The Beginner’s Guide to Clogged Toilets

It’s your worst nightmare. As a guest in someone’s home, you try to flush their toilet, only to be met with a rising water level that is now threatening to spill over. You reach behind the horrible thing and shut off the water valve just in time to stop an overflow, but now you’re left with a toilet filled to the brim with dirty water.


How can this mortifying situation be prevented? Perhaps more importantly, how can you prevent it from happening to guests in your own home?


What Can Clog a Toilet?

Okay, so we don’t have to go into too much detail about what clogs a toilet. You have a pretty good idea. Apart from the “natural” clogs that can happen, children will often try to flush toys or other objects down the toilet just to see what will happen. Then there are pets.


This could mean one of two things. Either you have a startlingly intelligent pet who also wants to see what happens when they try to flush their toy down the toilet (it happens!), or you are flushing an ex-pet down the toilet. We’re talking about a dead fish’s “burial at sea” or, completely inadvisable but also less rare than you’d hope, flushing dead pet birds.


There are really only a few things that should ever be flushed down a toilet – water, toilet paper, and . . . specific types of organic waste. Those are all that a toilet is designed to handle, and sometimes it has barely enough force to handle even that. So it’s best to give those poor dead pets a proper burial instead – or at least a “burial at landfill.”


Other reasons for a clog could be related to a broken or clogged leach line or even a tree root growing into the pipes. If plunging the toilet doesn’t fix the problem, chances are likely you have one of those issues.


Symptoms of a Clogged Toilet
One of the main warning signs that your toilet is on the fast track to being clogged is a slow or partial flush. If it takes a long time for the water to disappear or multiple flushes to get it all down, there is most likely a blockage somewhere. It may only be a matter of time before it becomes clogged completely – and it’s much easier to dislodge a clog in the early stages.


Another symptom of a clogged toilet is unusual sounds when you flush. If there’s a gurgle that wasn’t there before, even if the water level recedes as quickly as it normally does, there may be a problem developing.


If a tree root or faulty leach line is to blame for your backed-up toilet, it’s time to call a plumber. If, however, the cause is due to an obstruction in the S-bend of your toilet, there are things you can do at home to remedy the problem.


How to Unclog a Toilet
Everything in the house seems to be on hold until you resolve a volatile toilet situation. So how do you fix a clog quickly? There are conflicting reports.


Some say you should pour boiling water down the bowl, which will break up any clog in seconds. That’s all well and good if a solid object isn’t causing the clog or if water isn’t already filling the toilet bowl to the brim; plus, that particular method doesn't work for everyone.


Others say to use an auger or a plunger, mistakenly thinking it’s the outward pressure that forces the clog to break up. FALSE! It’s the suction that pulls the clog loose – putting too much power behind the push could actually result in a leak via the wax seal at the base of your toilet.


So what’s the correct (and safest) way to unclog your toilet?


Here’s a quick step-by-step guide:

  • Wear gloves to protect yourself from E. coli bacteria and other sinister things. You might even want to go so far as to wear safety glasses and a mask if you think you’ll get splashed on.
  • Turn off the water shutoff valve behind the toilet by twisting it clockwise.
  • If the toilet bowl is full, the water is not draining, and you’ve waited a while to try and let the water level go down on its own, you’re going to have to scoop at least half of it out before plunging.
  • Be sure to use the right plunger for the job. Traditional suction-cup plungers are much better suited to your sink. A flange plunger has much more vacuum power.
  • Pop the flange of the plunger out and put the plunger in the (approximately halfway full) toilet bowl. Fit the flange into the hole and press down slowly to compress all the air from the cup.
  • Pull back on the plunger firmly to create a strong suction through the channel. Wait a moment to see if the water level is going down. Repeat the “slow push, firm pull” motion until you see a change.


If the water level still doesn't go down or the toilet overflows yet again when you flush, you may want to enlist the aid of our professionals at EZ Plumbing. Unclogging a toilet is a dirty job, but very much worth the trouble—especially if it saves you the cost of replacing a saturated bathroom floor.


Call our 24-hour, on-call plumbing service and let EZ Plumbing help you with your clogged toilet today!

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