A toilet plunger, also known as a plumber’s helper, is one of the most straightforward tools in any household’s arsenal, but it is also one of the most misunderstood. Its simplicity belies a more complicated process than one may expect.
Plungers can clear clogs in toilets and sinks without the use of strong chemicals or a professional clog-busting ‘snake’. Plungers perform this feat through a combination of water pressure and a vacuum. There are no electronic parts or complicated maneuvers to master- a child can be taught to use a plunger properly.
Here are some tips and suggestions for getting the most benefit from a toilet plunger:
- NEVER use a toilet plunger in combination with drain-opening chemicals. A plunger should be your first option when dealing with a stubborn clog or slow drain. If a plunger fails to clear the drain, put it away and bring out the chemicals. Allow the chemical drain openers enough time to work. DO NOT plunge water which contains acid-based drain openers. Contaminated water and acid could be churned up and contact your skin or clothes.
- The basic process for using a plunger on a standard clog is to first remove as much standing water as possible to avoid unnecessary splashing. Additional clean water can be added if necessary later. Take the plunger and place the rubbery end directly over the drain or bottom of the toilet. Some plungers designed especially for toilets will have extra rubber material which forms a smaller hole and a tighter seal. Once you’ve covered the entire drain, begin a vigorous plunging motion- short, deliberate strokes in an up/down direction. Some water and debris may be forced out of the drain, but this is to be expected. After a few forceful strokes, remove the plunger and examine the drain. If water begins to flow down the drain without pooling, the clog has been removed. If the water is still not moving, repeat the plunging motion with emphasis on the downstroke and an occasional upward stroke to disengage the plunger’s bell. A few good sessions should dislodge common causes of clogs- paper, hair, and food particles.
- A plunger should always be in good repair. Any lacerations of the rubber bell can result in a poor vacuum seal and loss of pressure. Since strong water pressure is an essential part of plunging, a broken plunger is a useless plunger. Plungers should also be kept clean and dry between uses, considering the situations and environments they usually face. Many homeowners will be diligent about keeping a toilet brush clean and stored, but they forget about the toilet plunger. If it remains in the bathroom, it will need to be kept out of the way and in a clean storage container.
- There are ‘Super Plungers’ on the market. If a standard plumber’s helper doesn’t seem powerful enough, homeowners can invest in heavier-duty models. These Super Plungers work on the principle that more is more. The bell may be rubber or plastic and works the same as the standard model- place over the drain completely and form a tight seal. The power comes from a mechanical addition, a chamber which concentrates air pressure. Instead of physically forcing pressure down the drain through plunging, a super plunger stores tremendous amounts of pressurized air in a hand-pumped chamber. Once the air has been pumped and the bell placed over the drain, the operator releases the pressurized air and the clog is attacked with velocity. If a clog can be removed at all with a plunger, this blast of air and water should do it. These plungers are a little more expensive than the standard models, but they do deliver the power.
- Buy the right size plunger for the job(s) at hand. Some drains do well with a standard size plunger, but others may require a specialized shape or a larger/smaller bell. Small plungers may do well for clogged kitchen or bathroom sinks, but won’t be very effective for toilets. Large plungers can handle bathtub and toilet bowl clogs, but maybe overkill for a vanity sink. Because plungers are relatively inexpensive and readily available, homeowners may do well to invest in several different sizes and varieties to handle every drain in the home.