How to unblock a toilet - the easiest ways to unclog a WC

Toilet blocked? Our simple guide will take you through the best ways to get it flushing again

toilet with commode and grey wall tiles
(Image credit: Future PLC/Lizzie Orme)

Unfortunately, learning how to unblock a toilet is a household chore that we just can't avoid, no matter how much we might wish to. It may be unglamorous and a little bit smelly, but it's important nevertheless, and once you know how, you'll (hopefully) never forget.

Like with how to fix a leaky showerhead, learning how to unblock a toilet will maintain your bathroom in good working order, and save you time and money down the line. First, you need to work out if it is a blockage, or if you need to learn how to fix a toilet flush.

'You’ll know your toilet is blocked if, when you flush it, water either takes a long time to drain from the bowl, does not return after draining, or rises upwards to the brim without going back down to its normal level', explains Lydia Luxford, Technical Services Manager, Easy Bathrooms. 'This can be dangerous and unhygienic, while producing a bad odour.'

No one wants to return to a toilet that isn't flushing properly, so keep reading for some handy hacks on how to get the job done.

White closed toilet attached to grey stone wall

(Image credit: Real Stone, Tile & Bathroom)

How to unblock a toilet

Like with how to fix a running toilet there are several methods you can try for unblocking your toilet that do not involve calling out a plumber. Some are gentler, and will do the job for less severe blockages, while others will help to remove more intense build-ups in the toilet's waste pipe. You may need to try some, or all the hacks in this guide about how to unblock a toilet, so patience is key.

toilet with commode and wash basin

(Image credit: future PLC/Colin Poole)

Identify the type of blockage

Different blockages require different remedies, so knowing what you're dealing with can prevent you from making the situation worse and having to call out a professional to fix it. There are three types of blockages to be aware of, which range in levels of severity.

  • If water drains slowly from the toilet bowl it means the blockage is in its forming stage.
  • If the water level in the toilet bowl rises to the brim without falling, this means there is a complete blockage which is preventing the water from passing.
  • If upon flushing the toilet, the bowl remains virtually empty, there is a problem with air circulation in the waste pipe.

White toilet in stone and marble bathroom

(Image credit: Easy Bathrooms)

Prevention is best

There are some things you can do to minimise the risk of blockages in the first place.  Not overly loading the toilet with toilet roll will help, as will pouring white vinegar down it every so often to help decompose any limescale build up.

'The best way to make sure that your toilets don't get blocked in the first place is thorough and regular cleaning' advises Ivan Ivanov from End of Tenancy Cleaning. 'Make sure you are cleaning your toilet with a decent toilet cleaner with chemicals that aren’t too harsh at least once a week, as this will keep any grime at bay as well as keeping it smelling fresh.'

If you try your flush once and it doesn't work properly, you'll need to put into practice how to unblock a toilet because no further flushing is going to help. In fact flushing when it's blocked can cause the water levels to rise and then you're in bigger trouble. If you know there's something stuck in your toilet (a child's toy, a bottle of something that's fallen in etc.), reach for your gloves and pull it out.

Be aware of items that shouldn't be flushed down the toilet, which include: 

  • Cotton pads and cotton buds
  • Sanitary products
  • Makeup wipes, baby wipes, disinfectant wipes
  • Food
  • Hair
  • Vitamins and medicines
  • Any form of plastic

Basically, don't flush anything down the toilet that isn't human waste or toilet roll, and the need to unblock it will be much less frequent.

toilet with commode and grey wall tiles

(Image credit: future PLC/David Giles )

How to unblock a toilet with hot water

Before you get going with how to unblock a toilet using other methods, try pouring down hot water first. This can help dissolve the blockage so that the flush can push it down the pipe more easily, and is a more environmentally friendly way of unblocking your toilet.

How to unblock a toilet with a wire coat hanger

The surplus of coat hangers hiding in the back of the wardrobe can finally be put to use when learning how to unblock a toilet without a plunger. If possible, use a plastic coated hanger instead of a metal one to avoid scratches. If you are using a metal one, wrap it in tape so you don't mark the inside of the toilet, or simply use a gentle approach.

  • Unwind the metal coat hanger so you have one piece of long wire
  • Bend it into a curve to allow the length of the wire to navigate the curves within the waste pipe
  • Push the wire up into the toilet and wiggle gently to push the blockage of toilet paper clear.

How to unblock a toilet with clingfilm

Yep, you read that right! You can learn how to unblock a toilet using this handy kitchen staple in place of a plunger. 

  • Lift the lid and ensure the surface of the toilet rim is completely dry – use paper towels for easy disposal
  • Once dry place layers of clingfilm over the top of the toilet bowl. Due to the width and length of a toilet bowl you will need to repeat this step and add at least two or three layers to cover the whole surface area. Pull the clingfilm tightly so that it is properly adhered either side. This will build a strong barrier and produce better suction
  • Flush the toilet, and wait for an air bubble to rise
  • Gently press down on the bubble to force the pressure to encourage the blockage to travel further down the waste pipe.

How to unblock a toilet with baking soda and white vinegar

It's no secret that cleaning with vinegar can bring powerful (and cost-effective) results, and the same applies when using the store cupboard staple to unblock a toilet. Coupled with baking soda, they'll create a powerfully active substance guaranteed to get things moving through the toilet in no time. 

  • Pour half a cup of baking soda into your toilet bowl and half a cup of white vinegar on top of that
  • Add between two and three litres of warm water and wait around 30 minutes to give the chemicals chance to erode any limescale and soap residue in the waste pipe
  • Clear any excess foam by flushing it away

bathroom with white wall tiles and commode with bathtub

(Image credit: future PLC/Colin Poole)

How to unblock a toilet with dishwasher soap

Another handy hack for how to unblock a toilet hack is by using dishwasher soap, which helps to lubricate the clogged pipe and allows any lodged debris to slide down more easily. 

  • Pour half a cup of dishwasher soap into the toilet and wait 30 minutes 
  • After enough time has passed, the debris should be visibly removed
  • Flush the toilet to see whether or not regular water levels have returned.

How to unblock a toilet with a plunger

Failing all of the above methods, you can use a plunger to unblock a toilet, which are effective at tackling most blockages that have gathered at the base of the toilet.

'Unblocking the toilet with a plunger is slightly more complex than simply shoving it in and out and hoping for the best', says bathroom expert Lydia. 'But if used correctly, the results are quick, hygienic, and effective.'

Use a plunger that is shaped to seal the opening in the toilet bowl, so that it can create the correct vaccum and pressure needed, and also prevent mess.

  • Seal the outlet pipe from the bowl - where the water usually drains when flushed - with the plunger so that neither air nor water can pass through. This will create a vacuum of pressure and prevent any mess from spilling out
  • Start with a gentle action to avoid pushing the blockage further down the pipe. Push gently downwards and then pull up towards yourself
  • Increase the amount of force you use to push and pull gradually until the water starts to recede
  • If required, add more water to the bowl and then repeat the process and flush.

If you're still experiencing a blocked toilet after trying all the above steps, it may be time to call a professional. 

'If after a few attempts to unblock your toilet, it is still blocked, it is important to get expert help such as a plumber', advises Ivan Ivanov from End of Tenancy Cleaning. 'It may be a sign of a deeper issue within your pipes that you cannot fix yourself!'

toilet with wash basin and grey wall with commode

(Image credit: future PLC/David Giles)

What can you pour down a toilet to unclog it?

You can pour white vinegar and baking soda down the toilet to unblock it. These are two powerful cleaning agents which work to decompose any limescale and soap residue which may be causing problems with your toilet's flush.

Failing that, you could try using chemical unblocking agents such as bleach. 'Chemical toilet unblocking agents will react with the materials in the blockage to break them down', explains David Cruz, plumbing expert, MyJobQuote.

'Open the windows in the room to create appropriate ventilation, then pour the recommended amount of the chemical agent down the toilet bowl and leave it to sit for the recommended amount of time according to the label.'

When the time is up and you flush the toilet, the blockage should have cleared.

How do I unblock my toilet without a plunger?

The best alternative to unblocking a toilet without a plunger is to use a wire coat hanger. The length of the wire once you've untwisted it is ideal for reaching up into the waste pipe to get stuck materials wiggling. 

'You can also try unblocking your toilet with a plumbing snake, which is a plumbing snake is a piece of flexible wire with a helix-style attachment on the end', suggests David. 'Feed this into the U-bend then use a twisting motion or an up and down motion on the handle of the snake to begin the process of breaking the blockage.'

You can also try covering the toilet seat in clingfilm, wrapping this tightly to create suction. Flush the toilet and push down on the air bubble that arises, to force the pressure back down the bowl. This should encourage anything stuck in the pipe to move forward.

With contributions from