Find out how to unclog a toilet the right way. Learn why it's not preferable to use chemicals and get tips on using a closet auger, not a regular snake, if a plunger isn't working.
TOM: Well, if you’ve got kids, who knows what could be stuck in there. We found everything from toy cars to telephones to toothbrushes in ours and here to give us the step-by-step for how to unclog a toilet is Kevin O’Connor, host of This Old House, and plumbing expert Richard Trethewey.
Now, Kevin, as a homeowner, this isn’t something that you can really escape, is it?
KEVIN: Sooner or later, everyone has to do it. Unclogging a toilet is not a very glamorous job but it doesn’t have to be an ordeal.
Richard, what’s the right way to do it?
RICHARD: Well, first of all, there’s no magic chemical you’re going to put down the drain to clear a toilet stoppage and I’m not really a big fan of using chemicals anyway. Oftentimes, they cause more trouble than they solve.
When I’m clearing a toilet stoppage, I start with the tried-and-true plunger. An important tip is that you actually want to pull not push the stoppage. The plunger goes down over the trapway down inside the bowl and when you get a good, tight seal, then you pull up and you create a suction to break that stoppage and then it should clear.
Now, sometimes it doesn’t and you have to go to the next level of defense and that’s called the closet auger. It’s actually a snake that’s made a special way, with a protective back elbow so you don’t scratch the bottom of the toilet bowl. And you get it down inside and then just go down in through the trapway and that always gets it.
KEVIN: And the closet auger is pretty aggressive. What do you do if even that doesn’t work?
RICHARD: Oh, we have plenty of stories about the toilets that drove us crazy. We just – you know, you put the auger down, you did the plunging and you still couldn’t get to it.
KEVIN: Alright, well to learn more about unclogging toilets and to see a cutaway of a toilet bowl, visit ThisOldHouse.com.
TOM: You know, because I am a home improvement expert, one time we had a toilet clog in our house and I knew for a fact it was the willow tree outside getting into the clay drain waste vent pipes.
TOM: So I got my shovel out and I dug down and I opened up the pipe and I snaked one way and I couldn’t find a clog and I snaked the other way and here I am with the hole and the pipe and everything and I'm thinking, “It’s got to be between the hole and the toilet.” So I pulled the toilet off and then I snaked from right below the toilet, right through to the pipe …
KEVIN: And it was still fine, wasn’t it?
TOM: Still wasn’t there. And then, as I went to put the toilet back on, I noticed something blue inside of it. (Kevin laughs) Now, I know toilets and you know toilets and there’s nothing that’s supposed to be blue inside of a toilet and that’s when I found a little toy phone from my cute little, darling son.
KEVIN: Right. And you’re an expert and you admit this story?
TOM: I’m an expert. Right. (Kevin laughs) That’s why I’m standing there with this little plastic phone, a five-foot-deep hole in my backyard and a toilet off the base. (laughs)
KEVIN: (chuckling) It happens to the best of us.
TOM: Richard, Kevin, thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit.
RICHARD: Thanks for having us.
LESLIE: (chuckling) That’s good to know, Tom, because we’re just getting to the point where our son is fascinated by the toilet but he’s yet to throw things in, so I’ll keep that in mind.
Hey, thanks so much, guys.
TOM: Well, to learn more, you can also watch Kevin and Richard on This Old House which is brought to you by The Home Depot. The Home Depot – more saving, more doing.