You don’t realize how much you take your toilet for granted until it suddenly becomes blocked. That’s when the bottom falls out of your domestic world and you discover novel uses for a washing up bowl. You know when a toilet’s blocked because when you flush, the water rises up the bowl instead of running away freely. Clearing a blockage isn’t a very nice job to tackle but at least it’s simple and you only need a couple of tools. It also saves the embarrassment and expense of calling someone out to deal with it.
Here’s what to do to shift the vast majority of blockages yourself.
Most likely a ball of toilet paper mush will be causing the blockage at the point where the pipe bends back on itself in a U shape to form a water trap.
This trap is attached below sinks and toilets to hold a standing reservoir of water after you flush the toilet or empty a sink. It provides a seal to stop germs, insects and sewer gas coming up the drains, through your pipes and into your home. As it’s an 18th century invention, let’s first try a suitably low-tech way of shifting it. If that doesn’t work we’ll move onto plan B and C before resorting to blasting it away.
Plan A. Ye Olde Pail of Water
You will need a large bucket, an empty yoghurt pot (apricot flavour) and a pair of bright yellow rubber gloves. Wait for any water in the toilet bowl to seep away, If the level doesn’t gradually go down, it normally means a more serious clog.
Don the gloves and use the yoghurt pot to bail out that devil’s broth into the bucket. Tip it over the neighbour’s fence when they’re not looking as payback for their cat crapping in your garden.
Slink back into the house and feel as far as you can into the U bend of the toilet pan to pull out any material you can reach. Cotton buds, a kilo of heroin, an old plastic toilet freshener, a little rubber duckie, you might be surprised what you find down there. Even if something small is trapped down there, toilet paper could build up around it, eventually clogging up the pipe.
Drag out all the solids and semi-solids you can and empty them into your neighbour’s bin. Go back and fill the bucket with water. Pour it from a height, all in one steady pour, into the toilet bowl and see if that does the trick.
If it’s still clogged after a couple of tries, move onto Plan B.
Plan B- the trusty plunger
There is a special, rectangular-shaped rubber plunger with side flaps especially designed to fit a toilet. If you can get one of these from a specialist plumbing shop, great, it’ll give you the best chance of success.
Pour a little water in the bowl to cover the plunger head and shove it in to seal the opening. Use an even pumping action until you hear the pipe burp and the water level goes down. Flush the bowl.
If the water is still slow in draining away, give it a few more goes.
If you can’t get your hands on a specialist toilet plunger, the plastic style of sink plunger with a corrugated head is your next best bet. They’re more flexible than the old rubber cup and wooden stick stick type and will form a better seal.
If the Plungers-R-Us superstore is shut and you’re desperate, try using an old fashioned mop with the head tightly wrapped in a plastic bag as a plunger; you never know your luck. Just remember to have a little water at the bottom of the bowl so you have something to help form a vacuum.
If neither mop nor plunger or swearing works, move onto plan C.
Plan C-screw it
You can get one of these screw style devices from most hardware stores. Designs vary, but essentially they’re just a really long length of springy metal with a hand crank at one end and a corkscrew tip at the other.
You just feed the corkscrew tip through the bottom of the bowl, turning the handle clockwise as you go. The spring will worm itself around the U bend, along the pipe and hopefully screw itself into what’s causing the blockage. When it’s gone in as far as it will go, keep turning it clockwise as you pull the thing back out.
You’re trying to drag whatever’s causing the blockage back into the toilet bowl rather than push it further down the pipe. If there’s horrible stinky stuff hanging from the end of the auger, that’s promising. Flush and keep repeating the action until the blockage is cleared.
If the tip always comes out cleanish and you can’t feel any resistance to the rod, then the blockage may be much further along the pipe. Time for Plan D.
Plan D- blow it away
At around £30 for a half decent one, a ‘power plunger’ clears blockage by shooting a burst of compressed air down the pipe. Don’t worry; it isn’t as scary as it sounds. You just pump the canister, stick the nozzle down the toilet, making sure the tip is well covered with water, and pull the trigger. The force of of the compressed air creates shock waves through the trapped water to jolt the debris free. As the turbulence can travel a long way along the pipe, it can clear blockages that are out of reach of many augers. Power plunger models vary so be sure to read the instructions properly before you start blasting away.