A plunger is one of the simplest yet effective tools to clear drains. You will however need to choose the right type of plunger for you to unclog the drain.
A plunger works through suction. when you push it down, the water pressure acting on the clog is more than the pressure underneath it. The difference in pressure forces the clog to be sucked out thereby clearing the drain.
There are 3 main types of plungers:
- Sink/cup plunger
- Flange/toilet plunger
- Accordion plunger
Flange plungers work best for toilets. The flap at the bottom of the cup seals perfectly around the toilet drain opening allowing for maximum suction and pressure application on the clog.
A sink plunger can be used in sinks, bathtub and shower drains but is not very effective when used to unclog a toilet. On the other hand, a toilet/flange plunger can also be used to unclog sinks, tubs and shower drains after folding the flap inside the cup.
Let us now look at the different types of plungers in more details.
The following are the 3 main types of plungers:
1. Sink/Cup Plunger
A sink plunger, also known as a cup plunger or a flat-bottomed plunger is the most common type of plunger. It comprises of a simple rubber cup usually mounted on a wooden handle.
It is called a sink plunger since it is mostly used to clear clogs in sink drains. Apart from sinks, the cup plunger is also used to unclog showers and bathtub drains.
In a nutshell, a flat-bottomed plunger is used to clear clogs in fixtures with a flat drain like that of sinks and tubs. That therefore makes this type of plunger ineffective when used to clear clogs from a toilet drain.
It is important to note that in order for a plunger to work well, the cup has to form a tight seal around the drain your want to unclog. If it doesn’t, the pressure generated will be lost through the openings.
That is why a sink plunger is a not a good choice for unclogging a toilet drain. If however a sink plunger is the one plunger you have and you have a clogged toilet, you can still use it although your success will be limited.
2. Flange Plunger
A flange plunger, also known as a toilet plunger or bell-shaped plunger is the plunger specifically designed to unclog toilets. It looks like a sink plunger only that it has a rubber flap attached at the end of the cup.
The design of this plunger is in line with the toilet drain opening which unlike sink and shower drains, is not flat but curved.
The flexible flap folds out from the cup and seals around the toilet drain opening allowing maximum pressure application on the clog and suction as well. This is what makes this plunger effective in clearing toilet clogs.
Although this plunger is designed and sold specifically for use in toilet drains, you can also use it to clear clogs in sink, tub and shower drains. The flap easily folds inside the cup leaving you with a proper flat-bottom plunger.
It is however not recommended to use the same plunger in toilet, shower, bathtub and sink drains (especially kitchen sink) for hygiene reasons. You can easily transport germs from the toilet to the sink using the plunger.
3. Accordion Plunger
This is type of plunger is not as common as the two above but it is also a good choice for clearing clogs from a toilet. Unlike the other plungers, it is made of a hard plastic from top to bottom.
The design and name of this plunger is inspired by the accordion (music instrument played by squeezing and pulling bellows from both sides using hands).
This plunger has a large hollow cylinder with flexible accordion-style bellows/ridges on the outside and a small cup at the bottom.
The plunger cylinder is usually full of air before plunging starts. When you position the small cup around the toilet drain opening and push the handle down, the bellows compresses the air which is forced out through the bottom to dislodge the clog.
Although this type of plunger is more powerful than the flange plunger, it is not easy to use. Most folks struggle to push and pull the handle without lifting it off from the drain opening.
The fact that it is also made from a hard plastic material means that it is likely to badly scratch your toilet bowl and leave it with ugly marks.
Unlike a flange plunger which is quite versatile, an accordion plunger can only be used to clear clogs in toilet drains. You cannot use it in a sink, bathtub or shower drain.
The above are 3 main types of plungers. There are however other types of plungers in the market most of which are variations or improvement to the above three.
How to Use a Plunger Effectively
As I had mentioned earlier, the first thing to do when clearing a clogged drain using a plunger is to choose the correct type of plunger.
After that make sure that the fixture you are clogging has water at the bottom. Ideally the cup of the plunger should be submerged in water. Why is this important though?
The reason the plunger cup should be immersed in water is because you do not want to have air inside the cup. Having air in the cup means that every time you plunge down the air will be compressed and hence no suction or pressure generated to dislodge the clog.
In other words, the air inside the plunger will act like a shock absorber. If you are plunging the toilet drain, you are better off adding water using a cup or bucket instead of flushing the toilet to prevent overflowing.
While plunging, try as much as possible to keep the plunger handle straight. A tilted plunger handle does not generate the required force/suction to dislodge the clog.
Another important tip to remember is that sinks and bathtubs have overflow drains. The overflow drains are connected to the main drain and actually share the same drain trap (where the clog in most cases is found).
As such, you should always plug off the overflow drain opening before you can start plunging. Use an extra plunger to seal off the overflow drain or even use duct tape or a piece of rag.
Failure to plug off the overflow drain will mean that the pressure generated by the plunger will escape through it (the overflow drain). The chance of clearing the clog in such a case will be quite low.
When you are finally ready to plunge, start off gently. That will allow the plunger to nicely seal off around the drain opening and to also prevent splashing water all over yourself.
Do not use a plunger if you had unsuccessfully tried to use chemical drain cleaners. Chemical drain cleaners burn your skin, irritate your eyes or even make you blind if the splash on you.
Alternatives to Plunging
If you do not have a plunger, or you have tried using a plunger unsuccessfully, there are other easy ways you can use to clear a clogged drain.
One of those ways is by using baking soda, vinegar and boiling water. Baking soda and vinegar are quite effective in clearing organic clogs from drains on their own but incorporating boiling water increases your chances.
Start by draining all the standing water from the fixture you want to unclog. That allows the solution to work on the clog directly and break it down.
In the case of the toilet, you will need to drain the water at the bottom of the bowl even if it means scooping it with a cup and emptying it in a bucket. You can also soak it up with a sponge.
Next pour 1 cup of baking soda followed by another cup of vinegar. The two will react together if a fizzing reaction which is actually what will break down the clog.
After about 15 minutes, dump a gallon of boiling water down the drain. In the case of a toilet, avoiding using boiling water as it can crack the bowl. Normal hot water from the bathroom sink faucet will do the job.
Another thing you can do is to remove and clean the P-trap. If you are dealing with a clogged bathroom or kitchen sink, removing and cleaning the P-trap is so easy.
The P-trap is the U-shaped bend under the sink. Disconnect the P-trap from the sink drain and clean it using a flexible wire brush or rag.
As I had mentioned earlier, whenever you have a clogged drain, most of the tike the clog is usually inside the P-trap.
Snaking the drain is another effective way of removing the clog. Using a snake drain is however not that easy and that is where I wrote this separate article complete will all the necessary steps.
If you don’t have a plumber’s snake, you can use a wire coat hanger. Straighten the hanger and make a hook on one side using a pair of pliers. Use the hooked end of the wire to pull gunk from the drain.
If all the methods fail to work, contact a licensed plumber. Plumbers have better tools and years of experience and will therefore know exactly what needs to be done to clear the clog.
And basically that is all about the different types of plungers. I hope this post was helpful.