drain cleaning

Plunging 101: How to Plunge Your Toilet Before It Overflows

There’s no panic quite like flushing the toilet, hearing a gurgle, and seeing the bowl’s water level continue to rise. While we’ve all dealt with the occasional clog, knowing how to handle a toilet with dirty water about to overflow is a different situation.

If this happens to you, this is how you can get the situation under control.

How to Get the Water Level Under Control

Immediately after the bowl’s water starts rising, here’s what you should do to give yourself time to plunge:

Don’t Flush It Again

A common mistake during the panic of an overflowing toilet is to try to flush it again, but that only makes matters worse. If the water is rising immediately after your flush, that means the clog is preventing the water in the bowl from draining. If you flush again, you’re only adding more water to the bowl and increasing the likelihood of it overflowing completely.

Stop the Toilet from Filling Up

If you think the water might overflow out of the toilet, or it’s started to rise, take the lid off the back of the tank and close the toilet flapper. This contraption releases water from the tank and sends it into the bowl. It looks like a rubber circle with a metal or chain lever. When you push it closed, it seals the bottom of the tank and prevents water from flowing into the bowl.

Find the Toilet’s Water Shut-Off Valve

Not all toilets have a water shut-off valve, but if this one does, it will be outside of the tank near where the toilet connects to the wall. Turn it clockwise to prevent water from flowing into the toilet and causing a flood.

Get Ready to Plunge

Now that you have the water level under control, you can try to remove the clog that’s causing the toilet to back up.

Empty Some of the Water, If Needed

If the water level got high before you had a chance to stop it, you may need to take some out to plunge without water pouring over the sides. Get some rubber gloves and use a bowl or bucket to carefully scoop some of the water out of the toilet bowl.

Use the Right Plunger

Standard plungers are often used in homes, but flange plungers are the best option for unclogging toilets. These plungers have a flange on the bottom that extends into the drain hole, creating a tighter seal that will clear the clog more easily.

Warm Up the Plunger

If your plunger is cold and stiff, it won’t work as well as a soft and pliable one. Run the plunger under hot water to soften the rubber and create a better seal in the toilet.

Use the Plunger Correctly

It may seem simple, but using the plunger correctly is key to loosening the clog and getting the toilet flowing again. You have to have a tight seal over the drain hole at the bottom. Plunging isn’t just about the downward push, but the pullback on the way back up. This is how clogs are moved.

Once you have a tight seal, use strong up and down strokes with the plunger to loosen the clog. You may see the water clear from the toilet immediately, but if not, try to flush it again. If the water clears, you’re all set. If it begins to overflow again, close the flapper again to stop more water from entering. Repeat the plunging sequence until your clog is gone.

For Stubborn Clogs, Try Natural Remedies

If you have time to wait, you can try some natural remedies to help loosen the clog.

Baking soda and vinegar are safe, gentle options that can relieve a clog in about eight hours. You simply mix one cup of baking soda and one cup of vinegar, pour it into the toilet, and leave it to sit. The chemical reaction can break down whatever is clogging the toilet.


Another trick that works if you can’t wait for the baking soda and vinegar is to add some hot water and dish detergent. You only need a few cups of hot water in the toilet bowl and a little dish detergent to help break up the clog and make it easier to plunge. In some cases, you may not need to plunge at all.

What If the Clog Is a Foreign Object?

These steps work for toilet paper and waste, but if the clog is because of a foreign object like a cosmetic product or a children’s toy, you don’t want to risk flushing it again. You can try to plunge to take it out of the toilet, but don’t flush. If you can’t get it out, call a plumber to snake the drain.

Is your toilet clogging all the time? It may be a bigger problem with your plumbing system. Contact us at Proskill to schedule an appointment!

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