How to unblock a toilet or sink

There’s nothing worse than having a blockage in the bathroom. It’s inconvenient at best, and a nightmare at worst. Especially if your only toilet is blocked! If you’ve ever wondered how to unblock a toilet or sink easily, this guide is for you.

This advice will help you unblock a toilet or a sink, but sometimes the issue calls for the expertise of a plumber. Our handypeople are experts in all manner of plumbing problems around the home. Don’t hesitate to give us a call if you’re struggling to clear the blockage on your own.

Cleaning a blocked toilet with bleach and rubber gloves
Before you break out the bleach, read our brief guide to unblocking a toilet simply and safely.

Unblock a toilet in three simple steps

It’s easy to tell if you have a blockage in the toilet pan. At one point or other in our lives, we’ve watched with dread as the flush water rises up to the toilet rim. Even if the water does drain away slowly but surely, there is still some obstruction that needs attending to before it gets worse. Usually, a blockage will sit in the pan’s outlet. Any further down in the drainage system might be more difficult to take care of. So, grab your rubber gloves and apron, and let’s get the water flowing free again!

Step 1 – first try a warm bucket of water

Take a full bucket of warm water and pour the water into the toilet pan from a height. This will usually clear a very simple blockage with the warm water dislodging anything that is stuck and a bit of force from the poured water. If that doesn’t work, you’ll need to use a bit more elbow grease.

Toilet flushing with water and a blue and orange block freshener
Amazingly, sometimes all it takes is a bucket of warm water to dislodge whatever is blocking your loo.

Step 2 – use a good old-fashioned toilet plunger

You’ll need a large toilet plunger rather than the smaller ones designed for sinks. How do you know which type is for toilets? Toilet plungers have a flange that folds up into the plunger cup when not in use. The flange creates a tight seal by completely covering the hole. You can get long handle ones that make it a lot easier to work on your blockage.

A toilet plunger should also be completely submerged in water to work, so if the toilet isn’t full of water, take your bucket and fill it up with warm water again. You also need to make sure the water won’t overflow. There’s usually a cut-off valve on the pipe behind the toilet that you can turn off. However, some older toilets won’t have this so you’ll have to go into the toilet tank and prop the float up so the tank doesn’t refill when it’s flushed.

Put the plunger under the water and completely cover the pan outlet. Pump the plunger handle up and down, which creates an air vacuum that dislodges the blockage. Have an old towel or kitchen roll on hand to soak up any water that does spill as you pump the plunger. Expect to have to keep pumping for a while – 10 to 15 minutes should do it. If it doesn’t something more heavy-duty might help.

blocked toilet long handled plunger
A long-handled plunger is easier to use and helps you get enough plunging force.

Step 3 – use a drain auger

Not everyone has a drain auger, but it’s a good idea to have one for emergencies. You’ll need one that’s designed specifically for toilets. An auger is a wire coil that either has a turn handle or an automatic winder handle with a trigger. Its probe goes around the toilet’s U-bend, rotating as you turn the handle, pushing through the blockage to dislodge it. Make sure you wear protective gloves, follow the manufacturer’s instructions, and clean the auger thoroughly with bleach after use.

Unblock a sink in three steps

If your sink becomes slow to drain water away, or stops draining it completely, there’s probably a blockage in the waste pipe. Most of the time this is caused by accumulated grease, waste or fibres caught below the plughole. If the water doesn’t drain away at all then there’s usually some obstruction caught in the waste pipe. Before tackling a blocked sink you’ll need to put on some rubber gloves, an apron or an old top, and if you’re using any chemicals it’s wise to wear safety goggles too.  

kitchen sink with easy use mixer tap handle and overflow
Don’t forget to block the overflow (under the tap in this image) before you start plunging!

Step 1 – use a sink plunger

Firstly, remove any debris that is in the sink. Scoop out as much as you can. Take out the plug if it is in. Next, fill the sink up with water. Just like with the toilet plunger, we need a little water in the sink to help with suction. Ideally, you would also put a damp cloth into the sink’s overflow (the small air vent that is usually below the taps). This helps to stop the loss of pressure when you’re plunging. If it’s a dual sink you’ll need to block the other sinkholes in the same way.

This will give enough pressure for you to plunge. Take your sink plunger and create a seal around the hole. You’ll need to pump the plunger up and down vigorously for up to 30 seconds. Remove the plunger and see if the water is draining away. You will likely need to repeat this step several times.

Step 2 – use a chemical cleaning product

If step 1 didn’t do the job, you should try using a chemical cleaner instead. Before you start, the experts recommend that you smear some petroleum jelly around the plughole to protect it from chemical damage. You’ll definitely need gloves and goggles for this step, and don’t forget to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines when using the cleaning product. Chemicals are highly toxic, so be careful when handling them. Make sure you do not use these types of products where you might have used bleach or other chemicals as this can cause a reaction that produces harmful gasses.

unscrewing a sink waste trap to unblock a sink
This is what a sink waste trap looks like. Unscrew the turn caps to loosen and remove it.

Step 3 – remove the waste trap and use an auger

If that hasn’t worked, it’s time to remove the waste trap. Grab a bucket to place beneath the trap, which is situated under the sink. This will catch any water that comes out of the pipes. You’ll need to put your gloves back on and unscrew the trap. Be prepared for a sudden gush of water! Empty the trap out into the bucket.

If this has not unblocked the sink then you’ll need to use a drain auger to probe into the pipes, which will hopefully reach and unblock the obstruction. Once this has been completed, screw the trap back on. Make sure you also put the washers and o-rings back on too. Be careful to not overtighten the trap when you put it back on, in case you need to repeat this step in the future.

using a drain auger plumber's snake to unblock a sink
A drain auger, also known as a plumber’s snake, should help to get rid of that pesky blockage once and for all!

It can be difficult to unblock a toilet or sink – so if you are struggling don’t hesitate to call in a professional plumber or handyperson!

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    How do you fix a leaking gutter?

    If your gutters have sprung a leak you’ll want to get them repaired as soon as you can. In order to fix a leaking gutter you need to know what the root cause of the problem is.

    Gutters should allow any rainwater to flow away freely. If the water is pooling and overflowing from gutter pipes it can saturate the walls below it. This can cause some serious structural damage to your house in the long term. That’s why you should fix a leaking gutter as soon as you can. In order to do that, you need to know what’s causing the problem first.

    fix leaking gutter repair

    What causes gutters to leak?

    There are lots of things that can cause a gutter to leak. There are three main areas where you are likely to have a leak: the downpipe joint, the gutter joint or along the gutter length.

    If there is an obstruction in the downpipe of the gutter itself then you’ll notice overflowing water. This is more than just an annoyance with the dripping or gushing water spilling onto people below. It can be a trip hazard as well as cause structural damage in the long run. You should aim to get your gutters and downpipes cleaned or cleared at least twice a year to avoid blockages.

    Dirt and grit can also get stuck in the seal between joints. This happens when pipes contract during cold weather, trapping small debris inside as it shrinks. This creates a small gap for water to escape from, making it doubly important to keep the gutters clean throughout the year.

    How gutter wear and tear happens

    Gutters will expand and contract throughout the year with the change in the seasons and the weather. If they aren’t cut to the right length then expansion and contraction can expose the seals or not have enough pressure between the seals to seal tightly enough. Most modern guttering systems are made to handle the changes in temperature, but older ones will be subject to serious wear and tear over time.

    Even things like snow falling from your roof or sustained weight upon the gutters can cause repetitive damage. A heavy impact from a ladder if you are having roof repairs can do a lot more damage than you think, weakening it before the elements get to it or exacerbating an existing problem. Loose gutters or downpipes may be missing connecting bolts or clips.

    Quickly fixing a leaking downpipe or downpipe joint

    First, if the water is overflowing from the hopper head at the top you should check to see if there is a blockage in your downpipe. You may be able to use a garden hose to blast out a simple blockage caused by leaves or small debris. To do this, cover the drain the turn on the water, aiming the hose up the pipe. You can also dislodge slightly tougher obstructions using a wire placed into the top of the downpipe. For lower down blockages you can take the section of pipe off and insert a wire or drain rod into that section directly.

    For a leaking downpipe joint, first clean the area to remove any dirt, loose paint or rust. You can purchase repair tape to wrap around the joint. Overlap the ends of the length of tape then squeezing tightly to mould the tape to the shape of the joint. Once it’s dried, you can use your garden hose or a bucket of water to flush some water down the pipe to check it is fixed.

    fix leaking gutter downpipe

    Using sealant for cracks and holes in gutters

    Roof and gutter sealant might be more appropriate for the joints of metal pipework, and also cracks or holes. Again, you’ll need to clean the area around the crack or the joint. Also scrape off any excess rust if it’s metal. You’ll need to fill the cavity with just enough sealant, making sure to smooth it down with your finger (use gloves!) or a sealant smoothing tool.

    For cracks and holes, first seal the inside area, wait for the sealant to dry, then seal the outside. You’ll still need to smooth the sealant down and test that the hole is repaired once it’s dried by flushing water down the gutter or pipe. Weatherproof tape is sometimes a good option for gutter cracks too. However, you may find it harder to seal the area properly compared to using sealant.

    Replacement parts for leaking guttering

    If you have older gutters or metal ones, you may find it difficult to source the exact parts you need. Luckily, some gutter parts from different manufacturers are interchangeable. You’d just need to know the width of the opening at the top of the gutter, the shape, and the type of material it’s made from. Generally, downpipes are easier to replace as they are usually either just round or square-shaped. However, if you’re finding any of this difficult it’s much easier to call a local handyperson with gutter repair experience. They can do the hard work for you.

    How We Care Home Improvements can help

    Our trading standards approved service and award-winning handypeople can tackle a multitude of jobs in your home and garden. Our local, friendly and trusted tradespeople are more than just typical handypeople. As well as knowing how to fix a leaking gutter they include experienced plumbers and carpenters.

    Whatever job you need a helping hand with at home, we can send someone out to do the best quality work that you can rely on, for a competitive price. Contact us today for a quote or some obligation-free advice.

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      What to do in a plumbing emergency

      Burst pipes. Leaks. Flooding. We all dread these things happening in our homes. Here’s how to handle a plumbing emergency if it happens to you.

      Water damage can ruin your home, so you’ll need to act quickly in any case of a plumbing emergency like leaks or flooding. The best thing to do is not to panic, but to know about the basic steps you can take in the first instance. You’ll need a few basic tools and a little knowledge before you call in the pros to make any fixes permanent.

      handyperson we care home improvements plumbing emergency leak tap pipe
      Before you call in a handyperson or plumber, there are a few things you can do yourself with a little knowhow

      The very first thing to do in a plumbing emergency

      If you do get a leak or burst pipe, make your home safe by immediately turning off the electricity at the fuse box. If water gets into sockets or electrical appliances the situation can quickly turn from an inconvenience into something more deadly. You’ll need to make sure that no water got into these places after the leak has been taken care of. If it did, make sure that everything has dried out before you turn the power back on.

      Next you should turn off the water

      You should also turn off the water supply in the property. Learning how to turn off the water can save a lot of time and effort if you have a burst pipe. To turn the water supply off for the whole house you’ll need to find the internal stop tap. This is usually in one of the following places:

      • Under the kitchen sink
      • In an airing cupboard
      • In a downstairs bathroom
      • Under the floorboards by your front door
      • Under the stairs
      • In the basement or cellar

      Turn the tap clockwise to stop the water. You will then need to run the hot and cold water taps in your home to completely drain the system. This should stop any leaks in their tracks and allow any repairs to be done safely.

      If you have a leak under the sink you might be better off isolating the taps rather than turning off all the water in the house. You’ll likely see red and blue isolation valves under the sink, for the hot and cold taps respectively. Turn them clockwise and do the same as you would for the main water valve. There are ways to isolate the water to places like the toilet and the washing machine too. If you aren’t confident to do these just turn off the main water supply.

      Look after your valves

      It’s important to know where your water valves are and to keep them well maintained. You should check them every 6 months. Try opening and closing them. If they can’t be turned easily you can apply some oil or lubricant to them. Just make sure that they aren’t completely open as this makes them more likely to seize up. Close them by up to a half turn once you’ve checked them. That should mean that they are easy to close if there is a plumbing emergency. Once the water is off you can either call in a pro or try to tackle the problem yourself with our helpful advice.

      plumbing emergency handyperson
      Don’t be intimidated by your pipes! You only need to know the basics to save yourself a lot of time and hassle

      Fixing a burst pipe

      It’s possible for you to make a temporary repair to a burst pipe before calling in a plumber or handyperson. However, you’ll need to have a couple of supplies and basic tools to do so.

      The quickest way to stop a leak from a burst pipe is to apply a pipe repair clamp. These can be bought from some DIY or hardware stores. Some literally clamp onto the pipe with no tools needed whilst others have to be screwed on with a screwdriver. Check the instructions before buying so you’ll know what you need and what to expect.

      Self fusing tape – handy in a plumbing emergency

      The other way to make a quick fix to a pipe is by using self-fusing or self-amalgamating tape. This is a special type of tape that creates a watertight seal around pipes and hoses. Here’s how to use it:

      1. Wipe the pipe clean on either side of the hole so that the tape can bond easily.
      2. Cut about 20cm of tape off with a pair of scissors and remove the backing from the tape. Once the backing tape is removed you’ll need to work quickly otherwise it loses it’s stickiness.
      3. Stretch the cut bit of tape out to roughly twice its length. Start wrapping the tape tightly around the pipe, starting slightly away from the hole. Keep the tape tightly stretched as you’re wrapping it around the pipe, overlapping half of the tape so that it bonds to itself.
      4. When you reach the hole in the pipe, leave a gap where the hole is and wrap the tape over to the side of the hole. Keep on wrapping until you reach the other side of the hole. Then go back the other way with another layer of tape, this time covering the hole.
      5. Do this until the hole is completely sealed. Press down firmly when you reach the end so that the end of the tape bonds with itself.
      we care handyperson plumber plumbing sink pipe emergency repair
      Our handypeople team includes expert plumbers who can tackle a variety of plumbing problems in your home

      Fixing leaking pipe joints

      It takes pipework and soldering knowledge to completely fix a leaking pipe joint. However, plumber’s repair putty can do a remarkable job of completely sealing leaking joints.

      1. Dry the pipe with a cloth and then key the area that needs sealing with a wire brush.
      2. Put on some rubber gloves to protect your skin and fingers, then take enough putty to cover the repair. You’ll then need to roll and work the putty with your hands until it is a consistent colour all over.
      3. At this point, you’ll then need to quickly put the putty over the damaged area of pipe joint. Work it into the gap between the pipe and the joint to seal it up, smoothing it down as much as possible.
      4. Leave it for 24 hours to completely harden before turning the water back on.

      What to do about leaks from water storage and tanks

      If you spot water leaking from your ceiling below the loft there may be a leak in your water storage cistern or tank. If you don’t have water storage in the loft then there may be a roof problem that needs to be attended to. In either case, you’ll need to act quickly by going up to assess the situation before water damage causes a ceiling collapse.

      If the water storage tank is indeed leaking you should put buckets, bowls or containers underneath the leaking areas to catch any water. It’s important to go and turn on all the taps in the house and flush the toilets. This will empty the pipes and the cistern (as long as the main stop valve is off).

      The leak could be caused by a burst pipe, but it might also be the cistern itself leaking or overflowing. If the leak is coming from a hot water cylinder you’ll need to turn off the boiler. There is usually a draincock around the base of the cylinder that will allow you to drain it using a hose, but if this proves to be difficult or intimidating to do you should just call in a plumber.

      Investigating any leaks helps you and the plumber

      Being able to take these initial steps in the event of a plumbing emergency will save damage to your home and your possessions, and maybe even save your life in extreme cases. It also helps the plumber or handyperson when you initially describe the problem to them, as well as later when they can crack on with the repairs.

      we care home improvements handyperson handyman plumber sink trap leak repair
      Call in a skilled trustworthy handyperson to permanently fix any leaky pipes and taps

      Nobody wants to get a plumbing leak – it’s an inconvenience at best and a nightmare at worst! With the help of this guide, you can tackle it head-on with confidence. Once you have, contact our handyperson team. We’ll send one of our skilled plumbers who can fix the problem for good.

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