5 Green Ways to Unclog a Toilet

Of all the misfortunes that can befall us in our everyday lives, few come with the same blend of horror and indignity as staring down into a toilet that refuses to flush. As the water level in the bowl rises ominously, we plead, we pray, we hope against hope that the problem will somehow miraculously resolve itself and we will be spared the mortification (and mess) of a spillover. And when youíre a guest in someone elseís house, you plead and pray at least 10,000 times harder.

The only consolation in this dreaded scenario is that it happens to all of us. And, in the end, it might make for a good story for your closest friends to enjoy. But take heart, there are some simple solutions for this always-untimely event. The following are 5 time-tested and green tricks that have worked wonders for many a poor soul, listed here from the easiest to the hardest.

1. Do nothing but wait, then flush.

Toilets, like all plumbing drains, work by the force of gravity. A full bowl of water exerts its own pressure on the clog and, over time, often will clear the clog for you. So if you have more than one bathroom in the house, just wait it out overnight, or as long as you can. Then, try to flush again. If itís a standard clog (too much paper, in most cases), this passive solution is surprisingly effective.

Warning: When you do the test flush after the waiting period, be ready to stop the water flow to the bowl (see Top Toilet Tip, below), just in case this method doesnít work.

2. Pour in some hot water. Wait. Flush.

If you donít have the time to wait out the clog, or if youíd like to increase your chance of success by giving gravity a helping hand, you can pour a few cups of hot water into the bowl. Proponents of this technique believe that the hot water helps to break down the waste, thereby loosening the clog. Canít hurt to try. However, this doesnít mean you should be pouring pots full of boiling water into a cold, brittle, china toilet bowl, which could crack it.† Hot water is a far more ecological choice than pouring corrosive chemicals down your drains.

3. Add soap. Wait as long as possible. Flush.

This is clearly the preferred method when youíre not at home and would do anything to avoid having to break the news to your hosts. A few good squirts of ecological dish soap is perhaps the most popular method, but again, if youíre a guest and not alone in the house, it can be hard to explain why you have a sudden need for dish soap in the bathroom before youíre ready to join the party again. Other lucky souls have reported that liquid hand soap or shampoo have done the trick nicely, too. The theory here is that the soap breaks down the waste faster than water alone. When itís time to flush, be ready to stop the water to prevent spillover.

4. Plunge like a pro.

First of all, standard cup-type plungers donít work well on toilets because they canít provide a good seal over the drain hole. Instead, use a flange plunger, which has a rubber sleeve that extends down below the domed cup, or boot, section. Flange plungers with accordion-like boots work well, too. Make sure the flange is extended (it can fold up into the boot), then lower the plunger into the toilet at an angle so the boot fills with water and isnít trapping air. Insert the flange into the drain hole and press down so the boot seals tightly around the hole.

Make the plunge action count on both the downstroke and upstroke, since both forces will help loosen the clog, and maintain a good seal at all times. If you have no success after several tries, leg the clog sit and try again. Still no luck? Time for an auger.

5. Use a closet auger.

A closet auger, or toilet auger, works just like a standard drain snake but is specially designed to accommodate the sharp turns of a toilet trap without damaging the bowl (which standard snakes can do). Work the business end of the auger into the drain hole, with the bend in the handle pole pointed toward the drain route. Crank the toolís handle clockwise and work it in and out a little to break up the clog. If a solid object, such as a sponge or rag, is creating the clog, crank the auger clockwise to snag the obstruction, then pull it out of the toilet.

Top Toilet Tip:

Instead of standing by feeling helpless as a clogged toilet threatens to overflow, take action: Quickly remove the tank lid, reach into the tank and close the flapperóthe round, rubber trap door that seals over the big hole in the bottom center of the tank. This will stop the flow of water into the bowl. Alternatively, you can close the shut-off valve to the water supply line. Itís on the wall behind the toilet, near the handle side and several inches above the floor. It has a football-shaped handle that you want to turn to the right, just like a faucet. Be warned, however: Old valves can be stuck and corroded, and turning them may cause some leakage.

Clearing Clogged Drains
Water-Saving Tips for Your Toilet
7 Ingredients to Ban from Your Bathroom
10 Fast and Green Fixes for Beauty Emergencies

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Val M.
Val M.about a year ago


Jessica Stromsky
Jessica Stromsky3 years ago

This is what I always do and it worked great http://howtofixstuff.blogspot.com/2012/01/how-to-unclog-toilet.html

heather g.
heather g.4 years ago

Thank you for that "Top Toilet Tip". If this unfortunate experience should ever spring itself upon me in future, I won't freeze in a state of terror.
My first experience of a blocked toilet - with rapidly rising water - as my eyes widened to size of saucers, was when I was young and working in a modern, open plan bank. I imagined Mr Flotie casually riding the gushing flood right through the open-plan office and all the clients pointing, screaming and rushing out of the building. The experience has marked my conscious for life. It was so shocking, it is still vivid in my mind.
I breathed a sigh of relief as the flushing water subsided, washed my hands and walked back to my desk with my head held high......
I needed to read this article! Everybody needs to read this article......

Margaret F.
Margaret M. F.4 years ago

I thank-you for this informative article. I've been having clogging toilets a lot as of late. I have two toilets in my abode. One I had to replace due a cracked tank. Personally, I think I got a defective new toilet. I've been told that laws have been passed stating that only 1.5 gallons of water is used to flush instead of the 3.0 gallons old toilets use. Thus, I started using the older toilet more than I used to. Then it started to clog. Plunging, even with the plunger described in the article, is difficult for me do to health issues. I'm extremely careful of what I can control regarding what goes into the toilet to be flushed, however, there are somethings one just cannot control. To prevent a clog, I suggest try flushing the toilet while defecating to prevent an overload that will cause a clog. Also, use less toilet paper especially in newer toilets b/c with less water the toilet paper cannot start breaking down before being flushed. Lastly, no matter how big or how many times the container says the wipes inside the plastic container are flushable, they are a major cause of a clog so save yourself some trouble & pitch them in the garbage instead. I Thank-you for reading this.

Fred Krohn
Fred Krohn4 years ago

I've always made sure to have a plunger in the can; especially with those stupid 'short flush' toilets the idiot government tried to mandate, the standard flush is often not quite enough to send the occasional log down. No chemicals; they corrode the pipes - though there are safe 'bacteria culture' chemicals that can be used to help keep iron piping open without damaging it. Soaps used to clean the bowl also work well. I abhor those stupid in-tank bowl bleach gimmicks; I'll tolerate those that hang in the bowl vice corroding the tank hardware. When emptying a portable commode bucket (used by a handicapped client), I'll help the content along by rinsing out the bucket in the bathtub hot water stream and flushing with that. The fixture usually gives little or no problem; it's a late model short flush set up for 'hold for extra flush water' service and the plunger alongside takes care of the occasional clog.

Howard C.
.4 years ago

Thank you for the ideas, I hope that I never need them. I've heard that baby wipes often block toilets, they really shouldn't be flushed.

Klaus P.
Klaus Peters4 years ago

You have forgotten one thing, tree roots. No flush will ever remove those. At my Mum's place we had a massive blockage. I was able to unblock temporarily sticking a hose into an outside inspection cover. But with that hose I was also able to measure where excactly the block was and dug a hole and identified the problem. The neighbour had planted trees many years ago right against the fence. The roots got into Mum's sewer. I bought a 90 mm diamond cutter and opened the sewer, bingo, with a 3 mm wire and a hook on the end I was able to drag the whole root system out, to seal the hole I made a stainless bung which I fitted with silicon and bolted with st.st. fasteners. Cost about $280, a plumber quoted a minimum of $4000.

Allegra W.
Past Member 5 years ago

Thank you for the tips! I've always been the plunger pro in my household...seems no one else knows how to plunge properly. :)

karin m.
Karin M.5 years ago


Jane R.
Jane R.5 years ago

I had guest stay over during a hurricane & the toilets were stopped up. What a nightmare!!