How to Use a Plunger: A Step-by-Step Guide for Clogged Toilets

How to Use a Plunger: A Step-by-Step Guide for Clogged Toilets


When faced with a clogged toilet or sink, the first tool that often comes to mind is the plunger.

This humble yet powerful device is indispensable in most households for its ability to clear blockages in an eco-friendly and cost-effective manner.

Understanding how to wield a plunger properly can turn a potential plumbing disaster into a minor inconvenience.

What is a Plunger?

A plunger consists of a rubber suction cup attached to a handle, designed to create a seal over the drain of a toilet, sink, or other drain.

The magic of this tool lies in its simplicity: by creating a vacuum seal and manipulating pressure, it can dislodge clogs without the need for harsh chemicals or professional intervention.

Why Learn Proper Plunger Technique?

  • Time-Saving: A correctly used plunger can resolve clogs quickly.
  • Cost-Effective: Avoiding professional plumbing services saves money.
  • Environmentally Friendly: It eliminates the need for chemical cleaners.
  • Empowering: Equips you with the ability to tackle common household issues.

With various types of plungers available, selecting the right one is essential for addressing different plumbing problems. Here’s why understanding these differences matters:

  1. Effectiveness: Each plunger type is designed for specific kinds of drains.
  2. Efficiency: Using the correct plunger saves time and reduces effort.
  3. Preparedness: Knowing which plunger to use ensures readiness for any clog situation.

Key Takeaway: Employing proper plunger technique is essential in managing common plumbing issues. With knowledge and the right tool, you’re well-equipped to keep your home’s water flowing smoothly.

A man in casual wear and rubber gloves confidently uses a plunger to unclog a toilet in a domestic bathroom setting.

Different Types of Plungers

Before delving into technique, recognize that not all plungers are created equal when it comes to their effectiveness on various drains:

  • Cup Plungers: These are recognizable by their simple rubber cup and are generally effective on flat surfaces like sinks and tubs.
  • Flange Plungers: Also known as toilet plungers, they have an additional soft rubber flap that folds out from inside the cup—ideal for toilets with their deeper and curved drains.

In choosing between these two, consider the following:

  1. Surface Compatibility: Cup plungers are optimal for flat surfaces whereas flange plungers conform better to curved surfaces found in toilets.
  2. Versatility: Flange plungers can be used on both toilets and flat surfaces when the flange is tucked inside, making them more versatile than cup plungers.
  3. Seal Quality: The extended flange on toilet plungers creates a superior seal on toilet drains compared to cup plungers.

By understanding the unique characteristics of each type of plunger, you position yourself to effectively tackle any clog you encounter—be it in your bathroom or kitchen.

1. Types of Plungers

Understanding the different types of plungers available can greatly assist in selecting the right tool for the task at hand. The effectiveness of a plunger often depends on its design and intended use, so let’s dive into the details.

Cup Plunger

The cup plunger is arguably the most recognized type, primarily used for unclogging sinks and tubs. It boasts a simple design, consisting of a straight wooden handle attached to a rubber cup. The flat bottom of the cup forms a seal on flat surfaces, making it ideal for sinks and tubs.


  • Simple and easy to use
  • Ideal for flat surfaces like sinks or bathtubs
  • Widely available and inexpensive


  • Less effective on curved surfaces or toilets
  • Limited suction power compared to other types

Flange Plunger

The flange plunger, often referred to as a toilet plunger, comes equipped with an additional soft rubber flap that folds out from inside the cup. This flexible flap fits snugly into the drain hole of a toilet, forming an effective seal around irregular surfaces for efficient plunging.


  • Designed specifically for toilets
  • Rubber flap provides an excellent seal in toilets
  • More powerful suction than cup plungers


  • Not as effective on flat surfaces such as sinks or tubs
  • Can be slightly more expensive than cup plungers

Accordion Plunger

The accordion plunger derives its name from its unique accordion-like structure. It features a bellows design that expands and contracts, generating significant suction to clear stubborn clogs. While it’s primarily designed for use in toilets, its adaptable structure allows it to handle different drain sizes.


  • Powerful suction capability
  • Adaptable to different drain sizes
  • Excellent for tough toilet clogs


  • More complex design can be harder to use
  • Not suitable for sinks or bathtubs due to the shape and size

Sink Plunger

The sink plunger, as the name suggests, is particularly effective for sinks and tubs. It possesses a flat bottom like the cup plunger but often features a shorter handle, making it easy to maneuver in smaller spaces.


  • Ideal for sinks and tubs
  • Easy to maneuver in smaller spaces


  • Limited suction power compared to other types
  • Not effective on toilets or drains with irregular surfaces

Each of these plungers serves a specific purpose, so it’s crucial to match the right tool to the job.

Whether it’s a simple sink blockage that needs a cup or sink plunger, or a stubborn toilet clog demanding the enhanced suction of a flange or accordion plunger, understanding these differences can make all the difference in your DIY plumbing endeavors.

2. Step-by-Step Guide for Using a Plunger on a Toilet

Plunging a toilet is a straightforward process when you understand the mechanics of it. Here’s an easy-to-follow guide on how to use a toilet plunger effectively to clear your clogged toilet.

Preparing for the Task

Before we dive into the steps, remember that it’s crucial to prepare for the task at hand. A pair of protective gloves is essential as plunging can get messy. Additionally, keep a bucket of water nearby. This will be useful if you need extra water in the bowl to create a good seal with the plunger.

Step 1: Positioning the Plunger

The first step involves positioning your plunger correctly. Place the rubber cup of the plunger over the drain hole in the toilet bowl. Ensure that it forms an air-tight seal around the hole.

Note: If you’re using a flange plunger, extend its soft rubber flap from inside the cup to form an effective seal even on irregular surfaces like those found in toilets.

Step 2: Applying Pressure

Once your plunger is well-positioned, apply downward pressure on the handle to push out any trapped air and create suction. Follow this up with steady, vigorous up-and-down motions. The goal here is to create pressure and suction to dislodge the clog.

It’s recommended to start with gentle pressure and increase force gradually if needed. Be careful not to use excessive force as it could damage your toilet.

Step 3: Check Water Level and Continue Plunging

After several plunges, take a moment to observe the water level in your toilet bowl:

  • If you notice that it starts to drain, it means you’re making progress.
  • If there’s no change after several attempts, reposition your plunger and try again.

Continue plunging until the water begins to drain. Each successful plunge should lower the water level until it eventually starts draining normally.

Step 4: Flush the Toilet

Once you observe that the water in your toilet bowl is draining, give your toilet a flush. The rush of water should help dislodge any remaining parts of the clog and carry them down the drain.

Tip: If plunging doesn’t seem to work, don’t despair. It might be time to try a flange plunger or consider using a toilet auger for more stubborn clogs.

Remember, using a plunger effectively involves more than just brute force. Understanding how plungers work and applying the correct technique can make all the difference when dealing with a clogged toilet.

3. Using a Plunger on Sinks and Other Drains

A clogged sink or drain can be a significant inconvenience in your household. With the right tools and techniques, however, it’s possible to get things flowing smoothly again. The plunger, a common tool in most homes, is often the first line of defense against stubborn clogs. Here’s how to use a sink plunger effectively:

Preparing the Sink or Drain

Before you reach for your trusty plunger, make sure the sink or drain is partially filled with water. This will help create a good seal with the plunger. If there isn’t enough water in the sink or drain, add some until it’s about halfway up the plunger cup.

Positioning the Plunger

Place the plunger over the drain so it completely covers the opening. Press down firmly to form a tight seal. This seal is vital in creating suction necessary to dislodge the clog.

Using the Plunger

With the plunger properly positioned, initiate an up-and-down motion. This action should be firm and consistent – push down to create pressure, then pull up quickly to produce suction. It’s this push-pull routine that works to loosen and remove whatever is blocking your drain.

Checking Your Progress

After several rounds of plunging, pause and see if water starts to drain properly. If not, you may need to repeat the process a few more times until you notice improvement.

Let’s break this process into step-by-step instructions:

  1. Ensure Enough Water: Fill the sink or drain with enough water to cover the base of your plunger’s cup.
  2. Position Plunger: Place your plunger over the drain opening ensuring it completely covers it.
  3. Secure Seal: Press down firmly on your plunger handle creating a tight seal with the drain opening.
  4. Create Suction: Using a steady up-and-down motion, press and pull the plunger handle to create suction within the drain.
  5. Repeat as Necessary: If the clog persists, repeat the plunging process a few times until water begins to drain.

Additional Tips

The technique for using a sink plunger is similar to that of a toilet plunger, but with some slight variations. For example, if you’re plunging a kitchen sink, it’s a good idea to block one side of the sink with a wet cloth. This helps prevent any potential backflow of water during your plunging endeavor.

For sinks and drains with overflow openings, consider covering them with tape or a wet cloth. This prevents air from entering or exiting through these openings during plunging, ensuring maximum suction in the drain where it’s needed.

Remember: Plunging is often an effective solution for minor clogs. However, for larger plumbing issues that persist after repeated attempts to clear them with a plunger, you may need to seek professional help.

While plungers are straightforward tools, understanding how to use them correctly can make all the difference when dealing with common household clogs. So next time your sink or drain is backed up, grab your plunger and apply these techniques – you might be surprised how quickly you can restore proper drainage without resorting to harsh chemicals or expensive plumber calls.

4. Other Methods to Enhance Plunging Effectiveness

When dealing with a clogged drain or toilet, enhancing the efficiency of your plunging efforts can mean the difference between success and persistent blockage. Here are additional techniques and tips to boost plunging effectiveness:

Break Up Clogs with a Plumbing Snake

  • Before resorting to plunging, consider using a plumbing snake (also known as an auger) to dislodge parts of the clog that are within reach.
  • Gently feed the snake down the drain until you meet resistance, then rotate it to break apart or hook the obstruction.
  • Once you’ve loosened the clog with the snake, follow up with your plunger. This pre-step can significantly improve your chances of clearing the blockage.

Improve Seal and Suction Power

  • The seal between your plunger and drain opening is critical for generating effective suction. Inspect the edge of your plunger to ensure it’s free from rips or deformities.
  • Apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly around the rim of your plunger. This acts as a sealant, reducing air leaks and boosting suction power when you plunge.
  • For elongated toilet bowls, finding a good angle for maximum coverage might require tilting the plunger slightly.

Experiment with Different Techniques

  • Try varying your plunging strategy:
  • Use short, rapid plunges to build up pressure quickly.
  • Alternate between gentle and forceful plunges to change the pressure dynamics, potentially dislodging tricky clogs.

Combine Tools for Tough Clogs

  • In instances where a single method isn’t cutting it, pair up tools for enhanced effect:
  • Use both a plumbing snake and plunger in tandem—snake first to break up, then plunge to push through.
  • A wet/dry vacuum can also serve as an alternative, providing strong suction to draw out obstructions.

Know When to Call a Professional

  • Recognize when a clog is beyond DIY remedies. Persistent blockages that resist all methods may require professional intervention.

Alternative Solutions

  • A natural concoction of baking soda and vinegar followed by boiling water can dissolve organic matter effectively. Allow this mixture to sit before attempting to plunge again.

Maintain Your Plunger

  • Keep your plunger in prime condition by cleaning it after each use. Store it in a dry place to prevent mildew and check regularly for wear.

By incorporating these methods into your routine, you not only enhance your plunging technique but also extend the life of your tools for future plumbing challenges.


Dealing with a clogged sink or toilet can be an unwelcome surprise. Yet, with the right plunger in hand—a cup plunger for sinks and tubs, a flange plunger for toilets—these issues often become manageable without professional intervention. Plungers are simple yet effective tools for handling plumbing emergencies. With proper use, they can save both time and money otherwise spent on costly repairs.

Selecting the Right Plunger

  • Cup Plunger: Best suited for flat surfaces found in sinks and tubs due to its flat rim.
  • Flange Plunger: Designed specifically for the curved drains of toilets, the added flange creates an ideal seal.

Understanding the application of each type of plunger enables you to address minor plumbing issues confidently. This knowledge serves as an essential component of your home maintenance toolkit.

Beyond the Plunge

Encounters with stubborn clogs might require alternative methods. A plumbing snake can navigate through tight bends in pipes to break apart obstructions. If mechanical means fall short, chemical drain cleaners offer a potent solution, albeit with caution due to their corrosive nature.

Preparing for Emergencies

  • Stay Equipped: Equip your home with both cup and flange plungers to be prepared for various clogs.
  • Stay Calm: Confidence in facing plumbing emergencies comes from knowing you have the tools and skills at your disposal.

Armed with these tools and techniques, you fortify yourself against common, yet frustrating, household inconveniences.

Technique Matters

The effectiveness of a plunger is not solely based on its design but also on how it is used. Ensure a tight seal and apply rhythmic pressure to maximize suction force. Incorrect technique could exacerbate the problem rather than resolve it.

When to Call Professionals

It’s crucial to recognize when a situation is beyond your expertise. Persistent clogs after multiple attempts or water backing up into different fixtures are signs that professional help may be necessary.

The Versatility of Plungers

The humble plunger holds its ground as an indispensable DIY tool across various scenarios. Its simplicity belies its importance in effectively managing routine clogs.

Empowerment Through Knowledge

This article aimed not just to instruct but also to empower you with knowledge and confidence. While some situations necessitate a call to professionals, many common clogs yield to the determined efforts armed with a trusty plunger.

Feel encouraged to apply these step-by-step techniques next time you’re faced with a slow drain or rising toilet water level. Remember, staying informed about your options ensures that when faced with plumbing challenges, you’re well-equipped both in tools and in know-how.

Every homeowner benefits from understanding basic clog clearing methods and having plungers at their disposal. May this guide serve as a resource for those moments when water refuses to go down as it should, ensuring peace of mind and continuity in our daily routines.