Just about everyone, at one point or another has either seen a toilet stoppage, or been the victim of one.  In fact a backed up toilet is probably the single most common plumbing problem out there.  Still, as toilet are really very unique, as opposed to other plumbing fixtures, many people still are not exactly sure about the best way to go about unclogging them.

First, let’s start by addressing one of the most common points of confusion.

Is it a Toilet Blockage?

If you go to flush a toilet, and the water level in the bowl just rises and doesn’t flush, it seems obvious that it is a toilet blockage, right?  Surprisingly, this is not always the case.  It could actually be a main sewer line backup.

The toilet is the only fixture in your home that ties directly to the sewer main.  Therefor a mainline backup will almost always show itself in the lowest floor toilet.  Luckily there are a few ways to tell if it is a sewer main, or a toilet.

  • First of all, if the affected toilet is above the ground floor (and there is plumbing on the floor below you), it is most likely the toilet, and not the main.
  • If you have a tub, or a shower on the same floor, see if it is backing up, too.  If it is a main, the tub or shower will likely be holding sewage.  If it is not, try running some water down it and see if it drains okay.  Be careful!  Don’t over flow your shower!
  • Try plunging.  If the plunger clears it, it is a toilet.  If it is a main, the water will fill up the tub/shower.

Knowing the problem before calling a plumber can be helpful.  Some plumbers do not carry mainline machines in their truck, but can still easily tackle a toilet problem.  Knowing which problem you are faced with can save everyone time.

Remember, in the case of a sewer main clog, the sewage will exit at the lowest available point.  Always check the lowest fixture.  In a single story home, that is usually the shower.  Also, if you have sewer problem, and flush an upstairs toilet (on a 2 story home for instance), you may flood the lower floor bathrooms.

What Do You Do Now?

Once you have determined that it is the toilet itself that is the culprit, the next step is getting it unclogged.

In cases when it is a matter of just overloading the toilet (like with too much paper), a plunger will often do the trick.  In cases where it is a foreign object, a plunger may work for the moment, but you will continue to have problems until the object is removed.

One way that plumbers remove these objects is with a “closet auger”.  A closet auger is basically a cable inside of a tube that can be inserted into the hole at the bottom of the toilet, and will hopefully either retrieve the object, or send it down the sewer line.

While they do work well to unclog most toilet problems, we recommend having a qualified plumber do this.  Not doing it correctly can actually damage, or scratch the toilet.

Also, it is important to note that this method is not full proof.  Sometimes the auger will push the object off to the side of the outlet.  This means that your toilet will back up again.  If the plumber tests the toilet (with plenty of paper) and it is still getting clogged, he may need to actually remove the toilet, take it outside, turn it upside down and attempt to remove it manually (not fun).

In any case, the best way to fix a clogged toilet is to not let it get clogged in the first place.  For some tips on how to accomplish this, feel free to check out our Toilet Stoppages page.

Hopefully this article has shed some light on toilet blockages for you.  If you have any questions or need a plumber to help fix your back up, give us a call.  At Allstar Plumbing, we always have a qualified plumber standing by, waiting to help you out with whatever you need.