Repairing Toilet Blockages and Stoppages
My toilet is blocked. When I flush it the water rises to the top of the bowl... or overflows! What can I do to unblock it?
Toilets can get blocked in all sorts of ways. Too much paper is a common problem, or trying to flush sanitary napkins, paper towels, diapers or articles of clothing! Don't laugh... I've seen this and more unpleasantness over the years. Once I found the remains of a broken nightlight jammed inside the delicate curves of a toilet!
Note: These tips will probably be useless if the blockage is systemic, affecting your entire drain system. In that case, a professional with a power auger (or a really motivated do-it-yourselfer with hip boots) may be needed to clean your main lines!
Flushing away minor blockages with a "water blast"...
Most sudden clogs in toilets are the result of trying to force a basketball through a garden hose. Though your toilet bowl looks cavernous, the fact is that it can only accommodate objects a few inches across. A large quantity of paper can cause the flushing action to slow down enough that the bowl does not empty, sometimes causing an overflow. A second flush may produce a flood!
Let the level of water in the toilet drop to about half-way. Be patient... this could take from a few minutes to a half hour. Then, quickly pour three to five gallons of water in the toilet bowl. I find a five-gallon bucket particularly useful for this task. This will virtually blast the clog through the toilet into the larger drain pipes below.
Repeat this procedure once or twice more (three's a charm to the superstitious). Now flush the toilet once to restore the proper water level in the bowl and convince yourself that this simple procedure actually worked!
What about using a toilet plunger?
If the toilet is so blocked that the water blast does not work, a plunger is the next option to try. The graphic at the left is a modern plunger with a cup extention for greater pushing power. Old fashioned plungers with open-ended cups are not worth wasting your money on. The same can be said for many of the more exotic, multi-colored plungers that look more like brothel-toys than tools. However, if the match your water closet decor who are we to judge!
Insert the plunger into the bowl so that the wider part of the cup is pressed firmly against the bottom and push the handle in, collapsing the cup and expelling the air into the drain. This first pump is the least effective. The following pumps will be decidedly more forceful because they will be pushing more water and less air.
Continue to pump in and out until the water drains from the toilet. It shouldn't take more than a dozen pumps to get results... usually much fewer.
To keep the mess to a minimum, cover the floor around the toilet with old newspaper or rags. You can also drape towels over the top of the toilet to minimize the inevitable "splatter" that always happens when using a plunger! Oh... and eye protection is advised, too!!
Using a toilet auger for more stubborn blockages...
Sometimes, even after blasting the toilet or persistent plunging, the blockage is still in place. Now it's time to pull out the big gun... the toilet auger, a plumbing snake within a bent metal sleeve designed to negotiate the bends in a toilet without scratching the china. It has a rubber or plastic "boot" on the curved end that touches the bowl for extra protection.
The typical toilet auger has a three-foot flexible shaft or "spring" with a slightly larger coil on the end called the "head" (see graphic) that does the actual cleaning. There are more sophisticated augers with different heads and longer lengths, but for the homeowner they are generally unnecessary (and quite a bit more expensive).
The auger is devilishly simple to use. Pull the crank through the hollow body of the auger till the auger "head" is against the bent protective sleeve. Insert the auger head into the toilet till the protective sleeve is against the waste hole, with the head facing away from you.
Hold the auger frame steady and turn the crank while pushing the auger spring into the toilet. Getting the head past the first turn can be a little tricky with some toilets. Be patient and use "finesse" instead of force! As the auger head twists and turns through the bends in the toilet, blockages are broken up, loosened or moved along.
If you meet any difficult areas, work the auger spring in and out as you continue to negotiate the bends in the toilet. Once the auger spring is fully extended (last graphic), the head has cleared the toilet flange and the first few feet of the drain pipe... hopefully the local blockage has been broken up. Remove the auger and rinse it clean.
If the auger spring will not move completely through the toilet despite your finest efforts, you may have a solid object within the toilet. This may require removal of the toilet, followed by pushing the auger in from the bottom of the toilet to dislodge "it"... whatever "it" may be!
Some objects will lodge themselves between the base of the toilet and the flange. Removing the toilet will allow you to extract these interesting objects, too!
Important! Avoid moving the body of the auger in and out as you work... at least any more than absolutely necessary. Keep it in position with the protective sleeve pressed against the toilet. Moving it may produce PERMANENT SCRATCHES in the china!
Now, get that 5-gallon bucket out and blast the toilet with a bucketful or two to be sure the offending matter has moved to that great septic tank in the sky!
It's time to do a test flush. Before you do, pick up the auger for one last time, hold it in your right hand while you flush with the left. Stand proud while you let that toilet know just who's the boss!