A DIY Guide to Clearing a Blocked Toilet


A blocked toilet can range from minor inconvenience to being a major problem depending on whether it’s your only bathroom or if you have happen to have overnight guests. Regardless of where it rates on your pain in the you know what scale, the main concern with an out-of-commission fixture is usually getting it repaired as soon as possible.

While calling a professional plumber is always an option, emergency service normally isn’t cheap — especially if it’s after hours or on a holiday which for some strange reason is when most backed up toilets tend to occur. Fortunately most clogs can be fixed by the average DIYer. If I had called a plumbing contractor every time there was a blocked toilet in my house over the years, he probably could have taken an early retirement.

Using a Handheld Auger to Unclog your Toilet

Toilet plungers come in several sizes and shapes and can be used to clear minor blockages. However, for some reason my clogs never seem to be minor so I gave up on plungers many years ago. However, it’s still a good idea to keep one on hand as they’re inexpensive and might actually work for your situation.

A long time ago when my children were young and stopped up toilets were a weekly occurrence, a plumbing contractor give me a tool that quickly became worth its weight in gold: a handheld drain auger. They can vary in size, but most are about 4 feet long and have a tube that has an approximate 90 degree angle at one end and a rotating handle at the other. Extending out of the angled end is a heavy duty wire that looks like a cartoon pig’s tail. Here’s how the auger works:

  1. Turn the water off to the toilet if you haven’t already – there should be a valve where the water supply line comes out of the wall or floor.
  2. Put the angled end of the auger down into the toilet bowl so that the wire “pig’s tail” is situated in the throat of the bowl (the opening where all the water and waste disappears).
  3. The angled portion of the tube normally has a vinyl sleeve to protect the inside of your bowl from scratches, but the “pig’s tail” can still do some damage so take care when getting it situated.
  4. When the auger is in place, start rotating the handle. The “pig’s tail” and about 4 feet of heavy duty coiled wire behind it will slowly rotate its way through the throat of the toilet and into the first foot or so of the fixture’s main drainage line.
  5. When all of the wire has been extended, pull on the handle and it will retract back into the tube. On occasion you may have to rotate the handle in reverse to help the wire along.
  6. Turn the water back on and flush the toilet but keep your hand close to the valve in case the blockage isn’t totally cleared. In my experience, the auger takes care of most clogs with a single pass, but on occasion it may take two.

Handheld drain augers are sold at most home improvement and hardware stores and will take care of most common toilet blockages. If a dog should happen to drop a toy or bone into the toilet and it gets stuck in the fixture’s throat, the auger probably isn’t going to work. Don’t ask me how I know – I just do. In those cases the toilet must be pulled and the obstruction removed from the bottom of the throat, but that’s a “how-to” guide for another day.

Toilet Auger — photo courtesy rigidtools.com