How to use a plunger

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Using a plunger to unclog a bathroom sink drain.

Using a plunger to unclog a bathroom sink drain.

To unclog a bathroom sink drain using a plunger:

  1. Remove the pop up drain from the sink.
  2. Wet a rag and use it to seal up the sink overflow drain.
  3. Apply petroleum jelly to the bottom lip of the plunger.
  4. Run water in the sink.
  5. Place the plunger over the drain, and plunge up and down several time in quick succession.
  6. Run more water in the sink, and repeat as needed.

If using a plunger doesn’t clear the drain, remove the P-trap from under the sink and clean it out by hand.

Watch this video to find out more.

Further Information

Video Transcript Danny Lipford: Now something that can really be frustrating is a slow draining sink or a clogged sink.

Joe Truini: The first tool that most homeowners reach for is a plunger to clear sink clogs. But here are a few plumbing tricks that can help improve the efficiency of the plunger.

First, start by removing the pop up drain from the sink bottom. Then take a tissue or a rag, dampen it, and use it to plug up the overflow openings on the side of the sink. That helps direct the plunging pressure directly to the clog.

Next, take a little petroleum jelly, and smear it along the bottom lip of the plunger. That’ll help form an airtight seal against the sink bottom. Next, run a little water down the drain, then plunge vigorously three or four times. Run a little more water to clear out the clog.

Danny Lipford: Now, if this method isn’t successful, you may have to go under the sink and disconnect the P-trap, and use a plumber’s snake.

What Is A Plunger?

A plunger has a long handle with a large rubber cup at the end - how to use a plungerYou’ve probably seen a plunger tucked away behind a toilet tank. To some, a plunger is a sign of problematic plumbing.

A plunger has a long handle with a large rubber cup at the end. When used correctly, a plunger can unclog pipes and have them run more efficiently. There’s no clear answer as to who invented the plunger. Many say that the plunger got its first use around the late 1700s or early 1800s.

While the design of a plunger is relatively simple, it is a powerful tool. When the plunger is pressed down, over a clog, it forces air into the drain and increases pressure. When the clog is moved, the air will continue to move through the pipes. Pulling back up on the plunger creates a vacuum and forcing anything in the pipe upwards and out.

Choosing The Right Plunger

Even though all plungers are designed to unclog a drain, some plungers are best suited for different types of clogs. Let’s take a look at some of the different plungers, so you know which one is best for you.

The Standard Plungerhow to use a plunger

If you have a plunger at home, you probably have the standard plunger. This type typically has a wooden handle and an orange rubber cup. Standard plungers come in a variety of surfaces, and while they can be used for a variety of clogs, they are best used for flat surfaces over a sink drain or in a slow draining bathtub and shower area.

Toilet Plungers

While a standard plunger may help unclog your toilet, it’s ideal to have a plunger that’s specifically designed for a toilet. Like a standard plunger, toilet plungers, also known as a flange plunger, have a long handle and a rubber cup (often black).

The design difference is a flap (or flange) that folds out from the inside of the cup and is intended to fit into the toilet drain opening; which helps form a better seal and apply more effective pressure when plunging. Since the flap folds back into the cup, this type of plunger is also suitable for sinks and tubs.

Accordion Plunger

Accordion Plunger - how to use a plunger

Another toilet plunger referred to as an “accordion” plunger. Rather than a traditional flexible rubber cup, the cup is made of hard plastic and is an accordion design. While it’s a forceful plunger, it’s not as versatile as traditional toilet plungers.

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When selecting the type of plunger you want, it all comes down to personal preference. It’s a good idea to have one plunger for each toilet in your home and one other standard or multi-purpose plunger for other non-toilet clogs so you won’t have to use your toilet plunger to clear a clog on your kitchen sink or bathtub.

Plungers are relatively inexpensive and available everywhere from your local grocery store to online stores such as Amazon.

Now that you know more about plungers and which ones are best for specific clogs to let’s take a look at how to use a plunger.

Using A Plunger In Your Toilet

When your toilet looks like it’s going to overflow, check to make sure the flapper valve in your toilet tank is down and wait about ten minutes.

After waiting at least ten minutes, turn off the water supply hose on your toilet (located on the wall behind the toilet). If the water in the toilet is still close to overflowing, remove some of the water using a small disposable plastic cup. The water level must be halfway up the brim so it can completely cover the cup of your rubber plunger. If the water level is too low, add more water to fill the toilet bowl approximately halfway; having the right amount of water can make plunging more effective.

Using a plunger, make sure the flange is out from the inside of the cup. As you put your plunger in the water, the cup should be covered with water, and the rubber ring of the flange should be inserted into the drain opening in the bowl to create suction.

Put even pressure, pushing and pulling vertically for about 20 seconds. Avoid breaking the “seal” with the drain and keep the plunger in the water.

Unclogging Tub, Sink, or Shower

unclog the sink with a plunger - how to use a plunger

It’s easy to use a plunger on a bathtub, sink, or shower. As we mentioned earlier, standard plungers work best on clogs that are not in a toilet.

Take note that if you plan to use a chemical for unclogging drains that you don’t use a plunger (as noted on the warnings on the bottle). A plunger could splash around the toxic chemical and cause harm to you.

If you unclog a sink drain, tub, or shower, make sure to cover the overflow drain if one is present. For overflow drains in sinks, you can take a wet rag, wring out the excess water, and plug in the hole.  Covering the overflow drain helps create a stronger suction.

Place the cup of the plunger over the drain to create a tight seal and, using firm pressure, push and pull the plunger vertically. Similar to plunging a toilet, plunge the drain for about 20 seconds.

If you continue to have a slow drain, try plunging more and use extra force.

How to Use a Plunger on a Minor Drain Clog

If your drain isn’t actively overflowing (for example, if you managed to turn the water off), then you have time to use all of the plunging techniques at your disposal.

First, put on waterproof gloves and select the right plunger for the job. There are two types of plungers – a flange plunger (used for toilets) and a cup plunger (used for sinks and similar drains). The system for plunging a toilet is largely the same as above; you just have to get in there and plunge until all the water and detritus is on its way down the drain – then flush the toilet to rinse anything else out of the toilet bowl.

However, when you have a little time to deal with sink clogs, you can take a few extra steps for a more effective experience:

  1. Put on those waterproof gloves and gather petroleum jelly, a rag, and a cup-type plunger.
  2. Remove the pop-up drain from the sink.
  3. Use a wet rag to stop up the overflow drain in your sink.
  4. Put petroleum jelly on the bottom lip of the plunger; this will help to create an airtight seal against the sink bottom.
  5. Place the plunger over the drain, using pressure to create the best seal possible. Then, plunge up and down a few times.
  6. Release the seal and see what happens. If things begin to drain, let them. If not, repeat the plunging process.
  7. Finally, when your sink is un-clogged, rinse or throw away any debris. Then, be sure to clean the sink and your plunger.

If none of these techniques get rid of your clog or your drain regularly backs up, it’s time to call in Clog Busters LLC. We are available 24/7 for emergencies – so contact us anytime.

3 Types of Plungers

Red Rubber Cup Plunger1. Common Sink Plunger / Cup Plunger

This is usually what comes to mind when people think of plungers. Sink plungers are made up of a straight (usually wooden) handle and rubber (usually red) cup. These plungers only work properly on flat surfaces. The cup needs to lay flat over the drain and create the vacuum necessary to dislodge the clog. The curve of a toilet bowl doesn’t allow the proper seal to occur, therefore making this plunger ineffective on sinks.  This plunger is able to create both a positive and negative pressure. Positive pressure is created by forcing the cup down and negative pressure is created by the vacuum effect when pulled away from the fixture.

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What to Use This Plunger for: Bathroom sinks, kitchen sinks, tubs, or anything with a flat surface.

2. Toilet Plunger / Flange Plunger

Although it’s called a toilet plunger, this plunger provides the flexibility to fit in just about any drain. This plunger has a cup like that of a sink plunger, but also has a soft rubber flap that folds out from inside the cup. The fold out flap fits well over the curved toilet drain, which provides the necessary suction needed. The flange (soft rubber flap) can be tucked into the cup and the plunger can be used as a cup plunger. Although this plunger is very versatile, we do not recommend using the same plunger on both toilets and sinks. This is unhygienic and could lead to cross contamination.

What to Use This Plunger for: Toilets, sinks, and tubs.

3. Accordion PlungerAccordion Plunger

The accordion plunger is made up of hard plastic. While it can produce a lot of force, it is not very easy to use. The plastic is very hard, so creating a vacuum seal over the drain can be challenging. Keep in mind that since this plunger is made of plastic it can possibly scratch the surfaces of your toilet, unlike other rubber plungers that will not.

What to Use This Plunger for: Toilets.

Plunging Tips for Effective Unclogging

  • Use the Correct Plunger: Use this guide to select the right plunger for the best results.
  • Plunge Straight: Plunging at an angle won’t provide the proper force and can cause the seal to come loose. Plunge straight up and down at a vertical angle to get the most out of your pumps.
  • Create Suction: Get air out of the plunger cup by slowly pressing down to create suction. This reduces the air contained in the cup and creates a better seal.
  • Submerge Plunger: Make sure the plunger is submerged with water. If there is not enough water to cover the plunger cup, add water to the area.
  • Maintain Plungers: Any tears of the cup or bell of the plunger will result in a poor vacuum seal and loss of pressure. Plungers should also be kept clean and dry when not in use to prevent cracking, ripping, or growth of mold and mildew.
  • Safety Tip: Never use a plunger after using toxic cleaning chemicals. Plunging can create backslash and lead to toxic chemicals splashing throughout your bathroom and kitchen and possibly even onto your skin. Always use caution when cleaning with harsh chemicals.

If your efforts are still unsuccessful, call the experts at Mike Diamond Services. Our technicians are ready to provide drain cleaning and rooter services. Take advantage of our $99 Drain Cleaning special. Our Smell Good Plumbers are ready to help – call us today or make an appointment online.

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Use the right plunger for the job

A plunger is often a bathroom staple, but are you using the right one for the job? The standard plunger, called a cup plunger, is a rimmed cup of rubber on the end of a blunt shaft, which is designed to create a seal on a flat surface.

Plungers work best on a wet surface.

On the other hand, a blocked toilet needs a flange or funnel plunger. This looks a bit like a stubby mushroom on the end of a shaft and it is designed to work on the curved surface of a toilet.  


You need to make sure you purchase your plunger from a specialty plumbing supplies shop rather than a hardware store to ensure you get a good quality one.

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Guard against overflows or spills

Only try plunging if you have not already tried using a Bio-Clean treatment to clear the blockage.

As there’s a high probability of spillage when you use a plunger, you’ll need to cover or stuff the overflow drain in the floor with a towel or cloth to create a seal, if you are plunging the sink or bath.

If you’re plunging to clear a toilet blockage you will need to place a towel on the floor for any spills and turn off the tap at the isolation valve on the wall.

A word of advice for the brave: wear gloves and empty the toilet before you begin.

Woman wearing cleaning gloves

Plunging technique for sinks and drains

To unblock sinks, baths or showers, use a cup plunger: 

  1. Have the water level ideally above the plunger cup – the toilet or sink should be about half full. If it’s a shower, use the plunger to act as the plug then fill the shower base as much as you can. Place the plunger over the blocked drain so that it completely covers the opening.
  2. Push down until the bowl of the cup touches the drain and then pull up quickly, taking care not to break the suction. Apply equal pressure to both the push and the pull.
  3. Repeat the push-pull action a few times. You may feel the blockage dislodge.
  4. On your final pull, draw the plunger up sharply to break the seal.
  5. If the sink/shower is clear you’ll see and hear the water that was sitting on top of the blockage drain away.
  6. Repeat if necessary. If the blockage remains, you should definitely call a plumber.

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Plunging technique for toilets

To unblock a toilet, use a flange/funnel plunger:

  1. Place an old towel on the floor to absorb any spills.
  2. To stop the toilet from overflowing, turn off the water at the isolation valve, which is where water enters the cistern (it is often located near the cistern).
  3. If the toilet bowl is full, don some gloves and remove material from the toilet until it is half full of liquid. If the toilet bowl is empty, add water until it is half full.
  4. With the plunger, cover the flush hole but ensure there is still some water on the outside of it. Straighten the plunger to ensure the blockage is sealed properly.
  5. As with the plunging technique described above, push down until the plunger touches the drain then pull up quickly, taking care not to break the seal.
  6. Plunge a few times, then pull up sharply and break the seal in one motion. The blockage should dislodge when you release the suction.
  7. Repeat if necessary. If the blockage remains, you should call a plumber.

If the toilet blockage is persisting and there is more than one drain/toilet showing similar symptoms, or you’re not sure if you’ve made the problem worse, it’s time to call in a professional plumber.

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