How to unclog a toilet – with or without a plunger (or a plumber)

If you're working out how to unclog a toilet easily with or without a plunger, see our expert-approved methods – including dish soap, baking soda, a toilet snake and more...

How to unclog a toilet
(Image credit: Future)

Everyone will need to know how to unclog a toilet at some stage. And naturally, a toilet will usually get blocked up at the most inconvenient of times... Think Christmas Day, a milestone birthday celebration, or a busy Monday morning. E.g., those times when you just about have time to clean the toilet seat!

So, it's important to clear the blockage fast and with minimal mess. While instinct will lead you to get out the plunger, sometimes it won't be sufficient – and sometimes you might not actually own one. Thankfully there are ways to unclog your toilet without a plunger; calling on dish soap, hot water, even baking soda and vinegar for quick, effective results that don't require a plumber.

It's not the nicest job, but still an essential part of knowing how to clean your toilet and your home happy. Keep reading to tend to your toilet, and to get clued up on how to avoid a repeat blockage in the future – with a couple of helpful tips from the experts, your toilet will be free from blockages in no time.

How do you unblock a badly clogged toilet? 

Jake Romano, Project Manager at Mississauga, Ontario's John The Plumber (opens in new tab) does recommend to go down the classic route first if you're dealing with a bad blockage 'Always start with a plunger. But don't be shy with it! You may need to plunge up and down 20+ times. That being said, if there's really no give, be careful. Plunging too wildly can break your seal.'

The experts at plumbworld (opens in new tab) highlight the importance of knowing what type of toilet blockage you're dealing with. 'If you have the first type - slow drainage - it is easy to clear. However, don’t wait for your toilet to become blocked. Early action and regular cleaning are vital for avoiding blockages.' For more severe blockages where your toilet is filled with water, 'transfer as much water from the toilet bowl into a separate bucket before attempting to unblock it'.

Ryan Thompson, a Miami-based plumber of Plumbing Informer (opens in new tab) says, 'One of the easiest ways to unclog a badly clogged toilet is by using a drain snake. When methods like pouring hot water or dish soap down the toilet don't cause the clog to unjam, a physical tool like a drain snake is needed.'

How to unclog a toilet without a plunger

You don't need a plunger to unclog a blocked toilet successfully. Perhaps you're not in your own home on holiday, or simply don't own a plunger. Or, the plunger could not be working. There are a few methods to try using dish soap, cling film and even natural methods like hot water vinegar and baking soda.

How to unclog a toilet using dish soap

Romano recommends hot water and dish soap as a quick fix solution also, if you don't have a plunger to hand. 'I have personally used this trick, and it worked very well. I poured about 1/4 cup of dish soap in the toilet, and began nearly boiling kettles of water, then dumping it in the drain. I didn't boil it all the way, because I didn't want to crack the porcelain. It took many kettles, but after about 15-30 minutes of dumping hot kettles into the toilet, I gave the flush a try, and voila! The blockage was gone! I was shocked at how well it worked, because the blockage was really bad.'

Here's another method to try:

  1. Start by pouring about one cup of dish soap into the toilet bowl so that it covers the entire waterline. 
  2. Leave this for half an hour to start dissolving the matter. 
  3. Next, fill a bucket with hot water and pour this from a height for added pressure, into the toilet. 
  4. Leave for a few more minutes and then flush. If the water level drops you're sorted, if it's not 100% clearing, repeat.
  5. To be on the safe side, finish the process with one cup of baking soda and two of white vinegar for at least half an hour. This will break up any remaining particles.

How to unclog a toilet with vinegar and baking soda

To unblock a toilet with baking soda and vinegar, pour a cup of baking soda or bicarbonate of soda if that is what you have to hand, into the toilet bowl. Follow it with a cup of white vinegar. Allow this to fizz for 20 minutes. Flush; this should have cleared most blockages and left a fresher smell also.

baking soda pouring out of a jar, on a copper spoon with a cork lid

(Image credit: Amazon)

How to unclog a toilet with a snake

Romano recommends using a 'Toilet snake (aka toilet auger)' as an alternative method to unclogging the toilet. 'You stick the long coil into the drain and manoeuvre it through the toilet to dislodge whatever is stuck. Some toilet snakes are 3', and can maneuver through only the toilet – while others are 6' and can manoeuvre through the toilet and the first bit of toilet drains.'

The RIDGID K-3 3-Foot Toilet Auger Snake in stainless steel from Amazon (opens in new tab) is a good investment for this kind of job.

'Be very careful when inserting the snake into the toilet. It's super easy to scratch the porcelain,' he adds.

Thompson explained, 'Put the snake down the toilet and through the pipe. Once you have it in, start to crank it and carefully move the auger through the system. You might need to move it around the curves, so be careful and do it slowly in order to not cause any damage to your pipes. Eventually, you'll hit the clog and at this point, there are several steps to take.

'Either the head will fully push through the clog and split the debris or run right into it. If you didn't split the debris you need to keep pushing until it powers its way through. As soon as it does this, continue cranking in order to clear up any leftover debris to prevent any future clogs. Go up and down and to the sides a few times to get as much debris as possible. Once you're done with that, pull the snake up slowly and carefully. Have a trash bin around to put any debris that comes up because it can get messy.

'For maximum efficiency, run either hot water down it or 1/2 a cup of white vinegar and 1/2 a cup of baking soda. This will help clean up some of the debris left behind.'

How to unclog a toilet using clingfilm 

  1. Dry the surface of your toilet with paper towels, and cover the top of the toilet bowl tightly with 3-4 layers of cling film.
  2. Ensure it is well sealed and then flush the toilet.
  3. The pressure should cause the cling film to balloon.
  4. Press down on the clingfilm gently, which should ease the blockage down the toilet pipe successfully.

How to unblock a toilet with hot water

FIguring out how to unclog a toilet with hot water is one of the easiest (and important, one of the most hands-off) methods of doing so:

  1. To unblock a toilet using just hot water, start by boiling the kettle.
  2. Wait a few minutes after the kettle has boiled, and pour the hot water into the bowl and leave it to sit for three minutes. 
  3. Then, flush. 
  4. This might be enough to soften and push through any blockage, especially if a light blockage. But, if not, try one of our other methods.

How to unclog a toilet when nothing works

If you've tried hot water and flushed the toilet once but the blockage has remained, your next option should be to don rubber gloves and see if you can deal with the blockage by hand. That might range from hooking out the toy your child has stuffed down there to lifting out excessive clumps of toilet paper they've used into a waiting plastic bag. We hate to say it, but it might also mean taking an old knife to a large (let's call it 'organic', sounds better) deposit and slicing it up a little. Try the flush again, and keep fingers crossed.

Romano recommends you 'Remove the toilet lid and snake the drain – if you're uncomfortable at this step, call a professional drain cleaner. What you need to do is unbolt the toilet, remove it, use drain cleaning equipment, clear the blockage, replace the wax seal, and reinstall the toilet. It's a bit of a process, but this will almost always fix a blockage.'

'Other than that, if special drain cleaning equipment like a large drum machine or a hydrojet couldn't clear the blockage.... You'll need to replace the segment of pipe affected by the blockage. This is not very common though.'

Thumbtack’s (opens in new tab) Home Expert, David Steckel suggests that when nothing is working well, 'For a clogged toilet, consider renting a toilet augur or snake from your local home improvement store. In most situations, you'll want to avoid Drano or other liquid plumbers, which can damage your drains and pipes. Renting a toilet augur or plumbing snake will cost about $15 for a day, making this a cheap repair for do-it-yourselfers.'

While you can do some toilet repairs yourself, a professional plumber will know the best way to fix your broken toilet quickly, and without causing further problems to your toilet, pipes or bathroom.'

How to unclog a toilet naturally

If you're keen to avoid chemicals, Romano says, 'I'd use the hot water and dish soap trick I mentioned above. This works surprisingly well. Other people might say lemon juice or vinegar and baking soda... But, in my experience, dish soap and hot water does the trick.'

How to unclog a toilet pipe

Try to clear a toilet pipe using a plumber's rod or drainage rod, or use the Silverline Store Auger toilet unblocker (opens in new tab) sold at Amazon. The blockage is likely to be in the toilet pipes if nothing is visually blocking in the toilet bowl.

A wire coat hanger or long piece of stiff wire can also be bent into a wide curved and pushed into the toilet to unblock it if you don't have a drainage rod. Move it about gently, ensuring it doesn't get lodged or scratch the ceramic. This might be enough to clear the blockage. Flush gently to check.

Don't do this if you have a toilet with a macerator – it might be that the toilet is not blocked, but that it just won't flush because there's something caught around the mechanism.

How to unclog a toilet with a plunger

Working out how to unclog a toilet with a plunger is simple. If you do own one, first of all, ensure that the plunger you use is a toilet plunger and big enough to cover the hole and create a vacuum. 

Plug the plunger over the opening in the toilet bowl and pump it backwards and forwards. If your plunger is small, or not designed for a toilet, and doesn't fit the hole exactly, you can still use it, but flush the loo as you pump the plunger as this will create the necessary force to push the blockage through.

Unclogging a toilet bowl filled with water with a plunger

(Image credit: Getty Images: BanksPhotos Creative #: 185122993)

an orange toilet plunger on a wooden sideboard

(Image credit: Getty Images)

How to unblock a toilet with caustic soda

To unblock a toilet with caustic soda, ensure your eyes and hands are protected as it can extremely damaging if it comes into contact with either. Then pour the caustic soda into the toilet bowl, leave for two minutes (but always check the manufacturer's instructions for full details). Follow with a bucket of hot water from the kettle or hot tap. Flush the toilet, then give it a clean.

How to unblock a toilet with water pressure

If all of the above fail to work, you could try breaking up the blockage using water pressure. For this you will need a pressure washer (opens in new tab) and a pipe cleaning kit to connect to it. Insert the hose into the toilet bowl, switch on the pressure washer and you will see the hose will be pulled down the pipe until it reaches the blockage. If the blockage can be broken down, the water pressure will do this. Again, don't do this if you have a toilet with a macerator – it might be that the toilet is not blocked, just won't flush because there's something caught around the mechanism.

How to deal with blockages in a soil pipe

If you can't see the blockage in your toilet, and the drain (usually sited at the front of your house, just on the property line with the pavement) isn't full of water, the blockage might be in the soil pipe. In this case you'll need to call in a professional to jet the pipe clean. If the blockage seems to be in the soil pipe between your property and the drain beneath the road, you'll need to call your local water company. 

Things you should never flush down the toilet

If you're wondering 'why is my toilet blocked all the time?', it could be as simple as having flushed down items that simply don't belong in the loo. 

Toilets can often get clogged up because they have something thrown down them that they're not meant to cope with, so the easiest way to prevent a blocked toilet is never to flush the following:

clean bright white toilet in an overhead shot, with a gray tile floor

(Image credit: Getty)
  • Too many tissues: If you're using a lot of tissue paper to blow your nose for example, don't throw all 20 of them down the loo; just put them in your bin instead to keep your bathroom clean and your toilet clear of blockages.
  • Cotton pads/balls and cotton earbuds: All of these things are guaranteed to clog your toilet; just bin them instead.
  • Sanitary pads: Sanitary pads should never be thrown down the toilet.
  • (Flushable) wipes: Some companies claim their wipes are flushable, when in reality they aren't. Stay on the safe side and dispose of them hygienically in a bin – they will eventually clog a toilet.
  • Coffee grounds: Ground coffee compacts, and after a while will cause a toilet blockage or (worse) pipe blockage further down the line. Used coffee grounds from your French press should always be put in your compost bin.
  • Food: If you ever use your loo as a food waste disposal system (we're sure this isn't a regular thing, but on the off chance), don't, as it's only a matter of time before it gets blocked.
  • Cat litter: Not all cat litters can be flushed down the toilet, so be sure to check the packaging before you do – and we wouldn't recommend making a habit of this.

Will a toilet eventually unclog itself?

Now you know how to unclog a toilet, it's worth asking – will it ever just fix itself?

'It often does,' says Romano. 'It really depends on the matter that is making the blockage, and how badly stuck it is. For example, a blockage caused by a plastic toy is likely going to be stuck for a long time. That being said, sometimes a toilet clog unclogs after a day of just sitting there.'

Your toilet unblocking essentials

Now, you can breathe easy – knowing your toilet is good to go once more.

Lucy Searle
Lucy Searle

Lucy is Global Editor-in-Chief of Homes & Gardens having worked on numerous interiors and property titles. She was founding Editor of Channel 4’s 4Homes magazine, was Associate Editor at Ideal Home, before becoming Editor-in-Chief of Realhomes.com in 2018 then moving to Homes & Gardens in 2021. She has also written for Huffington Post, AOL, UKTV, MSN, House Beautiful, Good Homes, and many women’s titles. Find her writing about everything from buying and selling property, self build, DIY, design and consumer issues to gardening.

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