If you’re relatively handy around the home, or you live in an apartment and don’t want to keep bothering the supervisor to resolve minor residential plumbing problems, you probably want to be able to do basic chores such as unblock a toilet or clear a minor clog in the drain. To do this successfully, you need the right type of equipment, and a suitable plunger should be the first item on your list. If this fails, a portable snake is the next option, and if that doesn’t work you may need to call your local plumber for help.
Types of Plungers
DIY plungers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including:
- Sink plungers
- Toilet plungers
- Accordion plungers
The prices of the different vary almost as much as their appearance. But some work better than others, and if you are going to attempt any sort of DIY residential plumbing jobs, you need to know which one to use for each task.
These are typical plungers with a wooden rod tipped with a rubber cup. While the cups vary in size, they are all used for the same purpose – to create a seal around the entrance to the drain you’re trying to clear. If your plumbing problems comprise mainly block kitchen sinks or bathtubs, then this is the plunger for you because it works best on a flat surface. Position the plunger completely covering the drain mouth and make sure it is standing level. Work the handle up and down rapidly, which causes a vacuum and sucks up the blockage to loosen and break it up. After use in water containing bath oil or cooking fat, wash it off using warm soapy water and leave it to dry before putting it away.
The typical plunger used to unblock a toilet is similar to the sink plunger, but has a round rubber flap that folds into the cup. When the flap is folded out it fits snugly into the base of the toilet bowl, creating much stronger suction than the sink plunger does. This is the most versatile plunger to get for residential plumbing problems, because once the flap is folded in the plunger can also be used on a sink or bathtub. To unblock a toilet, wait for the water and contents to subside or remove them using a jug and a bucket, then once you are able to insert the plunger without causing overspill work it up and down to loosen the clog. It’s advisable to sterilize the plunger afterwards before storing it, because toilet debris can contain harmful bacteria that washing doesn’t always remove.
The accordion plunger is made from hard plastic rings that compress when you push down, with a cup at the end. While it’s marketed as an all-purpose plunger, it isn’t very effective for sinks because the cup is small and doesn’t cover most drain entrances fully. In addition, it takes some force to push it up and down so creation of a vacuum seal over the drain is difficult. If you use it to unblock a toilet it can be effective if the person operating it is able to generate a fair amount of pressure. The main benefit is that the hard plastic shell doesn’t degrade over time like rubber plungers do.
In all cases, if you tackle residential plumbing problems yourself, make sure you have – and use – the correct tools for the job. Otherwise you run the risk of damaging your drain or toilet, which will cost you far more than it would to contact a professional plumber in the first place.