How to unblock a toilet

How to unblock a toilet

Jeremy, Construction site supervisor, Cardiff

Guide written by:

Jeremy, Construction site supervisor, Cardiff

If your toilet is overflowing when you flush, there's no doubt about it – you have a blocked toilet on your hands. Luckily, there are a few easy fixes designed to solve the issue without having to call out a plumber. From drain blasters and plungers to drain snakes, read on for the best ways to unblock your toilet.

Important features

  • Locating the blockage
  • Using a plunger or bin bag
  • Using a drain blaster
  • Using a drain snake
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Toilet components

Most toilets consist of the following components:

  • a toilet pan that is secured to the ground;

  • a separate cistern that stores the water used for flushing;

  • fill and flush valves that make up the flushing mechanism;

  • and a hinged toilet seat connected to the toilet bowl.

Most common toilets are fixed to the floor with screws and connected to the soil pipe via a pan connector which usually measures around 100 mm in diameter.

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Pan connectors

How to deal with a blocked toilet

Got a toilet that's draining slowly or worse, not at all? If your toilet is filled with more water than usual, you will have to empty it. Use a small container (a plastic bottle with the top cut off will do the job!) and a bucket to remove the excess water from the toilet bowl. You can now concentrate on tackling the blockage!

Steps

  1. Locating the blockage

  2. Using hot water, baking soda, a plunger or a bin bag

  3. Using a drain blaster

  4. Using a drain snake

Required skills

Required skills

Please note that this guide only applies to standard toilet systems. Blocked macerator toilets and other non-standard units will generally require different approaches but it may be possible to unblock these toilets using similar techniques.

If the blockage is located around the trap of the toilet bowl, it should be relatively straightforward to unclog your toilet. If it is lodged in the soil pipe, you will have to use a drain snake or wire coat hanger which can be trickier. That said, no matter where your blockage is, just about anyone should be able to unblock a toilet so long as you pay close attention to the following instructions.

Required time

Required time

10 to 60 mins

Number of people required

Number of people required

1 person

Tools and equipment

Tools and equipment

  • Plunger

  • Baking soda

  • White vinegar

  • Drain blaster

  • High pressure drain unblocker

  • Bin bag

  • Drain snake or coat hanger

  • Cloths

  • Rubber gloves

Personal protective equipment (PPE)

Personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Safety goggles

  • Protective gloves

  • Protective clothing

Please note: this is a non-exhaustive list; be sure to match your personal protective equipment to the job at hand.

1. Locate the blockage

Locate the blockage

In order to understand why you have a clogged toilet, you need to understand how the waste water is usually drained. When you flush the toilet, the water flows down the drain hole in the toilet bowl and is carried up into the trap before flowing back down to drain out through the soil pipe.

The toilet trap prevents any sewer odours from escaping from your pipes by keeping a constant water level at the bottom of the toilet bowl. Traps usually measure around 70 to 80 millimetres in diameter and widen to around 100 millimetres where they are connected to the soil pipe.

This means you may be dealing with one of two blockage situations:

  • either the blockage is inside the narrow bend of the trap;

  • or the blockage is in the wider soil pipe.

If the blockage is stuck in the narrow part of the trap, pushing it along to the wider part of the pipe will solve the problem. In this case, you should follow step 2 and/or step 3. If you suspect your blockage is further along in the soil pipe, go directly to step 4.

2. Use hot water, baking soda, a plunger or even a bin bag

How to unblock a toilet with hot water

Pouring hot, but not boiling water, is a simple and environmentally-friendly solution for unblocking a toilet.

Stop the water supply at the fill valve and using rubber gloves, remove any surplus water from the bowl into a bucket and dispose externally. You can then add some washing-up liquid, leave for a few minutes, then pour in a few litres of hot water to see if the water level goes down. If successful, remember to turn the water supply on again, otherwise try another solution.

How to unblock a toilet with baking soda

Baking soda is another environmentally-friendly solution for unclogging a toilet. However, you can’t use this method if your toilet is connected to a septic tank.

Heat a few litres of water in a saucepan and add white vinegar to it just before it boils. While preparing this, add some bicarbonate of soda to the toilet bowl and once your formula is ready, pour the water into the toilet bowl and put down the toilet seat. Flush the toilet after 30 minutes.

How to plunge a toilet

Plungers use compression and suction to move the water around the blockage.

Place the plunger at the bottom of the toilet bowl and move it in an up-and-down motion. This will help to push and pull the liquid around the blockage and help lift it away from whatever it is stuck to.

If this doesn't work and you're looking to unblock a toilet in a hurry, there is another solution...

How to unblock a toilet with a bin bag

Put your hand inside a bin bag then insert it into the toilet bowl to try to remove the blockage from the trap or move it along to the soil pipe.

If one of these fixes has worked – great! Your work is done. If you haven't succeeded, it's likely that the blockage is further along in the toilet system. Let's have a look at what to do next.

3. Use a drain blaster

These unblocking tools are a big step up from a basic plunger and are designed to apply more force to the blockage.

Just like a plunger, these tools should be placed at the bottom of the toilet bowl. Simply pull the handle or press the trigger to set them to work.

If this still hasn't worked, you'll need to move onto the final step. But first, let's take a look at why it's best to avoid using a chemical drain unblocker.

We won't take you through a list of the objects that may have found their way into your toilet – for obvious reasons! But let's take the example of a hair pin that has accidentally fallen down the toilet. When the toilet is flushed, your hair pin will make its way down the toilet drain but will often get stuck between joints. This provides a surface for all other flushed items, such as wet toilet paper or non-flushable items such as wet wipes, to stick to. In this case, a drain unblocker may break down the material around the hair pin, but it won't remove the hair pin itself. With this in mind, the best thing to do is to proceed immediately to step 4.

4. Insert a drain snake into the toilet bowl

Insert a drain snake into the toilet bowl
  1. A drain snake, plumbing snake or toilet auger, can be inserted directly into the bottom of your toilet bowl.

  2. Crank the handle to work the auger into the soil pipe. The end of the auger will corkscrew into the blockage, breaking it down and allowing the smaller pieces to flow away down the waste pipe.

  3. Be careful when removing the drain snake as the sharp end may cling on to and remove parts of the blockage.

Once you've unclogged the toilet, you just have to clean up the surrounding area of the bathroom and your tools, and you're done. Congratulations – you've officially earned your first plumbing stripes!

 
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Guide written by:

Jeremy, Construction site supervisor, Cardiff

Jeremy, Construction site supervisor, Cardiff

Electrician by trade, I first worked in industrial estates where I installed, wired and fixed a large number of electrical installations. After this, I managed a team of electricians for this type of work. 10 years or so ago, I turned to building and construction. From the modest family home, to gyms and theatres, I have been able to coordinate, audit and organise all sorts of construction sites. For 4 years now, I am restoring and building an extension to a bungalow in the heart of the Welsh countryside. My experience in manual work and my knowledge means I am proud to be of service. Terraces, interior design, roofing, plumbing, electrics, anything goes! My wife, daughter and I, built almost everything we have from scratch! So to answer all of your questions and advise you on choosing your tools? Easy!

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