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Back To Basics: How To Use A Plunger

Nearly every household has at least one plunger, and when a clog occurs in the bathroom, it’s essential to have on hand. No homeowner wants to be left without a plunger, but have you ever wondered if you’re using your plunger right?

Not being able to use this simple tool correctly may result in even bigger — and uglier — problems that not even your self-deprecating humor can help you with. For this reason, we have come up with a useful guide to help you learn how to properly use a plunger.

Not only will we tell you how to use a plunger the correct way but we will also discuss the different types of plungers and the best way to use them.

What Is A Plunger?

You’ve probably seen a plunger tucked away behind a toilet tank. To some, a plunger is a sign of problematic plumbing.

A plunger has a long handle with a large rubber cup at the end. When used correctly, a plunger can unclog pipes and have them run more efficiently. There’s no clear answer as to who invented the plunger. Many say that the plunger got its first use around the late 1700s or early 1800s.

While the design of a plunger is relatively simple, it is a powerful tool. When the plunger is pressed down, over a clog, it forces air into the drain and increases pressure. When the clog is moved, the air will continue to move through the pipes. Pulling back up on the plunger creates a vacuum and forcing anything in the pipe upwards and out.

How To Use A Plunger?

Most people reach for the plunger when the toilet becomes clogged and isn’t flushing correctly. You can use a plunger on other clogs throughout the house, such as in sinks, and many times a plunger will fix the issue and save you a call to your plumber.

When is it time to grab the plunger? Whenever there is evidence of a clog, it’s a good idea to try out a plunger. While it may not fix every plumbing issue, it’s an easy and convenient first step to take before you call a pro.

Choosing The Right Plunger

Even though all plungers are designed to unclog a drain, some plungers are best suited for different types of clogs. Let’s take a look at some of the different plungers, so you know which one is best for you.

The Standard Plunger

If you have a plunger at home, you probably have the standard plunger. This type typically has a wooden handle and an orange rubber cup. Standard plungers come in a variety of surfaces, and while they can be used for a variety of clogs, they are best used for flat surfaces over a sink drain or in a slow draining bathtub and shower area.

Toilet Plungers

While a standard plunger may help unclog your toilet, it’s ideal to have a plunger that’s specifically designed for a toilet. Like a standard plunger, toilet plungers, also known as a flange plunger, have a long handle and a rubber cup (often black).

The design difference is a flap (or flange) that folds out from the inside of the cup and is intended to fit into the toilet drain opening; which helps form a better seal and apply more effective pressure when plunging. Since the flap folds back into the cup, this type of plunger is also suitable for sinks and tubs.

Accordion Plunger

Another toilet plunger referred to as an “accordion” plunger. Rather than a traditional flexible rubber cup, the cup is made of hard plastic and is an accordion design. While it’s a forceful plunger, it’s not as versatile as traditional toilet plungers.

When selecting the type of plunger you want, it all comes down to personal preference. It’s a good idea to have one plunger for each toilet in your home and one other standard or multi-purpose plunger for other non-toilet clogs so you won’t have to use your toilet plunger to clear a clog on your kitchen sink or bathtub.

Plungers are relatively inexpensive and available everywhere from your local grocery store to online stores such as Amazon.

Now that you know more about plungers and which ones are best for specific clogs to let’s take a look at how to use a plunger.

Using A Plunger In Your Toilet

When your toilet looks like it’s going to overflow, check to make sure the flapper valve in your toilet tank is down and wait about ten minutes.

After waiting at least ten minutes, turn off the water supply hose on your toilet (located on the wall behind the toilet). If the water in the toilet is still close to overflowing, remove some of the water using a small disposable plastic cup. The water level must be halfway up the brim so it can completely cover the cup of your rubber plunger. If the water level is too low, add more water to fill the toilet bowl approximately halfway; having the right amount of water can make plunging more effective.

Using a plunger, make sure the flange is out from the inside of the cup. As you put your plunger in the water, the cup should be covered with water, and the rubber ring of the flange should be inserted into the drain opening in the bowl to create suction.

Put even pressure, pushing and pulling vertically for about 20 seconds. Avoid breaking the “seal” with the drain and keep the plunger in the water.

Unclogging Tub, Sink, or Shower

It’s easy to use a plunger on a bathtub, sink, or shower. As we mentioned earlier, standard plungers work best on clogs that are not in a toilet.

Take note that if you plan to use a chemical for unclogging drains that you don’t use a plunger (as noted on the warnings on the bottle). A plunger could splash around the toxic chemical and cause harm to you.

If you unclog a sink drain, tub, or shower, make sure to cover the overflow drain if one is present. For overflow drains in sinks, you can take a wet rag, wring out the excess water, and plug in the hole.  Covering the overflow drain helps create a stronger suction.

Place the cup of the plunger over the drain to create a tight seal and, using firm pressure, push and pull the plunger vertically. Similar to plunging a toilet, plunge the drain for about 20 seconds.

If you continue to have a slow drain, try plunging more and use extra force.

What to Do When Plungers Fail

Still can’t get your sink and toilet unclogged using plungers (or still don’t know how to use a toilet plunger) but don’t want to call the plumber yet? You can try one of those chemical drain cleaners, but understand that these substances need to be handled with care. There are different types of chemical drain cleaners available in the market, some of which are sold to professional plumbers only. These substances are so strong, they can cause organic matters that clog toilets to disintegrate and oxidize. And because they’re heavier than water, chemical drain cleaners can pass through standing water in your clogged toilet bowl and reach its target.

If you don’t like using chemicals or don’t feel safe using them, you can try homemade cleaners using baking soda and vinegar. These two are good at fixing bathtub and sink clogs. Alternatively, you can also use hot water and dish soap in clearing clogged toilets. Start by boiling water in a water heater. Pour hot water into a bucket, add some liquid dish detergent and pour the solution into the toilet bowl. Let it stand for a few minutes to allow the hot water to soften whatever it is that clogged the pipe before flushing it again.

Taking Care Of Your Plunger

While most plunger handles are designed to screw into the cup, you may want to consider replacing your plunger when the handle moves around too much or if the cup starts to crack. A damaged plunger is less likely to create good suction, and you may end up working harder than necessary to unclog a drain.

For sanitary purposes, it’s a good idea to keep it clean. You may also decide to soak your plunger in bleach. If you have a large toilet bowl, you may clean the plunger in the toilet; make sure the cleaning solution is safe for your toilet. After cleaning the plunger, let it dry and keep it someplace convenient.

If you want to keep your plunger nearby, you can always store it in a bathroom closet. If you store a plunger in a bucket, just make sure to clean the container.

Final Thoughts on How to Use a Plunger

Using a plunger is the easiest, cheapest way to fix clogged toilets and sinks. All it takes is adequate preparation and lots of patience to get things done. While plungers are one of the most affordable household tools, living without at least one can lead to inconveniences. It is therefore imperative to take proper care of your plungers so they remain in excellent condition and be of use to you for a long time.




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