We've all had to deal with it: You flush the toilet and nothing happens or--worse--it threatens to flood the bathroom. How do you stop this thing and how do you keep this from happening again?
When it comes to the things that can go wrong in a house or apartment, toilet clogs are among the most common and recurring problems. To deal with a clogged toilet, you need to know how to locate a clog and remove it from the drain line.
Locating a Toilet Clog
To grasp why toilets clog, it is important to understand how they work and learn the basic nomenclature of a toilet's system. For more about this, please see How a Toilet Works.
Toilets can clog right at the fixture or further down in the drainpipes. When the clog is at the fixture, the resulting issues are usually isolated at the toilet itself--the water just doesn't go down the drain.
A stoppage further down the line prevents the toilet from fully flushing and, in addition, may also back-up sewage into a shower, bathtub, or other fixture.
How to Locate a Drain Clog
If you know the routes your home's drainpipes take from the toilet to the sewer or septic tank, you may be able to figure out the approximate location of the clog by considering the location of fixtures affected by it. For example, if a toilet is plugged up and sewage is coming up through the a shower drain near the toilet, you can deduct that the clog isn't right at the toilet or between the shower and the toilet, but rather down the line from these fixtures. (If it were between the shower and the toilet, the shower would not be backing up.)
If all of the home's toilets and lower-floor bathtubs or showers are backing up, the clog is likely to be in the main waste line to the septic system or sewer--or the septic tank may need to be pumped.
How to Prevent a Toilet Overflow
If your toilet is clogged, don't try to flush it a second time--this may cause it to overflow. Instead, lift the lid off of the back of the tank.
Reach in and lift the float ball or the float (depending upon the type of toilet) to stop the flow of water. If you can't get the water to stop running into the tank or bowl, turn off the water supply at the shutoff valve behind the toilet by turning it clockwise.
To make sure the toilet is clogged, lift the flapper to let a little water pass from the tank into the bowl. If the water in the bowl continues to rise, press the flapper back into the flush valve seat to stop the flow.
How to Plunge a Toilet Clog
If the toilet is clogged, try to free the clog by plunging with a bell-shaped toilet plunger. Have a couple of rags handy and wear rubber gloves. To plunge successfully, you'll need to be sure the toilet is at least half full of water. Position the bell of the toilet plunger directly over the center of the toilet drain hole and rapidly push the plunger's handle up and down with 10 to 20 rapid strokes. This should force water and air into the drainpipe and create suction to--hopefully--free the clog. If the toilet begins to drain, this procedure has probably freed the clog. Double-check with a bucket of water--just pour it into the toilet bowl to flush.
How to Snake a Toilet Clog
If plunging doesn't work, the next option is to snake out the toilet with a closet auger, a type of drain "snake" that is designed specifically for toilets--it only goes down about 3 feet. Turning the handle clockwise, work its wiry end into the drain hole until the cable won't go any further. Push it back and forth, being careful not to damage the porcelain, to break through the clog. If it feels like it is hooked onto the blockage, try pulling out the obstacle. If you succeed with the closet auger, plunge the toilet again for good measure.
How to Snake a Deep Clog
You can use a 25-foot drain-clearing drum auger to reach a deeper clog from the toilet's location, but to do this, you will have to remove the toilet first. Though this is not a terribly challenging task, don't get into it unless you first try working the long auger through a nearby drain cleanout or the vent pipe that serves the toilet. (For information on how to remove and replace a toilet so you can snake the drain from directly beneath the toilet, see How to Install a Toilet.)
If the clog is deeper in the drain plumbing system, you will need to snake out the main drainpipes with a long drain auger (or call a drain clearing pro). To do the work yourself, you can rent a commercial-grade a drain from a tool rental supply.