Plungers 101: How to Use, and Choose, the Right Plunger

Man demonstrates how to plunge a toilet

Remember that time you turned on the shower, which quickly became a wading pool as the water built up instead of drained away? Or the time you flushed the toilet and that too decided to fill with water instead of drain away?

We’ve all been in at least one of these situations; maybe even both. Whatever the case may be, the first thing you likely searched for to fix the situation is a plunger. And if you didn’t have a plunger handy then, you quite possibly made sure you got one ASAP.

But what if you haven’t, and it’s on your to-do list? Would you know what to buy? Here’s what you need to know about plungers, which to choose, and how to use them.

How To Choose Your Plunger

It might surprise you to find out that the humble plunger isn’t a simple “one size fits all” purchase. There are different types of plungers designed for different purposes. Knowing which plunger to buy will give you the most effective results. 

Standard Plunger

This is probably the one you immediately picture in your mind – straight wooden handle with a rubber suction cup on the end. It is particularly effective for flat-surfaces, especially kitchen sinks or shower drains that allow for the suction cup to seal perfectly. However, the design of the standard plunger doesn’t make it particularly effective for toilets.

Toilet Plunger

Like the standard plunger, the toilet plunger also has a rubber suction cup attached to a wooden handle. Unlike the standard plunger though, it also has a soft rubber flap inside the cup. This flap unfolds, which enables it to fit inside the drain opening and create the required suction to unclog the blockage. The toilet plunger is also known as a flange plunger.

Accordion Plunger

Accordion plungers can also be used to unclog toilets, and in many cases can be more effective than a regular toilet plunger because of the smaller cup. They can often be more difficult to use though as they are made of hard plastic instead of rubber. Therefore it can be quite challenging to form the necessary seal over the drain to get the necessary result. If you do though, it can be quite powerful.

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to discover that accordion plungers are accordion-like in their appearance. 


How to Use Each Type of Plunger

Having the right plunger is a good start; it’s certainly half the battle. Equally as important though is knowing how to use the plunger to get the most efficient and effective outcome. 

How to Plunge a Sink 

For kitchen sinks and shower or bathtub drains, first cover or fill the overflow opening (usually located at the top of the sink or bathtub). This helps to build more pressure within the plunger by stopping air from escaping. 

Once you’ve done this, add water to the bottom of the sink – just enough to cover the suction cup. If you’re unblocking a shower drain, make sure there’s enough water covering the underside of the plunger’s suction cup. 

Next step is to take a standard plunger and submerge it into the water. Enter the water at an angle of 45 degrees, but then rotate the plunger so it is now at an angle of 90 degrees. Push up and down repeatedly on the plunger handle so you can build up enough pressure that the blockage can be dislodged and the water can drain away.

Once you have resolved the problem, clean off the plunger under the shower or another tap, and allow it to dry before putting it away. 

How to Plunge a Toilet

If you have a toilet blockage that needs unclogging, the first thing you’ll want to do is prepare for the likelihood of mess. Cover the area surrounding the toilet with paper towel or old newspaper. Make sure you have disposable rubber gloves on – it is a toilet after all – and have a bucket nearby as well.

At this point, you’ll want just enough water in the bowl for the cup and flange parts of your toilet plunger to be fully submerged. If there’s not enough water then add as much as is necessary. However if the water level is so high that it will spill over when you start plunging, remove some carefully with the bucket. 

Now that the water in the toilet bowl is at a suitable level, place the plunger in at an angle of 45 degrees. As soon as the plunger is fully submerged, ensure the flange is positioned in the hole near the base of the toilet. This will help to create a tighter seal for better performance. 

Next step is to rotate the plunger to a position of 90 degrees so the handle is vertical. Gradually push down on the plunger at least two or three times, or until such time that the water level in the toilet bowl subsides. You’ll get the best result at this point of the process by maintaining an effective seal.

If the water level starts to significantly drop, the plunger has done its job. If a foreign object has caused the blockage and has now been dislodged, you can remove it (those gloves did come in handy, didn’t they!). Otherwise, give the toilet a flush and you should hopefully see it working perfectly.

Now you can store the plunger away for the next time you need it. Clean it first in the fresh toilet water, with a little added bleach or bathroom cleaner for extra sanitisation, and let it dry off before putting it away.

Follow the same steps if you have an accordion plunger. Just be mindful that even though it is a highly effective type of plunger, it doesn’t have the flexibility or versatility of a flange plunger due to it being made of hard plastic instead of rubber. 

What To Do When the Plunger Isn’t Enough

Sometimes you’ll encounter a blockage that won’t unclog with a simple plunger. It happens. In these instances, make sure that you’re 1) using the right plunger, and 2) that the plunger hasn’t become damaged or worn out over time. You might need to replace it if that is the case. 

If the blockage problem still won’t resolve after using a new plunger, it may be time to call an emergency plumber. They will have the skills and experience, not to mention tools, to explore alternative solutions that will deliver the result you need. But in the meantime, hopefully you’ll have a better understanding of the different types of available plungers to help when the situation calls.

Please note: This information is provided for advice purposes only. Regulations differ from state to state, so please consult your local authorities or an industry professional before proceeding with any work. See our Terms & Conditions here.

Last Edited on: 21st September 2022