If there's one DIY trick you should master, it's how to use a plunger. Luckily, this trusty household staple is a rather easy tool to use once you get the hang of it.
A plunger uses suction to remove clogs in sinks, drains, and toilets. The rubber cup forms a vacuum seal over the drain or toilet opening so that when the handle is thrust, the pressure of the water moving up and down will remove the blockage and the water will flow freely again.
George Medina, a plumber and National Technical Institute instructor, recommends using a plunger to clear out sinks, drains, or toilets. While it's tempting to go for a commercial drain cleaner to solve your problem, he says it's not a guarantee that it will. In fact, one of the biggest complaints he hears from customers is that they tried a chemical cleaner and it didn't work.
"Liquid drain cleaners can also lead to serious damage to your pipes and could cause corrosion or further wear and tear on pipes, especially in older homes," says Medina. "It would be best to use a plunger and if that does not work, call a local professional to help."
There are three different types of plungers suitable for household use: the standard cup plunger, the flange plunger, and the accordion plunger.
The standard cup plunger features a cup — typically a red one — with a wooden handle. This one is best used on flat surfaces, such as sinks and shower drains.
The flange plunger has a large cup — often black — with a smaller inner cup (flange) that can be inserted more securely in a toilet bowl opening. The flange plunger is actually an all-purpose plunger, as the smaller cup can be pushed back into the larger cup, creating the same shape as a standard cup plunger. However, for sanitary purposes, it's a good idea to keep two separate plungers to be used for toilets and for sinks and drains.
An accordion plunger is another type that can be used on toilets, though it's not as easy to use as the standard or flange plunger. That's because it is made with hard plastic, rather than rubber, which makes it more difficult to form a seal over the opening. Once you form the seal, though, the accordion ridges create a stronger suction to unclog a drain with less exertion.
Important: Do not mix bleach with any vinegar-based household cleanser, as the combination will produce toxic chlorine gas fumes.
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Quick Tip: To plunge a double sink, create a seal over both drains. A second plunger works well here, but you can try stuffing a rag in the drain or insert an inverted drinking glass in a pinch. Hold down the plunger on one side as you plunge the other—a second set of hands would also be helpful here to maintain the proper seal.
If the plunger isn't fixing the clog, Medina does not advise using chemical drain openers as they can be harsh on plumbing. Instead, he recommends using a plastic drain snake to reach the blockage. Once you've reached the blockage, turn the handle or crank and pull it out. If that doesn't work, he says to try an auger, which has a steel cable and a crank that can reach even further to grab the object that's causing the blockage.
"Most big box stores will rent appropriate equipment depending on what diameter pipe you are attempting to clean," Medina says. If the issue persists, Medina says you should call your local plumber.
A plunger is an essential household tool for unclogging toilets, sinks, and drains. A standard plunger is best for sinks and drains while a flange plunger is ideal for toilets. A few quick thrusts should do the trick to remove the blockage, but if it's a tougher clog, you might need a drain snake or auger. Avoid chemical drain openers as they can do more harm than good to your plumbing. Call a plumber if the situation doesn't improve.
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