Perspective Newsletter
Spring 2015
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Toilet-clog hacks to try before calling a plumber

clearing clogged toilet

​​​​​Higher, higher ... it will stop any second. Higher, higher ... what do I do? Stop, stop... oh, noooo!

Yup. A toilet clog. An overflowing, never-wear-these-socks-again toilet clog.

If the gross-out factor isn't enough, toilet clogs can flush some serious cash, too. They're a leading cause of home water-loss claims, along with burst pipes and appliance hoses, according to the Institute for Home & Business Safety. A serious overflow racks up an average of $5,584 in damage (think soaked drywall, insulation, and sagging ceilings) after the deductible is paid.

But, you may be able to save yourself the mess and expense with these DIY clog-busting hacks.

1) Never keep flushing. If rising water in the bowl approaches the panic level, shut off the supply valve (the knob on the wall behind the toilet) by turning it clockwise. Or if there's no time for that, remove the tank cover and pull up the float-cup lever. That will quickly avert an overflow because it stops water from running into the tank and, after a little residual water trickles down, into the bowl. That's critical if you live in an apartment or condo, because your mess can quickly become your neighbor's.

2) Pull out a flushed toy. To reach a toy stuck just out of sight, turn a big black plastic garbage bag inside out and put your arm in it. Then, reach into the bowl (with your hand and arm protected) and use your bagged fingers to feel around for the culprit. Fish it out if you can, turn the bag right-side-out again and, voila!

3) Grab the plunger – or go plungerless with dish soap. For many of us, the plunger is a tried-and-true quick fix (fast-forward to step 5). But if you hate the potential mess and have a few minutes to spare, try this. Squirt a half cup of dish soap into the bowl. Let that settle to the bottom.

4) Now, heat things up. Pour a bucket of hot (but not boiling) water into the bowl, assuming the water level has drained down. That may clear the clog within 15 minutes. If not, add more hot water after the level has dropped again. If that still doesn't work, you've at least lubricated the pipe to make step 5 easier. A bed-and-breakfast owner we know SWEARS by this trick!

5) Put on your rubber gloves and plunge. The secret to a good plunge is a good seal, and running the plunger under hot water to soften the rubber will help. Choose a pleated, bell-shaped plunger that has a tapered end to fit in the bowl opening. (The plain cup style is meant for sinks.) Plunge as vertically as possible, focusing as much on the "pull" as the "push" to dislodge the clog.

Still no luck? If you're not ready to give up yet, you can buy a toilet auger (a drain snake for toilets) at the hardware store and follow the manufacturer's instructions. But if that fails, it's time for a pro. You could have a clogged main line, which requires a professional inspection with a sewer camera.