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. Babs says:

    Years ago a plumber told me drains should whistle after the stopper is pulled and the water drains. Your sink draining was music to my ears.

  2. shelley says:

    May 11, 2022
    Hi Karen
    I love your blog and enjoy many laughs with your humor.
    Anyways I need urgent help before I totally lose it.
    I live in a small wooden cabin behind a house in South Surrey BC. I have been here for 5 years and suddenly I have ants coming in and invading my small kitchen area.
    I have the wilson ant traps outside around the cabin and also inside the cabin under the fridge, under the stove, behind the small counter.
    I got this recipe online…I made a mix of 3 parts powdered sugar 1 part borax and I’m storing it in a screw top canning jar. Apparently ants like sugar & will carry the borax sugar mix back to their comrades and it will kill them.
    I have that mix sprinkled on the fairly flat tops of plastic cottage cheese & yogurt containers all over the kitchen as well as under the stove & fridge & behind the work place counter.
    But they are still appearing and I have no idea where they are coming in from and believe me I have spent a lot of time watching what these ants are doing and where they are going. Most seem to be walking around aimlessly? I live in a small wooden cabin behind a house . I have been here for 5 years and suddenly I have ants coming in and invading my small kitchen area
    I have the wilson ant traps outside around the cabin and also inside the cabin under the fridge, under the stove, behind the small counter
    I made a mix of 3 parts powdered sugar 1 part borax and have in a screw top canning jar.
    I have that mix sitting on the fairly flat tops of plastic cottage cheese yourgurt containers
    Any rapid elimination advice that really truly works besides very toxic sprays as this is a kitchen would be extremely appreciated!

    I urgently need a response from you
    Thanks
    Shelley

    • Kathi says:

      Pest control companies are made for just this kind of problem. They can go around the foundation and eliminate the ants before they come in, and if the ants are not gone, you have someone to complain to, make them come back and do it again.
      I believe ant invasion is a seasonal thing, and has something to do with rain, but even if it’s a new thing for you, it’s probably going to be an ongoing problem.

    • Kathi says:

      Pest control companies are made for just this kind of problem. They can go around the foundation and eliminate the ants before they come in, and if the ants are not gone, you have someone to complain to; make them come back and do it again.
      I believe ant invasion is a seasonal thing, and has something to do with rain, but even if it’s a new thing for you, it’s probably going to be an ongoing problem.

    • Heather says:

      Good morning Shelley, I would recommend laying down some diatomaceous earth where they travel. It is a natural and safe powder that gets into their exoskeleton and they die. It works wonders for all kinds of creepy crawlies! Good luck!!

  3. carole says:

    I am printing this today to give to my staff. It is incredible how many people don’t know how to plunge a toilet. What do they do at home? Always call a plumber??? Anyway, thanks for providing the staff education this week. (I own an assisted living residence with many toilets.)

  4. Leslie says:

    Not once, not twice, but three times my senile upstairs neighbor has clogged her toilet. It then overflows and poo water comes thru the ceiling into my bathroom. It’s just great. And our HOA isn’t doing much about it. Moral of this story? DO NOT BUY A CONDO ON THE FIRST FLOOR !!!

  5. LS Nelson says:

    Yuge public service post! Yuge!
    I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t know how to use a plunger until recently and even then didn’t realize the bit about filling the thing with water. And thank you for suggesting we buy at a local outlet instead of buy it/anything on Amazon. Isn’t he rich enough???!! Smart yes, nice no.

  6. Pippa says:

    If the toilet isn’t completely blocked and you can flush without overflowing, try lots of washing up liquid and a bucketful of hot water (or as much as you can get into the toilet)… let it sit for a few minutes so the poo warms up and is flexible again… when the water level in the pan is low enough, flush. It sometimes takes a few cycles of this but it’s never let me down.

  7. Vic says:

    Hey, Karen.

    I had a nasty toilet experience this past November 1. I call it The Great Sewer Upchuck of 2019. The day after Halloween night and a massive wind and rainstorm, I woke up early, toddled down the dimly lit hall and went into the bathroom, only to discover the bathtub was full of poop water, the toilet was overflowing and all hell was about to break loose. (Guess the squishing underfoot at the end of the hall was a hint of the bad things to come.)

    As it was only 5:30 a.m., I whipped open the window and started bailing. We live in the basement apartment of a raised duplex so that meant stoop, scoop, lift, shove over the windowsill, and fling. And repeat. Luckily I had a cheap (bendable) plastic bucket handy to use as a scoop.

    I also had a proper toilet plunger. Not that the plunging, whenever the level of the water dropped low enough to pause the SSLS&F action, had any impact on the situation at hand. The problem wasn’t in our pipes, it was a result of the plugging of the storm drain on the street. So, all the plunging did nothing, other than make ominous gurgling sounds in the bathtub. It also meant that all the houses and businesses on the upside of the plug were emptying into my bathroom.

    I couldn’t get the screen out of the window, so that added a level of difficulty to the flinging portion of the SSLS&F action. Eventually I managed to pop it out with punch. Don’t know where it went, the windstorm was still in full force. I also lost the bucket. It was sucked out the window after I set it down to plunge.

    After an hour and a half of SSLS&F action the emergency plumber arrived. He didn’t have a pump so he left for 20 minutes to go back to the office and get one. Once he returned (with the pump and reinforcements) I got to go to my sister’s, shower and have a nap.

    The pump remained in action for another 8 hours. The town had to send to Ottawa for a sewer-sucking truck and then the cleanup began. I don’t want to talk about that.

    Last summer a business across the road added a drive thru, and now it appears that water and leaves and whatever else is in the parking lot can flow down onto the street and into the drain. To block it up again. Side note, the town checked it again a couple of weeks after The Great Upchuck and it was partially plugged.

    It has been raining for a couple of hours. I. Am. Afraid.

  8. Bruce says:

    Someone may have posted this, but here it is anyway.
    What are the five words you never want to have to say at a party?

    Do you have a plunger?

    Good article, by the way.

  9. Joe Dingli says:

    ho!ho!ho! Don’t let Santa near your toilet, unless you like dealing with the aftermath.

    Seriously, here is a true story I experienced as a young teenager. we moved to the outer suburbs and Dad built us our first house. This was in 1955. The new suburb was a grassy paddock, subdivided into building allotments and that’s it. The developer, (more than likely a farmer owning broad acres) did nothing except survey the land and got boundary pegs put in separating the lots.

    There were no roads, no sewerage, no gas, no telephone, no fences, no footpaths no drainage (save for a trench between the dirt track footpath and the street), so we had toilets, and showers, sinks and baths emptied into the drain in the street. This was an “outer” suburb, less than 6 Km from the CBD (Center of town).

    The open street drain was often red, because some people had to empty their excess toilet goods into it at night (you weren’t supposed to). and touching with a stick caused a mass wriggling to take place because of the thousands of worms in it, a bit like boiled spaghetti.

    We had a system called “Cash and Carry” , whereby, each week a beautifully decorated tray truck would arrive and the toilet cans picked up by sturdy men from an outside toilet and replaced with clean empty ones .

    This particular day, the usually C & C man walked into our backyard and headed to the toilet. My brother and I looked out the kitchen window into our backyard through a slit below the blinds. The C & C man went into the toilet and pulled out the overflowing can (holds 20 ltr) and put a tight lid on it. It overflowed because of the [party the night before. Any way, it took some brute strength for the C & C man to lift and sit it on his well worn hat Akubra hat.

    Then he started to walk towards the house, balancing the can on his head. On the way, he saw the clothes line and tried to duck, but a little too little as he was a tall man. Then all shit brook loose. The can must have had a rusted bottom, because next thing, he was wearing it on his shoulders, his head had punctured a hole through it. We nearly died laughing so hard, but that’s not all, drenched in piss and shit. he stood up, wiped his face and pulled out a sandwich since it was his lunch time. To our horror, he bit the sandwich and smiled. He picked up what was left of the can and repeated his action at next door’s place. I swear to God that was a true storey, exactly as it happened.

    I examined the “new” can and wondered what the cleaning process was. it seems after rinsing the can, it was dipped in a bath of molten bitumen, so it came out shiny and new. It also covered years of rust, hence why the bottom collapsed with the jolt. The C & C man came next week and this time avoided the clothes line, so we couldn’t laugh again, not so hard anyway.

    This memory has been with me for 64 years, and If I’m feeling sad or down, five minutes recollection has me in bouncing spirits and laughter and I snap back to life.

  10. SuzNKton says:

    Nobody else using a poopspoon?!

  11. susang says:

    I HATE the new toilets that are no smooth at the side. dust, cat hair and everything else seems to collect on the “exposed” drain configurations. I know i’m not making total sense but if you have a newer toilet you know what I am talking about.
    the toilet in my bathroom is only 4-5 inches away from the side of the tub and cleaning the rear side is almost impossible. Who’s brilliant idea was to put all kinds of turns and kinks at the rear side of a toilet? a man right!
    karen, where did you get the toilet you showed?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Susang. If you follow the link to my post on how to install a toilet, I tell you all about including which model there. It’s an American Standard and it’s been GREAT. ~ karen!

  12. Vikki says:

    I hereby award you a “B.S.” degree–cum laude–in Plunger Physics.

  13. Karin says:

    I immediately thought of this hysterical video of a wife listening to her son and husband clean a hair clog out of the shower. I haven’t laughed so hard ***Do NOT drink coffee while watching***
    “Father and Son clean shower drain”
    https://youtu.be/DaxN11uzf90

    • Scout says:

      OMG! I laughed ’till it hurt. My father owns rental units and we grew up helping Dad do just that…….maybe the grand kids should try building some family memories too.

  14. Jay says:

    Hi Karen, I think your site is great and thoroughly enjoy reading your articles… ONE BIG WORD OF CAUTION: In your story, you mention if your toilet is still clogged that you can use a snake, which is very true, but the one your linked to on Amazon is the wrong kind and will permanently damage your toilet’s porcelain inside. Just as there are different types of plungers for sinks and toilets, there are different kinds of snakes to use. What you’re after is called a closet (like water closet) auger – something similar to this:

    https://www.amazon.com/RIDGID-59787-Toilet-Clogged-Toilets/dp/B000H5XSS4

    These have a curved rod/handle that goes into the toilet so as to not scratch it, THEN have the snake after that.. .they work great and won’t damage your toilet’s enamel like a normal snake would.

    Just my $.02

    • Joe T. says:

      I’ll add another $.02 for those that do want to buy the auger/snake that Karen linked for use on sink and tub drains. Pay a few dollars more for one that can also operate when attached to a drill. It looks the same with a similar handle for hand-cranking, but also offers a protruding piece in the middle to which you attach a drill, for the cases where you can’t successfully turn it by hand to penetrate the bends in the pipes. Here’s an example: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07XXPG7DK/ref=sspa_dk_detail_7

  15. Susan says:

    Karen, I had a PhD in plunging when my son lived at home but when I moved east without him, I gifted him my plungers. So when my kitchen sink plugged, I was caught plungeless. I tried all the old tried and trues, the baking soda and vinegar and hot water, and then a ton of boiling water. To no avail. So I put on my thinking cap and came up with the stupidest idea I’ve ever had in all my years of DIY. My old Filter Queen has a top thingy for the hose that you can use as a blower. Lots of pressure. So I hooked up the hose to the blower, set it snugly into the drain and turned on the machine. Did I tell you it’s a double sink? And did I tell you I didn’t seal the second sink? In the time it took me to scream and bend down to turn off the vacuum cleaner, a geyser of water soaked me and about 80% of my kitchen. When I dried off, I put my shoes on and went to the local hardware store and bought a snake. About an hour later, I finally gave in and called a plumber. It was a very humbling experience.

    • Karen says:

      I think everything you did was smart! Keep in mind that’s coming from me, and sure in hindsight, blocking that second hole was a bit of an oversight. But all in all I think you handled the situation perfectly! ~ karen

    • carswell says:

      I have to apologize but I am laughing. I have disabused myself of using alternate solutions to simple problems that require simple tools – that I don’t have – through a couple of experiences like yours.

      Sometimes we are too smart for our own good.

  16. amanda sti says:

    the first time i know that i need to put water in the plunger i think i was doing it wrong all the time thank you for sharing this useful tips

  17. Rena Yong says:

    hahaha Karen you scared me with that $137 price …. and yelling must be so funny theyll be shocked…. is that last plunger a toy ?

    we just love our plunger its good for big boys who really love to eatt a lot… prize is really afforadble only $14 … its a Neiko plunger http://www.bathkeep.com/neiko-60166a-plunger/ thanks for this really helps a lot especially on special occassions

  18. Rebekah says:

    I propose that rather then tilting the plunger to fill with it with water, air in the bell is actually advantageous because air is compressible, like a spring. By compressing air in the bell you can briefly store and then release more energy then just moving the same volume of water, hence the awesomeness of the accordion plunger above. Air in your plunger may also let you use a lower stroke rate, improving the splatter situation in the mildly upsetting first comment. (A small amount of internal water may improve the seal, though.)

    • Karen says:

      Rebekah – That’s very impressive and obviously took a lot of thought, so I hate to tell you that … it’s also wrong. LOL. Sorry. You fill it with water. The spring plunger, (which I’ve never used) may in fact be designed for using with air, but the other plungers are not. They work best when filled with water. Logical or not … that’s the way it is. But if you have the time, you seem to be good at research … I’d like to know why Paul Shaffer always plays “Cult of Personality” by Living Color, in between commercial breaks on David Letterman. Seriously. They play that 80’s song at LEAST once a week. Lemme know! ~ karen

      • Rebekah says:

        Karen,

        Fairly seat of the pants actually, although I am an engineer. Can’t say about Paul Schaffer…. David Letterman is still on?

        You need a little water in the plunger for a seal, but even so the impulse of the air on the water causes a shockwave the likes of which can’t easily be achieved by moving a water-filled plunger. Also, I think you probably have air trapped in the bell no matter what you do, unless you’re working really hard to fill the bell.

        There’s a party trick that demonstrates this: http://www.wikihow.com/Break-a-Beer-Bottle-With-Your-Bare-Hands. Note the empty neck – this won’t work with a full bottle. Also, brown glass bottles are thicker, so go with clear or green.

        PS – Your blog is seriously awesome. Even though you made fun of me. Now, please pardon me while I go shop at your various advertisers’ websites.

      • Karen says:

        Rebekah – LOL. ~ karen

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