In one of the first apartments I ever lived in, I was sharing three bedrooms and one bathroom with five other people (and a dog). There were a lot of annoyances with that arrangement, but one of the biggest problems was the plumbing. It seemed like the toilet would clog every other week, and nobody ever wanted to take responsibility for it.
A clogged toilet can ruin an entire day if you don’t have the right tools to fix it. While it would be great if everyone had a plunger at the ready, I know from experience that isn’t always the case, and sometimes you just don’t have the option of running out and buying one. When that’s the case, you need some quick and versatile solutions.
Why does my toilet keep clogging?
Not all toilets were created equal. Homeowners and landlords usually learn this lesson the hard way. Some people will go years without dealing with a clogged toilet, while others will be reaching for the plunger at least once a month. Toilets clog for numerous reasons, some of them because of user error, others because of a design flaw.
The main cause of clogs is non-flushable items being flushed. It doesn’t matter how many times people are told not to flush wet wipes, tampons, floss, or trash down the toilet, everyone thinks they can get away with it just once. Of course, all those “just once”s add up and eventually, you have a backed-up toilet.
The type of toilet you own can also play a factor. Low flow toilets, while generally good for the environment, can lack the water pressure to expunge large waste material. If you’re regularly having issues with low water pressure, consider a newer toilet. Similarly, many newer toilets use air vents to help increase flushing power, but if those vents get blocked, the toilet loses pressure. In these cases, keeping the vents clear will prevent most of your issues.
Bigger problems occur when the blockage is in the sewer or septic system. If you are experiencing frequent clogs or clogs in multiple toilets throughout your home, odds are high that the issue is bigger than just your toilets. You will need to look into your sewer system.
Can I just wait it out?
Most clogs are more of an inconvenience than a serious issue. You may not even have a full clog. Perhaps, when you flush, the water backs up a little and then drains slowly. This means that the water is getting through, it’s just being partially blocked. It is possible that, with enough time, the blockage will dislodge itself. If you want to help it along, you can pour hot water into the bowl.
Yes, you might be able to get away with waiting out a clog, but I wouldn’t count on it. If your toilet is backing up, even just temporarily, it’s likely you’re headed towards a full, nasty clog. Time might be your friend, but why take that chance? Deal with the clog while it’s manageable instead of waiting for disgusting brown water to pour over the edge and onto your socks.
How to unclog a toilet without a plunger?
There’s no reason not to buy a plunger. Good ones are relatively inexpensive, and even the cheapest ones will work in a pinch. Go out and buy one right now, I’ll wait.
If, however, you currently find yourself staring at a toilet on the verge of overflowing and you suddenly realize you don’t have a plunger at the ready (maybe your roommate used it for an art project), don’t freak out. You still have options.
As was mentioned up above, pouring hot water in the bowl might be enough to loosen whatever is gumming up the works. Some people also try pouring soap or dish detergent into the bowl. This will work if you have time to let the soap sit and eat away at the clog. If you try this method, you’ll have to wait a few hours and see if the water drains.
Some people recommend bleach, but some plumbers will tell you this is a bad idea. While it’s safe to use for cleaning your toilet, it won’t do anything for corroding the clog. Also, if you have a septic tank, it’s inadvisable to pour too many abrasive chemicals down your drain.
In an emergency, MacGyver your clog
The tactics I’ve discussed so far are largely passive and involve waiting and seeing. If you have a clogged toilet without a plunger and no time to wait, you’re going to have to get a little more creative.
I’m presuming, if you don’t have a plunger, you probably don’t have a plumbing snake or any drain cleaner at the ready. Don’t worry, you can make like 1980’s TV hero, MacGyver, and come up with a solution using readily available household items.
If the clog isn’t too deep, a wire hanger will make for an effective impromptu plumbing snake. Unwind the hanger and straighten it out. Find a way to fasten a rag or cloth around one end of the line (duct tape will hold in water) and then feed the rag into the pipe. When you hit the blockage, twist the line until you feel some give. This method should work on minor clogs.
Alternatively, you can make homemade drain cleaner with a mix of baking soda, vinegar, and hot water. First, you’ll need to add a cup of baking soda and two cups of vinegar into the bowl. Let them sit for a few minutes and they will begin to work on the clog. Next, take upwards of a gallon of hot water (the more the better) and pour it into the bowl. The water should push the clog-free.
These methods will work in an emergency and assuming the clog isn’t something severe or systemic. If you try both of them and they don’t work, you’re likely going to need to run to the store for that plunger. And if that doesn’t work, I hate to break it to you, but a professional plumber might be your only option left.