Can You Remove Dents in Your Car with a Plunger and Hot Water?
We tested this popular TikTok hack to find out.
Since the 1970s, most vehicles have been designed to crumple under impact, absorbing as much energy as possible in an accident. The reason is safety. More force absorbed means less collateral damage and a greater chance the passengers will be unharmed.
Trouble is, this design philosophy means many parts of modern vehicles are much more fragile than they once were. This is especially true of front and rear bumpers. Usually made of thin molded plastic color-matched to the surrounding steel body panels, bumpers are notorious for denting with even the lightest of impacts.
That’s the problem this trending TikTok hack tries to solve. It proposes a fast, simple method of removing moderately severe dents from plastic vehicle bumpers without any specialized equipment.
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How It Works
If you’ve dealt with a severely dented bumper before, you know how expensive a professional repair is. Even plastic bumpers cost a lot to fix. The reason boils down to the philosophy of most auto body shops.
In my experience, they often won’t attempt to repair a severely dented bumper. Instead, they’ll source a factory-grade replacement, which isn’t cheap. Add in the cost of labor and possible replacement of any internal bumper components damaged in the impact, and the bill can quickly inflate to a painful level.
This hack aims to sidestep that trouble and expense, using nothing more than a kettle, some boiling water and a toilet plunger. Here are the steps involved:
1. Boil a full kettle of water, then bring it out to your vehicle. Be sure the vehicle is parked somewhere where lots of hot water on the ground won’t be a problem.
2. Slowly pour all the boiling water over the dent. Then stick your toilet plunger into the dent and try to make it seal against the plastic surface.
3. Simultaneously pull gently with the plunger while reaching under your vehicle and pushing out the dent from the inside of the plastic. (This is much easier with a helper.) Be careful not to burn yourself on the dripping water.
This hack didn’t work for me at all — at least, not the method proposed in the video. I tried it on my parents’ Toyota Sienna, which had a dent of similar size, shape and location to the one in the TikTok post.
First, the boiling water didn’t warm and soften the plastic bumper sufficiently to allow the dent to be pressed and pulled out. I could barely get my hand squeezed in behind the dent to push on it, but eventually I did. I pressed on it as hard as I could immediately after applying the water, but it remained rock solid. I couldn’t budge it even a little.
A second kettle full of boiling water made no difference. When I tried to suction the dent out with the toilet plunger, I couldn’t get the plunger to seal to the uneven surface of the bumper.
My conclusion: It probably won’t work for most people. The folks in the video got lucky, with a few circumstances aligning to make their attempt successful:
- The bumper plastic was thin enough that the boiling water softened it sufficiently.
- The dent location and vehicle shape let them slide an arm and hand behind the bumper to push on the dent from the inside — essential for any hope of success.
- The shape and size of the dent in the video were just right for the toilet plunger to seal to the plastic surface. That provided some pulling force to the dent.
These three unlikely conditions are necessary for this hack to work, and probably won’t be present for most dented bumpers.
After my failed attempt, I tried a modified approach.
I slowly waved a heat gun on its highest heating setting over the dented plastic for about five minutes, maintaining a distance of about eight inches between tool and vehicle. This softened the plastic sufficiently to reach behind the bumper and pop out the dent.
So if you have a heat gun and a vehicle with a dented bumper, this approach is certainly worth a try. Just don’t hold the heat gun too close or you’ll melt off the bumper paint.
Note: Even after successfully removing the dent, my parents’ bumper wasn’t good as new. It still had creases where the dent had been, and was missing some paint. If you don’t mind this sort of result, give this approach a try. Otherwise, get your bumper replaced.
And once you’ve repaired or replaced your dented bumper, consider buying a bumper protector.