How To Unclog a Toilet Without a Plunger
Clogged toilet and nothing else is working? Check out these fast alternate methods.
As a handyman and property manager, I’ve fielded calls from all kinds of panicked tenants and homeowners, wondering how they can unclog a backed-up toilet.
There’s no question the best first step should be using a toilet plunger or toilet auger. But sometimes you don’t have the right tool on hand. If you need to break up a toilet clog and there’s no plunger or auger available, there are other options you can try.
I found five tips for unclogging a toilet without a plunger circulating online. I reviewed them, then asked licensed plumber Mehdi Khachani, founder of JMK Plumbing, for his opinion. I also spoke with John Koeller, an engineer with more than two decades of experience testing toilet flushing capabilities, to find out what causes toilet clogs in the first place.
What causes a toilet to clog?
Paper, primarily. “Nearly all problems of clogs in the toilet or in the drain, are somehow paper related,” Koeller says
The second most common cause of toilet clogs, according to Koeller? Flushing items that shouldn’t be flushed. Things like cotton balls, tissues, sanitary products and dental floss can catch in the pipes, wrapping around themselves and creating a massive clog.
Is a toilet plunger the easiest way to unclog a toilet?
Yes. Plungers feature a flap that creates a seal inside the toilet, taking advantage of the water pressure behind the clog to force the obstruction out of the bend and into the pipes. A toilet auger is the next best way.
“It’s crucial to emphasize that attempting to clear a toilet clog without a plunger may have limitations depending on the specific nature of the blockage,” says Khachani. “Using [alternative methods] inappropriately might worsen the situation or cause damage to the plumbing system.”
How do you unclog a toilet that’s full of water?
From personal experience: Very carefully.
The best (and cleanest) option is waiting for the water to lower on its own; most toilet clogs are slow draining. If that doesn’t work, use a bucket to remove enough water to work on the clog without splashing anything out of the toilet. (If you do have a toilet plunger handy, gently plunge the clog, slowly pushing water out of the toilet and down the drain.)
Will a toilet unclog over time?
It depends on what’s causing the clog.
If it’s simply clogged from normal use, then yes, it will eventually unclog as the waste and toilet paper dissolve, although you may not want to wait that long. But if your child flushed their Legos down the drain, it will stay clogged until you clear the blockage.
When should you call a plumber for a clogged toilet?
Most toilet clogs can be cleared by a homeowner with a plunger. But if you don’t have the inclination, the clog is particularly stubborn, or you know an unusual object is blocking the pipes, you’re often better off calling a professional.
About the Experts
John Koeller co-founded MaP (Maximum Performance), which tests toilets in independent labs in North America and China. The company evaluated almost 6,000 toilet models from 192 brands. All test results are free and available to the public.
Mehdi Khachani is the CEO and founder of JMK Plumbing in Miami, Florida. He’s licensed as certified plumbing, air conditioning and general contractor in Florida.
Pour about a half-cup into the toilet. If you’re out of dish soap, chop a bar of hand soap into small chunks and drop the pieces into the toilet.
How it works
“Dish soap’s slippery nature can provide lubrication, aiding in the easier movement of debris down the pipes,” Khachani says. This could be effective for minor clogs. But in more stubborn clogs, he says, the lubrication may not be enough.
This may be the best tip on the list to help non-flushable items slip through the pipes. Items like a toy or cloth diaper might make it to a wider section of pipe.
The trick is getting the soapy water through to the clog itself. If the clog is slow-draining, wait until the water level in the toilet goes down. Then add soap and trying flushing again.
Add Hot Water
Fill a bucket with hot (but not boiling) water and pour it into the toilet from waist level. The force of the water could dislodge the clog.
How it works
There are two factors at play here: the temperature of the water and the height it’s poured from.
Khachani says hot water can break down certain materials and loosen some clogs. Boiling water, he says, poses a risk of cracking a porcelain toilet. The added force of the falling water mimics the oomph of a plunger, like a miniature waterfall.
The thing is, if you’ve ever seen a waterfall, you know that there’s a lot of splash at its foot. If you use this tip, be prepared to deal with some unpleasant cleanup.
DIY Wire Hanger Drain Snake
Straighten out a wire coat hanger. Push one end of the wire into the clogged area. Prod the debris until it becomes free and flows down the drain. A drain auger is a better choice, but the wire hanger will work in a pinch.
How it works
Like an auger, essentially. “In a pinch,” Khachani says, “it can manually move debris, potentially freeing up the clog.”
Keep in mind you’ll dirty your hands dirty using a short wire, so wear gloves. Also, I suggest bending the end of the wire hanger into a tight loop to minimize scratching. (Any scratches to the porcelain would only be aesthetic, but still should be avoided.)
Baking Soda Mixture
Pour one cup baking soda and two cups vinegar into the toilet. Allow it to fizz for a half-hour to break up the clog.
How it works
This is the same chemical reaction from the old “volcano” science experiment you may remember from high school. But will it work in a toilet?
“The chemical reaction can break down certain materials and may work for minor clogs,” Khachani says. “But the effectiveness may vary. And for more stubborn clogs, the method might not provide sufficient force to clear the pipes completely.”
I’ve tried the baking soda trick on sink drain clogs without much success. I’m dubious it would be effective in a toilet. But if you have a clog and no plunger on hand, it’s worth a try.
Use a Plastic Bottle To Create Water Pressure
Start by removing as much water from the toilet bowl as possible. Next, fill a large plastic bottle with warm water.
Place your thumb over the top of the bottle and fit the top end into the outlet at the bottom of the toilet. (Wear rubber gloves for this step.) Remove your thumb and squeeze the bottle so the water inside shoots down the pipe. The added pressure could dislodge whatever causes the clog.
How it works
This essentially creates an improvised water jet. The rush of water from the bottle might break through the clog. Like the earlier tip about pouring in water, it’s all about finding a way to replicate the powerful push of a plunger.
“The added pressure from the water-filled bottle could dislodge the cause of the clog,” says Khachani. But, he adds, the pressure might not be enough for tougher clogs. “This method has the potential to be messy, and removing water from the toilet bowl may not be practical in all situations,” he says.