A clogged toilet is an unsightly, unsanitary mess. It either presents as a bowl full of water, waste matter and shredded toilet paper, or a bowl that is completely empty of even the usual few inches of water at the beginning of the S-bend.

Bowl Full

In the first instance, the toilet should not be flushed again. Toilet bowls are designed to hold a litre or two more water than the toilet tank contains, but if the bowl is already full, or part full, another flush will flood your bathroom floor.

To work on a toilet in this situation you should leave the toilet unused for a few hours. The water will drain very slowly around the clogging material and eventually reach a level where you can attack the problem without immersing yourself up to the elbows in sewage.

Bowl Empty

Where there appears to be no water in the bowl, the clog has probably formed immediately after flushing and prevented the usual backwash necessary to provide the level of water you’re used to seeing in an unused toilet.

In this situation you can flush the toilet once when the tank is fully recharged. A fresh flush may dislodge the clog and cure the problem. If it does not, your bowl will fill and you’ll be left with a bowl-full clog as outlined above. Do not flush again, allow to drain.

Attacking the Clog

When bowl water is at a manageable level, you can begin work to remove the clog – don’t worry, in most cases it’s actually very easy.

Cover the surrounding floor with newspaper to protect against splashing. You may also wish safeguard your own health with rubber gloves and a pair of safety goggles.

Dishwashing Liquid

The simplest toilet unclogging method involves only dishwashing liquid and a bucket of hot water. Here’s how to do it.

  • Into the drained toilet bowl tip two cups of dishwashing liquid.
  • Allow the detergent to sit for five minutes.
  • Fill a bucket with very hot water.
  • Pour the hot water into the toilet from about waist height – you want a bit of force behind the water so that it drives the dishwashing liquid down into the clogging material.
  • Leave for a quarter of an hour.

This method usually works quite quickly if it’s going to work at all. If rapid draining and return to normalcy does not occur after an hour, leave to toilet to slow drain until the water level is again manageable and try either of the two following methods.

Coat Hanger

This can be a little messy and you really will want rubber gloves here.

Untwist a wire coat hanger and straighten it as much as possible.

Force one end down into the S-bend as far as you can.

Move it rapidly back and forth and also in a corkscrewing motion – your object, of course, being to break up the clog.

If this method is successful the toilet will begin rapid draining immediately.

Caustic Soda

If a coat hanger and dishwashing liquid don’t work, it’s time to try an environmentally unfriendly approach.

  • From a supermarket or hardware shop, buy a container of caustic soda.
  • Pour the caustic soda into a well drained toilet and allow to sit for an hour or two.
  • Flush the toilet with the lid closed.

Caustic soda is a hazardous chemical that can burn and blind. Exercise caution in its use and avoid contact with toilet bowl water with which it has been mixed. Read the manufacturer’s safety guidelines before use.

If your toilet system employs a septic tank, check that the use of caustic soda will not damage it.

Stay Calm

A clogged toilet often provokes panic within a household as the ghastly sight of human waste and the threat of imminent overflow combine to rob otherwise rational people of their reason. If you are prone to such losses of self-control in the face of lavatorial emergencies, print out this guide and tape it to the toilet tank. It will provide invaluable reassurance as you stare into that ever-filling bowl.

Learn more about unclogging toilets in this video.

How to Unclog a Toilet, 4.1 out of 5 based on 8 ratings

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  1. Sharon says:

    This really works…detergent and HOT water.

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    Rating: 3.0/5 (8 votes cast)