a clogged toilet—something we all never hope to experience after using a bathroom, especially when it’s not in our own home. But, what’s worse is a clogged-up toilet with no plunger in sight (talk about worst case scenario). Now what?

While not having a plunger is definitely an inconvenience, it isn’t the end of the world. There are plenty of techniques you can use to try to get things flowing again.

Whether your toilet is clogged because of natural causes, because you wadded up too much of your satin-soft TP, or because something ended up in there that shouldn’t be there (say, a kid’s toy), here’s how to unclog a toilet without a plunger—and when it may be time to call in an expert if nothing gives.

Keep flushing to a minimum

Flush
Credit: Getty Images / andreygonchar

Keep flushing to a minimum—overwhelming the toilet with constant flushing may result in a messy overflow.

When your toilet is clogged, your first instinct may be to keep flushing. However, this can make a bad situation worse.

“Be sure to flush only once,” says Stephany Smith, part of the plumbing crew at My Plumber, part of Fantastic Services. “Things can go wrong if you flush twice because overflows can occur and cause flood damage.”

Not to mention a rather nasty mess you’ll have to clean off your floor tiles. .

Add dish soap and hot water

You can actually use dish soap and hot water to solve your clogged toilet problems. However, this technique only works on a toilet that’s clogged with soft and malleable items (e.g. dung, toilet paper, last week’s leftover soup)—anything hard like a kid’s toy is going to need more work.

First, take out as much water in the bowl as possible. Smith recommends this so that the soap can go right towards the pipes.

Drizzle about a cup of dish detergent into the toilet bowl. “Let the mixture sit for half an hour or more to allow the dish soap to lubricate the pipe,” Smith says.

Then, get some hot water (not boiling water) and slowly pour it into the bowl. This should loosen up the grime and help anything move down the drain.

Be patient with this method, as it may take a few tries or need to soak overnight for tough clogs.

Sprinkle in bath salts

Bath salts
Credit: Getty Images / kukai

If you have bath salts nearby, try adding a small amount to the toilet bowl and agitate it around with a toilet brush.

For a method that works more quickly, try using Epsom bath salts if you have it on hand (a hotel or Airbnb may have these if dish soap isn’t available). “The salt creates a fizzy reaction when added to water and should help break things up to clear the clog,” says Smith.

Begin slowly pouring bath salts into the toilet bowl and let it sit for at least 15 minutes. From here, try flushing it once more to see if the clog has loosened up.

Loosen it with a toilet brush or wire hanger

Your clogged toilet may need a little physical agitation rather than soap or salts to help slide it along.

The next best thing that the experts at Bob Vila recommend is to use a toilet brush to push around the clog. Try moving it around as you would with a plunger, gently pushing up and down.

You can also use an old wire hanger. If you’ve been to the dry cleaner’s recently, you probably have one on hand that you won’t mind sacrificing for the sake of your pride—and your housemates.

Smith suggests breaking apart the hanger to create one long stick-like wire you can use to agitate any tough-to-reach blockage.

We recommend proceeding with great caution, as poking around with wire can lead to some scratching or damage to the pipes.

“To avoid causing harm, wrap the one end of the hanger with a cloth,” says Smith. Avoid going beyond the toilet bowl and into the pipes. If you feel like you need to push that deep, it’s actually time to call a plumber who can evaluate the situation.

Avoid drain cleaners

You may be tempted to try a drain cleaner, like Drano or Liquid Plumr, that you’ve got stashed under the sink. However, this may not be the best time to use it. Again, it depends on how your toilet got clogged in the first place.

Mark Dawson, chief operating officer at Benjamin Franklin Plumbing, says, “If your clog is caused by anything other than a simple hairball or grease buildup, drain cleaner is unlikely to help at all.”

Drain cleaners most often use hydrochloric acid to create a reaction that can cause “irreversible damage to the pipe itself,” Dawson says. And, you don’t want that to happen in your toilet because your pipes can bend and break, which may lead to an expensive repair down the road.

When it’s time to call an expert

Plumber
Credit: Getty Images / ronstik

Don't take these at-home remedies too far, as it may result in damaging the toilet or the pipes. Calling a plumber in may be the right option if the clog won't give after a few tries.

If the clog just won’t give, you’ll have to call in a plumber.

One tell-tale sign you need to do so is if the bathtub and the sink are stopped up, too. “This may mean that the clog is further down the drain than you can reach with a small auger or small snake,” says Dawson.

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