The plunger. It is the quintessential symbol of a service plumber, and for good reason. You can clear many sink, toilet and bathtub blockages by using the proper plunger and technique. That’s right! Not only are the different types of plungers specifically designed for different fixtures but there is also technique involved!
Physics of the Proper Plunger
Our goal is to dislodge a blockage enough to let gravity and the weight of the water carry it away. Using the right plunger makes it easier to create an airtight seal. When the plunger is thrust downward the air behind the blockage compresses like the pressure behind a cork on a wine bottle. When the plunger is pulled the air between the plunger and the blockage creates suction. Depending on the blockage you may have more success pulling upward or on the downward thrust. Remember you’re just trying to dislodge it. In both scenarios creating an airtight system is very important or the physics just don’t work.
Picking the Proper Plunger
There are many kinds of plungers
“Flanged plungers” are specifically designed for toilets. This type of plunger has an extra flange that protrudes out of the end of the cup. This flange is inserted into the recess of the toilet drain to ensure a vacuum tight seal with the toilet drain. The flange is able to create a seal in spite of the curved surface of the toilet bowl.
“Cupped” or “flat” plungers are the stereotypical tool seen in cartoons without the flange described above. This type of plunger may be used for sinks, tubs and floor drains. Because the surface surrounding the drain is relatively flat the profile of this type of plunger will create the proper seal.
Plunging Like a Pro
Flanged toilet plunger
Do not attempt to plunge a toilet when the water level is high and about to spill over the edge of the toilet. Instead, wait a few minutes and typically the water will drop. If it doesn’t, transfer the liquid to a bucket until you have approximately half of the bowl full of water. If the bowl is less than half full, add water.
Grab your plunger with the flange and insert the plunger into the toilet. Make sure that the entire flange is in the toilet trap (hole). Carefully press the plunger downward not as an attempt to clear the blockage but to create a vacuum. Likely if you thrust downward without first loosening the blockage the contents of the toilet will end up on your floor or on you (GROSS!) When the plunger is completely depressed pull upward sharply. Repeat this process until the blockage is cleared. Remember to maintain the water level in the tank by flushing if you find the bowl completely dry.
SINKS & TUBS
Typical overflow drain in a bathroom sink
Remember that creating a vacuum is necessary to properly plunge. Sinks and tubs are equipped with two drains that tie together. Along with the main drain there is an overflow drain to each of these fixtures. This is to protect against flooding if a faucet is left on unknowingly when the main drain is stopped. Before plunging, the overflow drain will need to be plugged. If you don’t plug this drain the air that you’re compressing and pulling when you plunge will escape and never affect the blockage. An easy solution is to dampen a rag and shove it into the overflow drain.
The technique for plunging a sink is similar to plunging a toilet. Use the non-flanged plunger, create a positive seal, push down carefully and pull up forcefully. Bathroom sinks are particularly difficult as the pop up drain will sometime close on the downward thrust. The goal would be to bring the blockage back to the sink bowl so it can be removed and thrown away. Most bathroom sink/tub blockages are related to hair and it’s better to remove this type of blockage rather than shove it further down the line as it easily gets snagged and can create another blockage in the future.
Typical overflow drain in a bathtub
Even Pro Plungers have Problems
Even though you are armed with the knowledge and technique to plunge like a pro you may encounter stubborn blockages that are just beyond your abilities. If you find yourself in need of additional help give Rocket Rooter a call. Our trucks are equipped with industrial grade sewer cable machines, hydrojetters, and sewer cameras. There is no blockage that we cannot clear!