How to Use a Sink or Toilet Plunger

First off, may I say I’m sorry you’re here. Because if you’re Googling how to plunge a sink or a toilet, today is probably not a good day for you.

American Standard skirted toilet in bathroom with black and white checked floor.

So you need to learn how to use a plunger. Maybe your sink is clogged or worse – your toilet. I am picturing you, your heart rate on par with a hummingbird, locked in a bathroom with only a smartphone, a plunger and an implausible escape plan. 

If this happens a lot you might want to look into replacing your toilet by the way. And if you’re replacing your toilet but your floor isn’t level it could lead to disaster so in case you need it, this is how you level a floor with self leveling concrete.

I’ll start off with how to plunge a toilet first, because if you’re being chased by poops right now, it’s the most important information to get to.


Alright, a toilet is burping feces at you. What do you do?  Scream in horror? That’s pointless.  You need to get a hold of yourself and deal with this shit show. You need to woman up and learn how to use a plunger.

How to Use a Toilet Plunger

If you’re lucky today you’re learning how to unclog a toilet with a plunger. If you’re unlucky and don’t have one you can skip to the next section about how to unclog a toilet without a plunger.

MATERIALS

  • Towel
  • Toilet plunger

METHOD

  1. Turn the water to the toilet off. You can find the toilet water supply line near the back of the toilet tank.
  2. If there’s no or very little water in the toilet, add water to the bowl until it’s half full.
  3. Insert your plungers rubber cup into the offending toilet over the toilet drain.
  4. Tilt the plunger so it expels the air and fills with water. 
  5. Once you’ve expelled the air in the plunger,  position it over the drain and press it down slowly to push out the last bit of air. 
  6. Plunge the toilet with quick, short up and down strokes (push and pull) trying not to break the seal of the suction.
  7. Your goal is to break up the clog or bring it back into the toilet as opposed to just pushing it through. Your “up” pull is just as important as your “down” push for clearing the toilet clog. Isn’t this gross?
  8. Once you hear the toilet starting to suck, you’ll know you’ve unclogged it.
  9. Turn your toilet water back on.
  10. Go yell at your kids/husband for clogging the toilet. Even if it was you who did it

No plunger??

How to Unclog a Toilet without a Plunger

  1. Fill a bucket, trashcan, or anything you can find several cups of hot water. Not boiling, just hot.
  2. Quickly pour the water into the toilet. The pressure from the water and the heat of it will help the clog release.
  3. You can do this a couple of times, but you might have to remove some water from the bowl in between times to prevent overflowing.

STILL have a clogged toilet?  Try snaking your drain. But if you don’t have a plunger, chances are you don’t have a toilet auger.  You should.  You can get this one on Amazon, or actually put on your shoes and support a local hardware store. 

Pick up a plunger while you’re at it.


Now onto the decidedly less terrifying, clogged sink issue.

How to Use a Sink Plunger

MATERIALS

  • Towel
  • Sink plunger

METHOD

Sink clogs aren’t nearly as terrifying as toilet clogs, but they still need to be dealt with.

  1. Cover the overflow drain if there is one. Just pack it with a towel or wet rag. Doing this helps force the air down into the drain where you want it to go.
  2. Place the sink plunger cup directly over the drain and push it down slowly to press out any air from the cup and create suction.
  3. Plunge in short quick bursts for 30 seconds at a time.
  4. Release the suction and check to see if the you’ve unclogged whatever horrifying thing was in the drain.
  5. Continue until the sink drains freely.

Video

Sink Plunger VS Toilet Plunger

Most people don’t even realize there’s a difference. Sink plungers are flat on the bottom and made specifically for sinks and showers.

Toilet plungers on the other hand have a flange that fits into the drain of the toilet.

A Sink Plunger

Meant for a flat surface like the bottom of showers and sinks

  • A sink plunger has a flat bottom and is shaped like a shallow cup. In fact, it’s also called a cup plunger. It’s usually the unappealing colour of a pencil eraser. The flat cup bottom will suction onto the flat bottom of your tub or sink. You can buy a sink plunger for around $10.
  • You should replace it every so often because this type of rubber will get dry and brittle over time which causes it to crack. If it’s cracked you won’t get proper suction from it.

A Toilet Plunger

Meant for toilets

Detailed shot of the flange and bell on a black toilet plunger.
  • A toilet plunger has a flange at the bottom and it’s shaped like a bell. It’s also called a flange plunger and is usually black.  The flange gets inserted into the large drain of the toilet while the bell portion rests on the bottom of the toilet bowl. They cost less than $10.
  • When you see one in the hardware store the bottom cup is usually pushed up into the top bell! So you’ll look at it and think … hmm … this doesn’t look like what Karen said it should look like. It is. Just flip it over and pull out the flange.    This is probably why a lot of people don’t even know this type of plunger exists.

TIPS

  • Don’t plunge a toilet or sink right after using a drain cleaner. They have pretty harsh chemicals in those things and if they splash back when you plunge can burn you. If you have no other option, be VERY careful and wear gloves and eye protection.
  • Don’t have a sink plunger? You can turn your toilet one into a sink plunger by just tucking the flange back into it.
  • To help prevent clogged drains in sinks and the bathtub, once a month fill the tub or sink with water completely, then release the drain. This creates a great force of water that helps push away debris.
  • No Plunger?  You can sometimes unclog a toilet without a plunger.

If you have a clogged toilet, and God help you, DON’T HAVE ANY PLUNGER, you can still unclog your toilet. Maybe.  


If you constantly get issues where your toilet doesn’t seem to be flushing completely or it just seems weak, it’s probably the fault of your toilet. It’s not strong enough.  Toto and American Standard toilets are both great and easy to install.

No, seriously, you can install your own toilet.   Read my post about when I installed a new toilet to see how easy it actually is. 

They say before you die your life flashes before your eyes. I can tell you that doesn’t happen when your toilet overflows.

When your toilet dies what flashes before your eyes are all the visitors that might show up at your door.

Your neighbour, your mother, a friend, Steve Buscemi, the Pope, Madonna. ANYONE COULD WALK THROUGH THAT DOOR while you’re trying to corral poop with a makeup bag.

Not only do you know the difference between these 2 plungers now, but you know how to use them. YOU are a rock star.  It’s no wonder Madonna visits you.

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How to Use a Sink or Toilet Plunger

73 Comments

  1. Jan says:

    When we built our house (late 1994), the US had just passed the law about low-water-use toilets, so we had to buy the first generation of these new-fangled depositories. What a nightmare (still!). I became so incensed about the frequent use of plungers–by my husband, it was certainly never my job–that I just kept one in each bathroom. To add flair, I had my young girls paint the wooden handle before first use. So each bathroom still has a multi-colored plunger next to the toilet. Yes, I do remove them for big parties!

    • gloria says:

      But a big party may be just the time you will need one the most. I know.

    • carswell says:

      Yanno – I have heard that kind of horror story about low flush toilets but it has never been my experience.

      I originally had two of the cheapest ones going when my ex and I were renovating my house – they were a mere $60 each. They both worked exceedingly well. In fact they worked far better than several 13L flush toilets that I have been acquainted with (the worst being the one I am forced to use at work).

      When I replaced them with more upscale models one of them went to replace the annoying inefficient 13L flush toilet in my SIL’s bathroom.

      My experiences lead me to believe that the efficiency of the flush has less to do with the amount of water used than the design of the toilet and its throat.

  2. Beauty Jackson says:

    THANK YOU! When I moved into my place, they had one of those mamby pamby sink plungers, and I just wanted to swing it around in righteous fury. I bought this nifty accordion plunger (http://www.tk409.com/images/plunger.jpg) that really has made my world a brighter place. It works even faster than the old standard REAL toilet plunger, and I think it only cost a dollar or two more.

  3. Weaving The Web says:

    I love what my cheese shop did with the red plungers:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/hj/3482987/in/set-86443/

  4. Janelle says:

    Um….is there anything you can write about that won’t absolutely thrill and delight your readers, myself included? I mean, honestly…last time I checked in you were on about a pig’s nipple. Now toilet plungers! Way to be fearlessly helpful.

    • Karen says:

      Janelle – *laughing* … Thanks. It’s hard to be anything *but* fearless after the Frozen Yogourt Tampon post. ~ karen

  5. Sharon says:

    Note to hosts: always make sure your bathrooms are stocked with toilet paper AND a plunger (your guests will appreciate it).

    • billy sharpstick says:

      and a toilet brush. I found myself in need of one when visiting someone. I had to go ask for one and was asked, “What do you need that for?” It was embarrassing.

  6. Chau says:

    I probably shouldn’t read this during lunch hour. Duh!

  7. Ange says:

    Fun fact, did you know that you can successful unclog a toilet with saran wrap?!

    I used to work with a guy who hosted a pair of Korean boys for six weeks. One night when my coworker and his wife were in bed, the kids clogged the toilet. Being very very polite Korean kids they stayed up half the night researching ways of unclogging the toilet on the internet (they obviously did not find this post).

    And what they came up with was placing a perfect saran wrap seal over the bowl of the toilet (I’m assuming with the lid up) and then pressing down on the centre of the wrap, which then cleared out the clog! I’ve never tried it myself, but boy were those kids excited the next day when they told their host parents all about it!

    Maybe not so polite after all?

    • Karen says:

      Ange – Now you definitely have my curiosity peaked! ~ karen

    • billy sharpstick says:

      I must research this one. Here ya go: https://homehacks.co/6-genius-ways-unclog-toilet-without-plunger/
      I had a similar idea once. One time we had a toilet back up. I thought it was just a clog. I went out to the garage and manufactured a device to solve this. It was a piece of plywood with stiff foam glued to it with a hole in the middle. I brought in the heavy duty shop vac, inserted it tightly to the hole and turned it on. (IF YOU DO THIS, MAKE SURE YOU HAVE TO HOSE IN THE BLOW, NOT SUCK PORT!!!) It did not work, but mainly because it wasn’t a clog, the entire septic tank and drain field were full and not working. I think this thing will work and will try it next time we have an actual toilet clog. I will probably have to go out and make another one because I have no idea where the first one is.
      BTW, never ever flush the toilet the second time if the first time didn’t work and the level is higher than normal. We had a drunken friend who did this. It spilled out all over the floor. I never asked how he clogged it up in the first place!

  8. Norell says:

    Thanks so much for your post. I needed a laugh this morning and you “hit the nail on the head”!! I too, used that orange one for years and could never figure out why it didn’t work. The black one works great, but I didn’t know about the filling it water. Now I can be a plunger Queen. We have a rule in our house, only one bathroom can be used for “certain things”…………..

  9. Alisha says:

    I’m REALLY curious how (and why?) you acquired a tiny little plunger. It’s adorable but there has to be a story behind it.

  10. kathy says:

    I come from a family of 8 kids and every toilet in the house had a plunger and all of us knew how to use it. When I married my second husband 15 years ago, he thought the way to clear a clogged toilet was over time (meanwhile using the other toilet!) and lots of flushing. I had to teach him (an only child) how to use the plunger. Alas, he still reverts back to his ancient ways occasionally. I did learn something from your post though… I thought the plunger should be full of air rather than water. I guess both ways work, but I will try the water way next time. Thanks!

  11. jjjordan says:

    Hands in air..did anyone get an instruction manual with their plunger? (looking around room) I see, that no one has their hands up. Therefore, I propose that a) we are absolved from any plunger guilt and b) we owe Karen a round of applause for illuminating us on this very important task! I nominate Karen as “QUEEN OF THE BOWL!” show of hands?

  12. Bobbie in Oregon says:

    Karen, Thank you so very much for this post! I may sound deranged by my appreciation of the plunger but…..…..I have one of those black ‘toilet’ plungers and I honestly had no idea the bottom popped out like that. I could not, for the life of me, figure out why I could not get all of the water out of the inside of the think, nor why it was even made in such a way. Now I know! It is because I did not pop the bell part down. I am much relived! I am quite the handy woman myself and was bringing to seriously doubt said handywoman skills and all because of my confusion over a plunger. Each time I have tried using the blasted thing it would bring up feelings of confusion and remorse. But no more! Thanks to you (bopping my head that I didn’t know this already, my father would be so ashamed, you see, he raised me as though I were XY and not an XX). Thanks Karen, love the blog by the way. It is part of my coffee/music/blog, first-person-in-the-office, and morning ritual. Cheers!!

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Bobbie in Oregon! I still think it’s hilarious that people around the world are sitting at work reading my blog. Glad I could help with the plunger pandemonium! ~ karen

  13. Jacque says:

    HA!! My husband is a Marine… and they love to eat… and poo.. We have a giant black plunger… but I *didn’t* know it was supposed to be full of water…. Thanks for that! Next time we have to pull it out (which is usually weekly at least) I’ll have to tell them to fill it with water!

  14. marilyn says:

    so much for my breakfast…

  15. deborahinps says:

    What kind of diet do you have to be on to use that last plunger Karen? Just wondering :)

  16. Amy Schmucker says:

    Ok, there is one idea I never thought writing about. But your just the type of girl who would. Just love it.
    The only time I have ever needed a plunger… is when guests come.. They are the culprit.

  17. jo says:

    I have a girlfriend who is into the art of rubber stamps, so thanks to Canada Post, I mailed her a plunger with a note that said, wood on the top, rubber on the bottom, must be a stamp! LOL, Thankfully the post office let me mail it without packaging, it was pretty funny.

  18. Nancy says:

    Oh my GOD. When my roommates and I moved into our apartment, the stupid low-flow toilet basically clogged immediately, and two of us accidentally both bought plungers. The *red* plunger that we got didn’t seem to do anything so we’ve been using the *black* heavy-duty looking plunger BUT APPARENTLY the bottom part has been PUSHED IN the entire ten months we’ve been here. I never even knew something was supposed to pop out! And THEN we’ve been trying to figure out why all this nasty TOILET WATER was getting trapped inside the plunger. Uuuuggggghhhhh…. Thank you, Karen, thank you for writing about plungers.

  19. Jamieson says:

    Thanks for distinguishing between the two plungers! I have one of each and had no idea why they were different.

    I also bought one of these fancy plungers once:

    http://tinyurl.com/5urrgnw

    It’s the kind where you pull on a handle and you’re supposed to get incredible suction from very little effort – lauded as the first great advance in plunging technology since before WWII, the Big One.

    I used it once. It shot putrid water in my face and I was no longer in such an experimental mood. I didn’t have the nerve to return a used plunger. I reverted to my trusty old toilet plunger and dislodged “the big one”.

  20. Rebecca says:

    I’m already a plunging expert (one useless toilet + one low-flow toilet + two young children who use a giant amount of TP in proportion to their tiny bums = phD in plunging) Now, if you could tell me how to do it without the sh*t splatters I’d be endlessly grateful!

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