Is there anything more terrifying than a toilet about to overflow? A creaking, burbling, malfunctioning monster of a commode is the fear of any homeowner. Fortunately, most common toilet problems can be easily and quickly fixed by diagnosing the correct problem and making a few simple adjustments.
Shut the water off. If your toilet has become clogged, don’t try to flush it or you’ll risk overflowing the toilet. Find the water valve on the wall that connects the waterline to the toilet and turn it clockwise until it stops. Water should stop coming into the toilet tank. With any toilet tank or flushing issue, you’ll want to shut the water off first as a safety precaution. Cleaning up a toilet that’s overflown is obviously the biggest of bummers.
Get a plunger. It’s called the plumber’s helper for a reason. Some plungers have complicated bulb shapes and some are simple suction cups, but you just need to make sure your plunger is big enough to cover the opening at the bottom of the toilet bowl.
Make sure there’s enough water in the toilet bowl to cover the cup of the plunger. It’s easier to have some water to force the clog out with, but now that you’ve shut off the water you can’t flush anymore in from the tank. Get a few cups of water from the sink to add to the bowl if you need to.
Fix the suction cup onto the opening at the bottom of the bowl. Pump it forcefully and evenly. You should start to hear a gurgling in the pipe and feel some pressure building if you’ve created a suction with the plunger. After 5-10 pumps with the plunger, break the seal and see if the clog comes loose. If not, try again. If you can see the clog come up, you can try to flush the water down without turning the water back on. There should be enough water in the bowl to flush it.
If the water all flushes down by itself after plunging, turn the water back on and let it run for a few minutes. When the water settles, try flushing it, but watch carefully and make sure it doesn’t start to overflow. Shut off the water quickly if it does.
Use a plumber’s auger or a “snake.” If the clog is close to the top, the plunger should get it. If it has worked its way down the pipe, however, you might need the heavy artillery. A plumber’s auger, also called a “snake,” is essentially a long wire that you can reel out and guide through the pipe to forcefully dislodge the clog and then reel back up. Aim the tip of the auger into the bowl drain and reel it out. Be very careful not to force it and crank slowly and evenly.
You don’t want to bust a pipe fitting or get the auger stuck. When you’ve run the auger out, or feel that you’ve broken up the clog, reel it back in and try to plunge the toilet again or flush it and see if the clog has worked it’s way through. If you don’t want to buy an auger, you can fashion a simple device with a wire hanger to try to get at the clog.