Unblocking a toilet
If water takes a long time to drain out of the toilet bowl, just stays there or rises up towards the brim, your toilet is blocked. Before it becomes unusable, you urgently need to find and deal with the cause of the blockage. Before calling out a specialist firm, it's worth trying a few natural, environmentally-friendly techniques that resolve the majority of blockages.
How a toilet works
Most toilets are made up of a cistern connected to the water supply, a bowl that can be covered by a lid, a flushing mechanism and a waste outlet.
- Water supply
- Flushing mechanism
- Waste outlet
When the toilet is flushed, gravity causes the water in the cistern to flow rapidly into the bowl, carrying the waste away.
Toilets may have horizontal or vertical waste outlets.
All toilet bowls incorporate a siphon in the waste pipe to prevent unpleasant odours from entering the bathroom.
Why do toilets get blocked?
Toilet blockages can have many different causes:
- toilet paper
- build-ups of limescale
- wet wipes
- deodorant blocks
- construction waste
- children’s toys
If you know the cause of the blockage, it’s easier to find the most suitable method to solve the problem.
How to prevent blockages
Take care not to drop small objects into the bowl and keep the lid closed when the toilet is not in use, especially if there are shelves above.
Never throw sanitary towels, wet wipes or decorating waste (glue, plaster, paint, etc.) into the toilet bowl.
- Clean the inside of the bowl regularly and keep the waste outlet clear.
You can choose from a wide range of toilet cleaning and descaling products.
Identifying the nature of a blockage
Three types of problem are common:
- Water drains from the bowl very slowly. This is a clear sign that a blockage is forming.
- After flushing, the bowl remains almost empty. This is a problem of air circulation (ventilation) in the waste pipes.
- The water level in the bowl rises and does not fall again. There is a complete blockage that the water cannot pass.
Don’t wait for your toilet to block completely! Take action as soon as you notice poor flushing or a reduced flow.
Provided the water is draining slowly, try flushing the toilet once again to see if you can remove the blockage before proceeding with other actions. Avoid flushing if the water level remains high inside the bowl. If the problem persists, you can try using one of the many chemical products available for unblocking toilets.
Important! If your toilet is not connected to a sewer but to a septic tank or cesspit, this might be full. If it is, you’ll have to call a professional to empty it. The following methods for unblocking your toilet are ecological and do not involve the use of chemical products.
Unblocking a toilet with hot water
This is the simplest way of eliminating partial blockages.
The water level inside the bowl must be low before you can start. Remove excess water if necessary. The pressure applied by the hot water pushes the blockage away while the heat dissolves any build-up of fat or grease. Adding some washing up liquid can also help remove the blockage.
Close the water supply at the valve to the left or right of the cistern, under or over it, depending on the model. This prevents the cistern from refilling.
Manually remove as much stagnant water as possible.
Pour some washing-up liquid (no more than half a glass) directly into the bowl. This helps lubricate the waste outlet. Wait 10 minutes.
Pour 2 or 3 litres of hot but not boiling water into the bowl to create pressure at the blockage. Pour the water in rapidly, but take care not to scald yourself.
Wait a few minutes to see if the water level falls. If the level doesn’t fall and there’s enough space inside the bowl, repeat one more time. If the blockage persists after a few attempts, the next step is to try a plunger.
Unblocking a toilet with a plunger
Plungers are the plumber’s favourite tool as they can be used to unblock waste pipes of all kinds. Plungers are highly effective provided the blockage is not solid.
Cover the outlet from the bowl with the plunger so that air or water cannot pass. If your plunger leaves gaps around the edges, you can use old rags to plug them.
Start with a gentle action to avoid pushing the blockage further down. Push gently downwards then pull up. Gradually increase the force with which you push and pull, until the water starts to recede. Add more water to the bowl if necessary and repeat the procedure. Flush the toilet to see if the flow has returned to normal.
Unblocking a toilet with baking soda
Sodium bicarbonate or baking soda is a natural product that you should always keep in stock as it’s useful for home maintenance as well as cooking.
Baking soda comes in powder and crystal form. To unblock a toilet, mix it with white vinegar and water to start a chemical reaction. This mixture is great for cleaning, descaling and removing soap residues. It’s also a really effective way of deodorising waste pipes.
Pour half a cupful of baking soda into the toilet bowl.
Heat two to three litres of water in a saucepan.
Add half a cup of white vinegar before the water boils.
Pour the water and vinegar into the toilet bowl and close the lid. When the hot vinegar comes into contact with the baking soda, it causes a chemical reaction that generates a lot of foam.
Wait for 30 minutes then flush the toilet.
Do not use this method if your toilet is connected to a septic tank or cesspit. The chemicals involved could destroy the enzymes that make it work properly.
Unblocking a toilet with a snake
The plumber’s snake is a long, flexible tool that can be pushed into the toilet as far as the blockage.
Depending on the type of blockage, the snake can perforate it, destroy it or even extract it thanks to a tip shaped like a cork-screw.
Push the snake down into the toilet bowl, tip first, until you can feel the blockage.
Rotate the snake with the handle while pushing downwards.
The rotation causes the snake to break the blockage into smaller pieces that can be removed easily by flushing the toilet.
If the tip of the snake pierces the blockage, you can pull the snake and the blockage out from the bowl. Repeat as necessary until the waste outlet is free. Pull the snake back out from the toilet bowl and flush the toilet to check that it works properly. If the blockage is caused by a solid object jammed in the waste outlet, you may have to remove the bowl to get at it.
Unblocking a toilet with a pressure washer
If all the other methods fail, you can try using a pressure washer to unblock your toilet. This method is particularly effective if the blockage is located far down the waste pipe. Used regularly, it’s also a good way to keep the waste pipe clear and prevent the formation of blockages.
The pressure washer must be fitted with a special pipe-cleaning kit consisting of a long hose with a special nozzle at the end.
Insert the pressure hose, nozzle first.
Switch on the pressure washer. The hose is pulled along the pipe by a rearward jet of water produced by the nozzle.
When the hose reaches the blockage, the water jet pushes on it and removes dirt accumulated on the pipe walls.
If your toilet is connected to a septic tank or cesspit, it’s best to call in a professional to avoid damaging the system.