Fix It Friday: When Your Bowl Runneth Over… How To Deal With A Clogged Toilet

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Fix-It FridayHome Improvement 4 Comments

My oldest niece, Delphine, moved away from home when she started school in Bordeaux, France, living sans parents for the first time. She shared with me that the scariest, most embarrassing moments in her little apartment were when the toilet would get backed up.

The rising bowl water, floating debris and all, would send her and her roommate into a screaming, giggling panic. They’d be mortified to call the super, and pray it would just go down on its own.

Norma_niece DelphineAs she’s recounting the crappy details to me, all I could think was, “I’ve failed as a Toolbelt Diva Auntie”. How could MY niece, not know how to deal with a clogged toilet?

Well I have two more nieces behind her, so this fix I’m about to detail is for them and anyone else out there who’s not in the toilet over-flow know!


#1 Toilet Tip: DON’T PANIC

If your bowl is about to overflow* all over your bathroom floor, quickly shut off the water at the shut-off valve (the valve should be coming out of the wall near the toilet base – turn it “righty tighty”). If there isn’t one at the fixture, remove the tank cover and push down on the flapper or stopper, closing the valve seat, which will stop the water.

* Even if the water rises, but not enough to actually overflow, there’s still an obstruction that needs to get plunged through, so the following instructions still apply.

#2 Unclogging Toilet Tips: PROPER PLUNGER AND PLUNGING

1. For proper toilet plunging, you need a flange plunger, the kind with a second rubber collar coming out of the larger rubber cup. This smaller band is what fits tight down inside the bowl drain. Sometimes this band will be hiding, folded up inside the cup. Just pull it out and you’ll be good to go. (FYI, the flat-bottomed cup plungers are for sinks.)

Flange vs Cup Plunger

On Left: Flange Plunger – On Right: Cup Plunger

2. Check the water in the bowl. When plunging, it should be half full (or half empty, if you’re a pessimist). If the bowl is empty, add water, at least enough to cover the plunger cup. If it’s full, do not try to re-flush. Wait for the water to slowly drain. If it doesn’t budge, start scooping the contents into a bucket (sorry about that). I know this step sounds really gross, but trying to plunge an overly filled bowl will result in a wet, splashing mess. Ewww!

3. Lift the toilet seat. Insert the funnel of the plunger deep into the bowl, and start pumping, up and down about twenty times, with the last stroke being a swift up and out, breaking the suction. Continue doing this until the clog breaks and the water begins to go down.

4. Test to see if the clog is cleared by pouring a bucket of water down the bowl. I like to use this bucket method better than flushing because if you try to flush at this point and it’s not really unclogged yet, you run the risk of the bowl overflowing (unless you quickly shut off the water from the valve).

5. Take your tools outside and spray them down with an antibacterial cleanser and rinse. Let them dry thoroughly before storing them.

Armed with this fix, you’ll never again need to panic when your bowl wants to runneth over!

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Got A DIY Question? Ask-The-Expert!

If you have a DIY home repair, maintenance or improvement question for Norma, now is your chance to ask-the-expert and have her answer. Your burning question may just be the “star” of an upcoming Fix-It Friday column.

Add your question to the comments section below or email it to Women You Should Know.

Fix-It Friday is an exclusive Women You Should Know® editorial series authored by seasoned veteran of home improvement, Norma Vally, the former host of Discovery Home Channel’s series “Toolbelt Diva” and a show on Sirius Satellite Radio by the same name. The weekly column is designed to inspire women – weekend warriors, aspiring handywomen, and even seasoned DIYers – to take on home repairs and maintenance projects with confidence and gusto.

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  • Jean B.

    Very clear and concise. Thanks, Norma

    • Norma

      You’re welcome, Jean B! I’m on a mission…no more panicking chix in front of a rising toilet bowl, not knowing what to do!

  • PLS

    Do the same instrux hold true if the water is not rising? Rather it rises a little, stops before flowing over bowl and just never recedes.

    • Norma

      YES. From what you describe, there’s an obstruction that needs to get plunged through. Unfortunately, if the water is too high, as I explain in the article, you’ll have to scoop some out before plunging. Good luck!

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