How To Unclog A Toilet, With Or Without A Plunger

collage showing how to unclog a toilet with hot water and dawn dish soap
When there’s no plunger to be found, this home remedy will help push through most minor clogs.

The Easiest Ways To Unclog A Toilet In An Emergency

Knowing how to unclog a toilet is a valuable life skill. I’m sure we’ve all been in a “situation” at some point in our lives that involved someone else’s bathroom, a clogged toilet, and the crushing weight of our own panic and humiliation. (In fact, the fact that is one of my most popular posts makes me even more certain it’s a common experience!)

While we can’t go back and change the past, nor erase our memory of the incident, what we can do is learn how to calmly and discreetly unclog a toilet and avoid such calamities in the future!

Related: This Simple Tip Prevents Clogged Drains, According To Plumbers

In this post, you’ll find 4 simple and straightforward ways to unclog a toilet. Learning multiple methods may seem like overkill, but personally, I’d much rather have a few different tricks up my sleeve and not need them than be utterly helpless in an unfamiliar setting!

So without any further ado, let’s talk toilets, shall we?

Check out this toilet unclogging hack in action in my video at the end of the post!

How To Unclog A Toilet: 4 Easy Methods

a squirt of dawn dish soap can help you to unclog a toilet
If you’re out of dish soap, chop up a bar of hand soap into small chunks and drop the pieces into the toilet.

1. Unclog A Toilet Without A Plunger With The Hot Water “Plumber’s Trick”

I picked up this simple 3-step method to unclog a toilet without a plunger from a plumber who visited our house years ago. It’s ideal for emergencies, since it calls on supplies that are ubiquitous in most bathrooms.

What You Need:

  • A bucket or empty trash can
  • Soap (optional)
water rises in a clogged toilet until the water supply is turned off
It’s easy to panic when the water is rising, but don’t forget this important first step!

Step 1 – Stop The Water!

If the water is rising in the toilet, the absolute first thing you should do is remove the toilet tank lid and press the flapper down. The toilet flapper allows water to flow from the tank into the toilet bowl, and pressing it closed will immediately stop the water from rising, preventing a potential overflow.

You can also shut off the water supply to the toilet as an added safety measure. Look for a handle behind the toilet and close to the floor, and turn it clockwise to shut off the water.

pouring hot water can help unblock toilets
No bucket handy? A small trash can will do in a pinch.

Step 2 – Pour Hot Water Into The Toilet Bowl

The next step is to add some hot water to the toilet bowl, which will help dissolve the clog and make it easier to flush. This is the way to unclog a toilet fast — it usually only takes a couple of minutes to work!

Look for a bucket or wastebasket, empty it, and fill it with hot water from the tub or sink. Pour the water into the toilet bowl, wait a minute or two, then try either plunging the toilet or flushing the toilet again. (Turn the water back on if necessary, and keep your hand close to the flapper in case the attempt is unsuccessful!)

squirt dish soap into a clogged toilet to help loosen the blockage
For a crisis in the bathroom, run to the kitchen for some dish soap!

Step 3 – Squirt Some Dish Soap Into The Toilet Bowl

If the previous step didn’t completely take care of the problem, the next step is to try adding some soap. Dish soap, hand soap, or even shampoo can help get the clog moving through the pipes!

Just squirt a few tablespoons of soap or shampoo into the toilet bowl, wait a couple more minutes, then flush. The combination of the hot water and soap should be enough to unclog a toilet and get the water moving again!

toilet
These toilet “bombs” bust through clogs and clean your toilet at the same time.

2. DIY Clog-Busting Toilet “Bombs”

The second method I want to share isn’t quite as useful as the plumber’s trick for toilet clogs that may arise when you’re out and about. However, keeping a container of these fizzy toilet “bombs” in your own bathrooms can certainly make it easier for both you and your guests to unclog a toilet quickly and easily!

What You Need To Make Toilet Clog-Clearing “Bombs”:

Step 1: Add the baking soda and Epsom salt to a mixing bowl and stir to combine. Add the dish soap a little bit at a time, stirring after each addition, until the mixture feels like wet sand.
Moisten the mixture just enough that the ingredients start to clump together.

Directions:

Add the baking soda and Epsom salt to a mixing bowl and stir to combine. Add the dish soap a little bit at a time, stirring after each addition, until the mixture feels like wet sand.

Step 2: Divide the mixture evenly among the cavities of a silicone mold, pack them tightly, then set the mold aside to dry overnight.
To avoid a big mess, don’t take them out until they are completely dried!

Divide the mixture evenly among the cavities of a silicone mold, pack them tightly, then set the mold aside to dry overnight. Once your toilet bombs are completely dry, remove them from the mold and store them in an airtight container.

collage showing how to unclog a toilet with fizzy clog-busting toilet bombs

How To Use Clog-Busting Toilet Bombs

To unclog a toilet, drop one of the bombs into the toilet bowl, pour in a quart or so of hot water, then let it sit for as long as possible (an hour is ideal). The ingredients and hot water will work together to break down the clog, and you should only need to flush to fix the clogged toilet!

pouring borax into a toilet
This method requires some patience, but if you have the time, it works wonders.

3. Borax

What you need:

  • Borax

For this method, you only need one thing: borax. While borax is commonly used as a laundry booster, it’s useful in a variety of other cleaning applications too, including helping to fix a clogged toilet!

To use it, start by shutting off the water supply to the toilet. Pour about 1/2 cup borax into the toilet bowl, let sit for 5-10 minutes, then follow with a bucket of hot water.

Try flushing again. If necessary, repeat by adding more borax and hot water to the toilet bowl

a photo showing how to unclog a toilet with a plunger

4. How To Unclog A Toilet With A Plunger

What You Need:

  • A toilet plunger

For about 90 percent of clogged toilets, you only need one tool—a toilet plunger. Look for a toilet plunger with an extension coming off of the bell-shaped end, which will help create a seal between the plunger and the toilet drain at the bottom of the bowl that will make your plunging efforts more effective.

To use a toilet plunger to unclog a toilet, aim the flange extension into the toilet drain and push it in gently. (This first push will expel the air trapped inside the plunger, so you don’t want to push too hard and risk blasting a bunch of water out of the toilet bowl!)

Once you force out the air, continue plunging in and out about 15 to 20 times, making sure to maintain the seal. This will force water back and forth in the drain, effectively loosening most clogs. Stick with it, and your efforts will almost certainly pay off!

Bonus Tip: Don’t Pour Drano Down The Toilet

If you’re wondering if you can pour Drano down the toilet, the answer is a resounding NO! Unless a plumbing product is specifically meant to be used in toilets, don’t use them there — some create a lot of heat, which can crack porcelain toilets or soften PVC pipes. You could end up turning one relative minor problem into several serious ones, so you’re better off steering clear!

You’ll find more useful toilet and plumbing tips in these posts:

Do you have any tips or tricks for fixing a clogged toilet?

A person using toilet cleaner to unclog a toilet.

How to Unclog a Toilet (Step by Step)

Jill Nystul
Stuck in the bathroom with the toilet water steadily rising? Follow these steps to unclog a toilet quickly and easily!
3.77 from 13 votes
Prep Time 5 minutes
Active Time 5 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes

Equipment

  • Bucket
  • Toilet plunger

Ingredients
  

  • 1/2 cup borax
  • 1 gallon hot water
  • dish soap

Instructions
 

Use the Plumber's Trick

  • Remove the toilet tank lid and press the flapper down to stop the water level from rising and potentially overflowing. You can also shut off the water supply to the toilet as an added safety measure. Look for a handle behind the toilet and close to the floor, and turn it clockwise to shut off the water.
  • Look for a bucket or wastebasket, empty it, and fill it with hot water from the tub or sink. Pour the water into the toilet bowl, wait a minute or two, then try either plunging the toilet or flushing the toilet again.
  • If that doesn’t completely take care of the problem, try adding some soap. Dish soap, hand soap, or even shampoo can help! Just squirt a few tablespoons of dish soap into the toilet bowl, wait a couple more minutes, then flush.

Try Borax

  • Start by shutting off the water supply to the toilet. Pour about 1/2 cup borax into the toilet bowl, let sit for 5-10 minutes, then follow with a bucket of hot water. Try flushing again, then repeat with more borax and hot water if necessary.

Pull Out the Plunger

  • Aim the flange extension of the plunger into the toilet drain and push it in gently. (This first push will expel the air trapped inside the plunger, so you don’t want to push too hard and risk blasting a bunch of water out of the toilet bowl!)
  • Once you force out the air, continue plunging in and out about 15 to 20 times, making sure to maintain the seal. This will force water back and forth in the drain, effectively loosening most clogs.

Video

YouTube video

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Jill Nystul Photo

Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee

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Homekeeping Tips

  • Very early on after we bought our home I replaced all three of the commodes with new ones that are equipped with the Sloan Flushmate pressure tanks. If, for some reason or another, your commodes get clogged repeatedly, you need to replace them with a Flushmate unit and you troubles will be over. We have been in this house for almost 28 years now and have never had a clog in any of the commodes.

  • These are great!! Thank you Jillee! Here is something that has worked for me many times. When I order something from a drive-thru I usually use the fork and am left with a plastic knife, so I have lots of these. I leave some knives and plastic gloves in a ziplock in each bathroom and if something is too big too flush (we all know what this is) or it’s obvious that this is why the toilet won’t flush just take a knife, put on a glove, chop up what is too big and flush! (Some think this is too gross to mention but it works. As a former nurse not much is too gross for me.) Thx for all the super hints you give us!!

  • Mostly extra residue lead towards slowing down water flow, you can easily dislodge it using a drain cleaner. All you need to do is pour down a gallon of hot water inside the toilet, and leave the water sit inside the bowl for 5 to 10 minutes. After that pour a drain cleaner, the combined action will flush out entire residue and will speed up the water flow.

  • Your hot water trick worked..but I went to the Dollar store and bought the cheap detergent [$1.00], and it worked great. I want to make the Fizz Bombs, but the directions don’t say how many cakes it make. I don’t want to make them to big, or to small. Any info would really help….thanks so much—Rick

  • After years of problems with the toilet, I’ve discovered that the best thing (for me) is to fill the bowl with bleach and let it sit overnight. Also, it helps to use the right toilet paper: – use the cheapest, flimsiest brand single leaf you can find. It will destruct in minutes and save you alot of grief, no matter how much you use. The last tip, I learned from my suburban friends who have septic tanks.

  • Oh hi Jillee, just wondered if you can recommend a solution to rusty lids, I do a lot of home pickling but after a few uses, the jar lids get rusted up .
    I think they come in contact with the vinegar. My family love home pickles but I’m wondering if it’s worth it ,keep buying new jars.
    Best wishes Agnes in Australia.

    • Agnes, I wish I had an answer for you. Unfortunately, there really isn’t a way to clean the rust from the lids. You could always try to find replacement lids and then you would have to buy new bottles every time. Mason Jar Lids

    • In the tank where the water is, at the bottom is a black or red disc the allows the water into the bowl. To stop the water hold the “disc” down over the hole. The “disc” is called the “flapper”

      • The first thing my plummer told me to do when the toilet is plugged and water rising is to trn on the cold water in the sink and tub or shower….it works every time and is faster and cleane than sticking your hand down the toilet tank.

    • If there’s a persistent problem with clogs, it may be time to call in a professional. Our master toilet refused to flush (didn’t clog; just swirled around and didn’t flush) at odd intervals for months after we moved in. We were having problems with our kitchen sink also so we had a plumber look at both. Apparently there were problems with the water lines that were exacerbated when water was running elsewhere in the house (e.g., dishwasher, washing machine, shower). So it may not be a problem with the toilet itself.

      • Join the discussion…Thank goodness your situation did NOT sound like a toilet clog from someone using the toilet like Jill means. It was clear right off the bat that yours was a problem with your plumbing. I think I would have gone back on my realtor for a problem with plumbing especially within months of purchase??? Sounds kind of fishy to me.

  • Wow, thank you so much for this helpful tip, that I feel everyone has or will experience. I hope never again, but if I do, be it my own home, or a visiting home, I now know what to do to avoid such ‘help me disappear’ moment.

  • I just had the occasion to use the toilet unclogging trick about an hour ago and I can not believe it really WORKS! I was low on shampoo but had a big bottle of bubble bath liquid and with the hot water, the toilet gurgled and went down. I waited 15 minutes and it flushed with no plunging needed. Thank you for my new miracle toilet trick!

  • The pail with the soapy hot water was MAGIC! It worked instantly! I was ready to call a plumber for lots of $$$ on a Saturday night! Thank you so much!!!

  • Never had an overflow in the bathroom but I did like the Dawn tip for keeping things cleaned out. I usually use baking soda and vinegar on the shower drain and toilet when I clean but will try the Dawn tip on the toilet next time. Also if you read this where did you find the bucket in the picture? I have been trying to find one with a handle like that one. Thanks.

  • I use a recycled coconut oil bucket in each bathroom to hold the plunger. The bucket would also come in handy in this situation………………………..

  • I have used the Dawn and hot water trick a couple of times. At first I was a skeptic, but no more. It works great. About 1/4 cup of Dawn, let it sit for about 30 minutes to seep down to the offending clog, then pour the water in slowly as you flush!

  • Vinegar works too. If the toilet is slow, I pour a couple of cups in at bedtime or after everyone leaves for the day. Let it sit as long as possible.

  • Ahhh, Jillee… you are always here when I need you! This is very helpful information, especially about closing the flap. I have a teenage boy at home and toilet clogs are a regular occurrence here. From now on it will be a little less messy. Thank you!!

  • I have a chronic problem with this and here’s what i do : first, i squirt the dawn in on the offending and let it settle on the offending material and sit foe maybe 10 to 15 minutes before pouring the hottish water on and let it sit for another 10 minutes or so. Flush. If you get no or only partial results, repeat again. Sometimes it takes a few tries, so try to not get discouraged ( at least as not discouraged as you can get with a stinky bowl full that doesn’t want to leave ). A few times i still have had to plunge. Make sure you get the plunger directly over the escape hatch and plunge in strong even strokes, i count to 12. I’ve also dicovered that any decent brand of grease active dish detergent works. I buy Palmolive yellow by the big jug, Considerably cheaper than Dawn, ) When you pour the hottish water, you want it to move any large turds that may be sticking out of any water in the bowl and you can see the poo is starting to loosen up when the liquidy browness takes the place of clear-ish water. Hope this helps also.

  • Holy crap!! (no pun intended). So glad I found this article! It took 5 gallons of hot water, and a little dawn, but 20 minutes later, it’s flushing better now than it ever did!! Wonderful article thanks for saving me money!!

  • I would recommend adding warm water first, before going straight to hot water. The problem with straight hot water is that the porcelain of the toilet may not react well to the temperature change. While I have heard plenty of success using this method, I have also heard of cracked toilet bowls. Use with caution!

    • I would say that most dishwashing liquid will work but Dawn is one of the best. It’s great for stains on clothes…I have used it in the toilet …even before I read this..I have had some nasty clogs in the toilet and most of the time it has worked.

  • Omg the soap & water one helped me a lot,thankyou soo much!!! I didn’t have hot water so I used not to cold or to warm & it still helped, I’m excited I read this! :))

  • I have had my share of battles with the clogged toilet bowl, but nothing like today! For more than five hours (!) I was “pumping” the plunger until I thought I was going to destroy the poor thing! Or, pass out. Whichever came first.
    Then I went ONLINE! Checked out about half a dozen “How To” web pages until, finally, I read about the miracle of hot water! I must say that, at first, it seemed way too simple, too easy for “my problem”. But, sometimes, it IS the easy that wins the day.
    It did in my case.
    Still plunging, I ran three buckets full of hot water straight from the faucet. That meant three flushes and – what do you know? – by the time I was ready to run the fourth, my toilet was flushing like new!
    Who would have known!?

  • I love these tips but want to add that using Dawn is paramount to success in this endeavor. I don’t know why, maybe it’s why Dawn is used to clean oil spilled animals, but it appears to have magical qualities that no other dish soap contains. You can use Dawn to unclog your drain, help your toilet flush, rub it on oil stains on your driveway and viola’ all is good! Thanks for all the tips, Jillee and Frances I hope that the hot water trick helps. I honestly can’t imagine that the Dawn solution didn’t help. Good luck

  • Love it!!! You come up with so many helpful, unique, and thrifty posts. Your site is really something! And as a 30-something who has been waist deep in the alternative/traditional/green/whatever movement for 10 years, this comment isn’t to be taken lightly. ;-)

    Keep it up! Love your stuff!!!

  • Tried it tonight on a clogged toilet (one that already flushes sluggishly on the best of days). Hot water and dish soap, then waiting a few minutes to flush, did the trick and unclogged the toilet! So glad not to have to drag out the plunger.

  • Going to try the cheap shampoo next time mine is clogged up and the flapper too! Thanks for this! I hate getting the plunger out and it makes a mess and u have to stand away from the toiliet while while u are plunging the clog.

    • I tried cheap shampoo and for me, it just didn’t hardly work at all. It has to be a degreaser, and those are in various dishwash soaps, Dawn being the most notable. I have also had good luck with Palmolive yellow – it’s a bit cheaper and i have found works quite well. Individual results may vary.

  • A friend told me years ago that when she was growing up her family had a motel. Her dad’s secret was to put a squirt of cheap shampoo when cleaning the toilet after a person checked out of the room. Worked for them!

  • We have a septic tank and to avoid clogs use the sequence: poop — flush — wipe — flush. It saves too much debris going down the pipe at the same time.

  • Thank you so much for this education! I have also found that if you want to help prevent clogs in the first place you can do the hot water/dishsoap treatment once a month. I rarely have to use my plunger anymore!!

  • I have used this treatment a few time before. I just moved into an apartment complex 3 months ago, and low and behold, the toilet has clogged up at least once a month. I just use this treatment and all is good. But I did notice that there is a LOT of lime deposit inside the tank. Jillee, do you have any recommendations on how to get rid of that? Or should I just ask the property manager to have it replaced?

  • Cool. This may come in handy as I live in an apt and the toilet misbehaves from time-to-time. Since I live alone, I’ve had to call for emergency maintence, even at 10 p.m. on Sunday. Now, I have something I can try and save that embarrassing phone call.

    Thank you, Jillee!!

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