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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