It’s rare that anybody makes it through life without encountering a blocked toilet at one time or another. Whether it’s our own unfortunate doing, the aftermath of a party, a reminder of an inconsiderate guest or the result of a child deciding to use the toilet to store their toys, eventually a toilet will fail to empty when it’s flushed. A blocked toilet is a major inconvenience, especially if it’s the only toilet on your property, and needs rectifying before it becomes an unhygienic embarrassment. Fortunately, if you’ve been wondering how to fix a blocked toilet, it’s a straightforward process that should only require a couple of tools and a few minutes of your time.
The first and most important thing to remember when you’re trying to unblock a toilet is to not flush it. It can be tempting to flush again in the hope that the added water pressure might dislodge the blockage, however you’re more likely to end up flooding your bathroom, especially if the blockage is completely watertight. In these cases, there’s only one way for water to escape the toilet pan and it isn’t where you want it to go. Hopefully, any water from your initial flush will eventually drain past the blockage and you can begin trying to clear it.
You might not need to shut off the water supply to the toilet but it’s a worthwhile precaution, especially if water is running into an already full toilet pan. There should be a stop valve on the pipe that supplies water to your toilet, typically to the left as you face it. Older pipes might require a flathead screwdriver to shut, while many modern pipes have a built-in handle to make your task easier. In either case, you’ll need to twist the valve 90 degrees in order to shut off the toilet’s water supply, letting you complete the rest of your task with confidence.
While your bathroom floor is likely waterproof, whether it’s tiled or covered in another watertight material, you probably don’t want to spend any time cleaning up the contents of your toilet. With this in mind, it’s worth taking a few minutes to prepare the area around your toilet to prevent a more extensive clean-up. This can be as simple as placing some old newspapers or unwanted towels around the base of your toilet to catch and absorb any water that might escape, especially if you have a total blockage and a pan full of water.
Ideally, you won’t need to submerge your hands in anything too unpleasant but it’s worth protecting them in any case. Any pair of long rubber gloves will do the job; just be sure that there aren’t any holes, given the nasty germs you could be dealing with. If you take gloves from your kitchen, you’ll want to keep them separate and use them exclusively for toilet cleaning, to avoid spreading germs.
Before heading to your nearest DIY shop, check whether or not you can see the blockage and, if so, attempt to dislodge or remove it. A toilet brush might be able to break up the blockage well enough that it can pass through the plumbing system. If you’re reading this article, however, you’ve likely already used your brush to little effect. A stick can offer a stiffer solution but make sure you use something that won’t damage the finish of your toilet, an old wooden broom handle is ideal, and be prepared to dispose of this item when you’re done. If the forceful approach doesn’t work, you’ll need to use plumbing tools instead.
One of the best ways to dislodge a toilet blockage is to use a plunger. For this task, you’ll want to use a toilet plunger, as opposed to a traditional semicircular sink plunger (the familiar Dalek arm); toilet plungers feature an extension collar, a long piece that can be pushed further into the siphon to create much greater suction. Press your plunger on the siphon and begin gently plunging; don’t use too much force initially as the vacuum effect might spray filthy water over the surrounding area (including you). Ideally, your plunger should be entirely underwater, as this will help create a seal around its edge and the water itself will create more pressure when pushed towards the blockage.
If your trusty plunger fails to shift the blockage, the best alternative is to use a plumbing snake, also known as a drain snake or plumbing auger. This long tool features a coiled end that is designed to grab or pierce anything it encounters in your pipes and can be found at most DIY stores, as well as some larger supermarkets. A snake can help in situations where a blockage is further into your pipes, especially an incomplete blockage which might not be moved by plunging. Your first goal is to push the auger down the toilet and around the S-bend; hopefully, you won’t have to push it too far before encountering the blockage. Try to push the end through the blockage to break it apart. If this doesn’t work, pull it back and the coiled end might snag the blockage, bringing it back into the toilet pan where you can remove it.
There are plenty of supposed chemical solutions for toilet blockages. These include home remedies such as a mixture of baking soda and vinegar, as well as chemical products such as bleach or drain unblocker. If your blockage is caused by an accumulation of grime and dirt in your pipes, these solutions might work but in many cases you’ll just be filling an already blocked toilet with potentially dangerous chemicals. More potent chemicals can also damage the finish of ceramic toilets if they’re used for prolonged periods (which is unavoidable if they’re trapped in the toilet by a blockage). If you’ve already tried the chemical method before attempting any other steps, be sure to wear rubber gloves and protective goggles. Plunging in particular can be a messy process and you don’t want bleach being launched into your face.
The final step in any DIY plumbing guide is to call a plumber. It may seem excessive to call a plumber for a blocked toilet but there’s no shame in it, especially if you’ve already tried the other steps without success. If the blockage can’t be reached by a plumbing snake or is situated within the inner workings of the toilet, it’s best to call for professional help instead of taking apart your pipes. A plumber will be able to use professional tools to remove your blockage, while also giving the rest of your plumbing a deep clean, ensuring it works smoothly in future.
If you’re suffering similar problems with bath, basin or shower wastes, you should check out our article on how to deal with them. Or, if you’re looking to add a new (and probably less likely to block) toilet to your property, you can view our extensive catalogue at HeatandPlumb.com.