Clogged toilet

CLOGGED TOILETS, YUCK!

SO YOUR TOILET IS CLOGGED

LANDLORD TOILET TOOLKIT ITEMS: 

  • RUBBER GLOVES
  • PAPER TOWELS or Regular Towels to be washed (ewww gross!)
  • Trash Bag(s)
  • Toilet Plunger – (Mushroom SHAPE with a hollow STEM on the bottom or Accordion shaped).   I have found the accordion type to be wimpy unless they are made of higher quality plastic/rubber. If it is 100% “Dollar Store Plastic” (including a hollow plastic 1-piece handle), run away!  Also, an old-school rubber plunger can get to hard to plunge quickly, so since they are so economical, keep a good one handy, don’t be caught with a “too wimpy” or “too hard” plunger.
  • 5-Gallon Bucket with handle (2 buckets are often needed, so get some that stack well)
  • Small bucket or dipper/scooper (2-4 cup capacity, like a quart-size paint can with a handle works well for this)
  • Large container of Dishwashing Detergent (Dawn, Palmolive, or Dollar-Store brand)
  • Access to hot water or tea kettle water heating devise (electric instant hot water kettle or camp stove to heat water in a normal kettle or pan)
  • Heavy duty toilet auger. 
  • Mop – preferably a disposable mop head type
  • Floor & Toilet Cleanser – Lysol, Fabuloso (smells very nice), Pine-Sol (blue – just smells better), etc. 
  • Allen wrenches (a small assortment) just for toilet use to clean out the holes around the rim where water enters toilet – helps future flushing.
Good quality auger
Toilet plunger

Toilets don’t get clogged without help. Someone has to do something to cause a clog to happen, or so I thought. Come to find out, my own toilets in my home tend to get a clog when not used for long periods of time. We have 4 toilets and a urinal in our home. It’s just me and the hubby these days and he travels a lot for work. If he’s gone long enough, his urinal apparently grows some sort of moss in the pipes beyond the “U” trap and they tend to stop up his urinal from time to time. I’ve had to learn to flush it every few days to keep the moss build-up from happening, but that’s not what this article is about at all! When a toilet gets clogged, the cloggER knows something’s amiss, but whether or not they will tell anyone is the problem. Most of the time they don’t say anything because it’s embarrassing. Either they laid a goos egg the size of elephant droppings, or they used way too much paper for a messy job. Whatever the case, we get clogged toilets from time to time. This is one girl, trying to teach other girls (or open-minded men) just how to go about clearing the toilet with as little trouble as possible. Having supplies on hand, and following these directions will certainly save you a lot of trouble. Keeping a bucket with these supplies will make your life much easier if clogged toilets are a continual problem with you because you are a landlord or building maintenance person. Do yourself a favor, create a Toilet Tool Kit and make your life a better place.

So, you are faced with the possibility that YOU clogged a toilet, what do you do? 

  1. WAIT AND WATCH when you suspect you’ve clogged the toilet. 
  2. NEVER flush twice just to HELP a large deposit go down! There’s nothing worse than a clogged toilet, except for an overflowing toilet that has a large deposit. 
  3. NOTICE WHERE THE WATER LEVEL IS.  (Normal, High or Low). Is it seeping down at all? If so, plunging should help. If not, keep reading.
  4. If it just happened, you can observe and listen to see how bad the clog is. 
  5. If this is a tenant’s clog, or a rehab project, you’ll just have to begin the following processes.

WHAT IS THE CONDITION OF THE WATER IN THE TOILET?

WATER LEVEL IS HIGH (somewhere between normal level and the rim):  Never flush again to see if it will simply “GO DOWN”, chances are, you will overflow the toilet and the NASTY that is in the toilet is NOW on the floor and on your shoes. (GROSS).

If the water is all the way up to the rim and about to spill out (or has already) PUT ON your GLOVES, get the 5-gallon bucket and the smaller scooper to take water out of the toilet and put it into the bucket to lower the level so you can try to plunge.  Too much water in the bowl will lead to gross stuff on your shoes, but when plunging, about 3/4 full of water is good.  Plunging is a fine art, so watch yourself to get the right amount of plunging vs. sloshing. ALWAYS USE GLOVES!  POO IS ACTUALLY A BIO-HAZARD! I keep a box of “painter’s” rubber gloves in my tool-kit. Placing old rags/towels around the toilet is also a good idea to catch “sloshes”. (REMEMBER: when you take used towels back home to wash use rubber gloves while handling these.  You may not want to keep these towels, which is why paper towels are a great substitute.  You can use your trash bag to gather all these used items and throw them away rather than thinking they can be sanitized again.)

NORMAL WATER LEVEL: This may actually be good news.  This may mean that the toilet was ALMOST clogged or is only partially clogged.  Use your plunger first to push the clog further out.  This may lower the water in the bowl a little, after plunging, a flush MAY do the trick as long as the water level is not above the normal level.  Most toilets can hold 2 times the tank’s water, but NO MORE! So if the water level is below normal, try to flush after plunging.  

CAUTION: If the toilet has been sitting for a long time (clogged), a low water level may just mean that the water has seeped out around the clog or may have evaporated, so you may still have a clog, an old dry clog.  Regardless, if the water level is lower than normal, you can flush ONCE to check on the clog or better yet, see “DISHWASHING SOAP TRICK” below.  

After flushing, if the water level quickly goes above the NORMAL line and stays there, then the clog is still there. If it goes up (which is a little scary) but then suddenly goes down, this may mean that the weight of the water has managed to push the clog on down.  Usually the water will go WAY down, at this point (physics at work), you have just sent the clog on it’s way to poop-heaven and it took your bow’s water with it. As long as the water in the bowl is at or below “normal” you can flush once more to check on the clog. If the water level is still above normal, plunge again, and repeat these steps.

NOTE:  A plunger doesn’t work well when the water level is too low because you need the water to help move the clog. If the water level is low and you WANT to plunge, you can flush a 2nd time if the water level is lower than the NORMAL level, or you can pour more water into the toilet using your bucket.   (SEE “IF PLUNGING DOESN’T WORK BELOW”)

PLUNGING: 

  • As you put the plunger into the toilet, allow water to fill the stem/mushroom inside area of the plunger.  Some air is ok, but clogs are best cleared by forcing water down the drain (rather than air). 
  • Push and pull the plunger down/up quickly and forcefully to force water from the bowl down the toilet drain. 
    • If the toilet is too full of water, it will slosh out all over your shoes. Solution, remove some water with a small scooper into your big bucket) 
  • After 10 or so vigorous plunges, take the plunger out to see if the rest of the water will quickly drain from the bowl.  If it goes down, it will most likely leave the water level very low.
  • Water leaving the toilet after plunging, even if the water level is really low at this point, is a fantastic sign.  Flush the toilet if the water is below normal. If it appears to be working normally, flush a few more times to double check.  
  • If it still drains very slowly (not normally) you aren’t done. Try plunging again.  Sometimes you need to plunge several times to get the clog clear. 

IF PLUNGING DOESN’T WORK

DISHWASHING SOAP TRICK

If the toilet is filled to the brim with nasty water and plunging didn’t work, it is best at this point to remove a lot of this water (down to the normal but preferably well below normal water level), so use your RUBBER GLOVES, your 5-gallon bucket and your small scooper to get this water OUT of the bowl.  We will use the weight and velocity of some NEW HOT water to help clear the clog. Dispose of the old toilet water, or use a 2nd bucket for the rest of this.  You can always dispose of the removed nasty water back down the toilet after the clog is gone.

Next:  Pour a generous amount of  Dishwashing detergent down into the toilet (1/2 – 2 cups). It will sink to the lowest part of the toilet. No need to stir, etc. It may bubble for the first couple of flushes. No worries.  If you are on a septic system, you may want to use septic friendly detergent.

Fill your 5-gallon bucket about 1/2 full with HOT water from a tub or sink faucet. Tub water is generally FASTER for filling and most buckets will fit under the faucet.  (DO NOT USE BOILING WATER, but as hot as the tap/water heater will put out). If you don’t have hot water, you can boil water or use a coffee pot or tea kettle to help heat the water, but make sure it’s not TOO hot especially if you are working in a cold house, you could crack the toilet with hot water. The water should be as hot as the hot water heater will produce. NOT BOILING! 

Pour the HOT water QUICKLY FROM ABOVE THE DRAIN (hold the bucket high, don’t just let it lay on the rim of the toilet and “slip” the water into the bowl). Don’t, of course, overflow the toilet. Gravity and the force of the water being poured quickly helps force the clog to move.  This works best if the toilet bowl doesn’t have too much water already in it, so scooping water out is vital.  The hot water will force the dish soap down into the drain helping to lubricate the pipes and will help the clog to slide through the pipe. The hot water will make it more slippery and the fast pace and weight of the water will also help to push the clog down then pipe. 

If the water in the bowl moves down quickly, you may have just unclogged the toilet. If the water level is at or below normal, flush once. If it flushes normally, wait and flush again.  If it acts normally, you are good to go.  You can now pour the nasty water back into the toilet, then flush a few times to get it to all go away. 

IF, however, the clog is still there and the hot water is all piled up in then bowl, you can TRY plunging again now that the soap is in the bowl/pipes to see if the clog can can be cleared.  This works sometimes, but if it doesn’t, you’ll need to “SNAKE” it with a toilet auger.  

A word about AUGERS:  There are really cheap snakes that are sold at the hardware stores that are simply a giant springy-looking thing with a couple of metal bits on them that I never fully understood how to use. Me, being a landlord and knowing that clogged toilets are going to happen probably more often that I’d like, decided to go bigger, but not overboard.  So I bought a professional “RIGID” auger.  It’s not powered, it is not for a HUGE house’s entire drainage line, it’s strictly for toilets.  The one pictured here I bought for $26 +/-. It runs on “JANNE” power, not electricity.

The ORANGE bit at the bottom is to help you avoid scratching the toilet bowl. The upper two orange bits are handles. The windy-spring looking “snake” bit with the large ball near the handle is what clears the clogs.  This model is nice in that when you pull the snake part up into the vertical pole, it is encased inside a second metal sleeve so you will never touch it, but always wear your rubber gloves just in case. 

BEFORE AUGERING: stack 3-4 paper towels on the floor beside the toilet and put on your RUBBER GLOVES. I put on my rubber gloves before touching the auger as it has been used before. 

TO DO the AUGERING:  Pull the uppermost crank-handle all the way out of the PIPE section to pull the snake up into the pipe so that only the very end of the snake is sticking out of the pipe at the very bottom of the pipe. This auger has an inner metal sleeve that covers the snake to help you avoid ever touching the snake.  The orange bit at the bottom is there to keep you from scratching your toilet. The snake will only have the bulb-shaped portion sticking out of the lower pipe when the handle is in its “OUT” position (this makes the auger about 6’ long when the snake is inside the pipe).

Insert the lower orange curved piece into the lowest point of your toilet bowl at the drain and lean the entire auger so that the snake is sort of facing upwards into the toilet drain pipe. The two handles will be far apart.  You will now push the crank-handle toward the pipe handle, shoving the snake into the drain pipe of the toilet.  Keep the auger’s plastic curved piece firmly in place at the bottom of the toilet.  The crank handle/pole needs to be forced downward so the snake will be forced down the curved drain. You’ll need to wiggle the auger, adjust the angle and shove hard to bring the 2 handles together as shown in the picture.  The snake part of the auger will have a few issues getting all the way down into the toilet’s curvy pipes. If it won’t seem to go, try adjusting the angle of the auger, but keep the orange bit at the bottom on the bottom of the toilet.  Once the auger looks like the picture again (the 2 orange handles are close together, crank the handle a bunch (20 times or so) in one direction, then turn it back in the other direction, back and forth many times. Once the clog is cleared, excessive turning will help remove clog bits from the snake.  You may not know exactly when the clog is cleared many times, so more turns of the handle won’t hurt anything.  By this time you will know how hard it is to get the snake into the toilet, so be sure to turn the handle lots as you don’t want to have to do this again.  

Now it’s time to remove the snake/auger from the toilet. I, because I don’t want part of the clog to be stuck to my snake, I will jiggle the handle back and forth (up and down) as I pull the crank handle away from the pipe’s handle.  You’ll need to pull the crank handle all the way up until just the ball of the snake is at the entrance to the pipe (the orange bit at the bottom) as it was when you inserted it into your toilet, so you don’t scratch the toilet bowl.  Shake the water off of the auger and remove it from the toilet and set it on the prepared paper towels you put beside the toilet and lean it against the wall so you can check the clog/flushing of the toilet. 

Now use the steps above to check to see if the clog is cleared.  Use your bucket to pour water into the toilet, or if the water level is below “normal” you can flush ONCE. If the toilet flushes normally, you are done.  If not, you may need to repeat the Auger process, or try plunging again, your choice. 

Once you are finished with the clog, and the snake is back in then pole (the handle will be way up in the air), to store it, I use the paper towels on the floor to hold onto the snake and wipe it off as I pull it back out of the pipe so the two handles can once again be in their closed position.  I use the paper towels to wipe down the entire snake.  It will rust over time.  I put it out in my garage to dry fully to help keep the rust away.  They have more expensive augers, some that are longer to clear a clog that is not right up at the toilet, which you may eventually need, but for most “naturally occurring clogs” caused by poo or paper, this is an excellent mid-priced piece of equipment you’ll thank me later for making you purchase! 

Note: These methods may not be as effective on clogs caused by kids flushing a Superman figurine down the toilet. You need to make sure your lease states that these types of clogs will be charged to the tenant! If your lease doesn’t cover this, you will be financially responsible for these clogs.  If it’s not in your lease YET and you are currently working to clear this type of clog, create a lease addendum stating that UN-NATURAL items flushed down the toilet causing a clog will be the financial responsibility of the tenant.  You can also add that it is now the tenant’s job to clear the natural clogs, or a fee of $_____ ($25 – $100) will be charged on all future clogs as this is something that most people are capable of doing, but just don’t want to do until there is a dollar sign attached to the process. I would use this as a life-lesson, as I call it, to teach the tenant how it’s done from trouble shooting all the way through the auger process.  Educating tenants one at a time is not really effective, but maybe they’ll teach their mother, brother or neighbor so that eventually the whole world will know how to unstop a toilet. Probably not, though.  Wishful thinking!

ONCE YOUR CLOG IS CLEARED:   It doesn’t matter who’s toilet it is you have just unclogged.  You had the duty to get rid of the clog.  Just because the clog is gone, the job is not done (sorry, not sorry for all the puns in this sentence). CLEAN UP BEHIND YOURSELF.  Clean the space and your tools.   This is the RIGHT thing to do.  Don’t leave a mess for your tenant.  This may be the only cleaning/sanitizing your rent house will ever see!  Take some Fabuloso/Pine-Sol or some other cleanser and WITH YOUR RUBBER GLOVES STILL ON, clean the toilet with the cleanser and paper towels.  Clean the under side of the rim well, clean the floor around the toilet, wipe off the toilet bowl inside and out. Use an Allen wrench to clean out the holes under the rim where the water enters the bowl when flushed.  You’d be surprised how minerals build up and because of low/slow water flow, the toilet will clog again.  Leave it sparkling clean and above all, smelling fresh.  If this is a tenant’s toilet, show THEM how to clean the toilet, especially if it was disgusting when you got there.  For extra credit, you could clean the rest of the floor in the bathroom and even the sink and/or tub.  Explain what all you did to clear the clog so (and clean the bathroom) so that your tenant will learn to trouble shoot themselves.  Let them know that THIS (new clean toilet/bathroom) is the way it should look on a daily/weekly basis. Expect more from your tenant, you probably won’t get it, but you can still let them know what you expect. You’ll feel better for a job well done, even though it was crappy work! (Pun intended). You may also want to mention the fact about IF they want their security deposit back at the end of their lease, THIS is the cleanliness level you expect. You can let them know that cleaning a nasty bathroom (if it was bad when you arrived) costs them money which comes out of their security deposit.  IF they want all that money back, it needs to be spotless, just like it was when they moved in. 

Happy Landlording!

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