It’s always annoying when a toilet refuses to flush, and even more annoying when your plunger won’t unclog the toilet! Let’s take look at how plungers work and what you can do to address this common problem.
1. Practice proper plunging technique.
The first step is practicing the right kind of plunging to fix stubborn toilet clogs; the right technique and plunger can make a big difference!
Look for a plunger that has a flange, which means it narrows at the base to create a smaller opening. The flange is an extension specifically designed to fit deep into a toilet bowl and form a more reliable seal.
Next, carefully insert the flange into the toilet. The water level should be above the bell of the plunger if possible. Press the bell against the toilet bowl to form a tight seal and start steadily plunging, which pushes and pulls air through your toilet plumbing thanks to the little vacuum that you’ve created. You can plunge hard if you want, but it’s more important to keep control of the seal so the vacuum stays strong. Continue this motion for about 15 seconds and watch for a sudden decrease in water level that indicates the clog has passed.
2. Turn off the water supply valve.
The water supply valve controls the flow of water to the toilet. Also called the water shutoff valve, it’s located at the base of the toilet, usually where the water line exits from the wall. The valve will have a lever or wheel you can turn to immediately shut off all water to the toilet.
This is an important step to keep toilets from overflowing when trying to flush during a big clog. If the water level is rising and you think it will overflow, waste no time turning this valve off. It can be done in seconds and will halt the flow of water into the toilet, stopping an overflow. It’s a good practice prior to plunging for serious clogs.
3. See if the flapper is having trouble.
In other cases, there may be no signs of a clog and a plunger won’t work, but the toilet still struggles to flush correctly. It may flush too slowly, for example, or resist flushing at all. There are several internal components you can check on by lifting the back of your toilet off: One of the easiest to check is the flapper, or the rubber-and-plastic seal over the flush valve. When a toilet is flushed, the flapper is lifted, allowing water to rush into the toilet. See if the flapper is stuck on something, frozen in place, or warped. Also make sure the flapper is sealing the valve fully, since a proper seal is required for a full flush. If the flapper looks damaged, it’s time to replace it.
4. Check the flush handle and lift apparatus.
If the toilet won’t flush and the flush handle feels strained or unresponsive, start by looking at the handle first. The internal section of the handle could have broken, which means the handle is turning uselessly instead of applying force, and you will need a new handle.
Additionally, the handle is connected to the flapper and lifts the flapper this way: The connection may be a plastic lever, a metal chain or a similar component. Several things can go wrong here. Sometimes chains slip off and need to be reconnected – a very minor and effective fix. Sometimes the lever or chain has snapped, in which case needs to be replaced entirely.
5. Call in a plumber with a drain snake.
At other times, plunging the toilet won’t be very effective, but it will still act just like there’s a clog somewhere in the pipes. This can happen when something goes in the toilet that really shouldn’t, repeatedly, like kitty litter or small toys dumped in by toddlers. This can create a serious jam that normal plunging won’t fix.
The next option is a drain snake, which is an auger attached to a flexible rod that can be guided through pipes and screwed into thick clogs to break them apart and remove them. You can buy a minor drain snake of your own, but if you don’t have any experience with this clogged toilet fix, it’s usually best to leave it to a professional. Call Mr. Plumber, let us know, “My toilet won’t plunge, I think I have a big clog and I need a toilet plunger near me,” and we’ll come to fix your issue.
6. Adjust the water level if necessary.
Your toilet needs a certain amount of water in the tank to fully flush. If the tank water level is too low, flushes will be ineffective. Every toilet has some kind of fill or inlet valve that can often be adjusted to change the water level while still saving water.
Look inside the toilet tank and search for any markings or lines that indicate where the tank should be filled to. If the water level is below that amount, it’s time to adjust the fill valve. Find the fill valve and look for an obvious adjustment screw in the back that can be screwed clockwise to raise the float/water level. Experiment with a few flushes to get the proper level of water.
7. Check for more permanent clog issues.
If your toilet won’t unclog with a plunger but does show some improvement, it may be time to call an expert to inspect your pipes. Scale buildup from hard water and other long-term pipe issues could be making it too easy for your toilet to keep clogging.