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Ask the Builder: A bucket of water can usually do what your plunger can

You often don’t need a plunger to unclog a toilet. Just use 3 or 4 gallons of water from a bucket. (Tim Carter)
You often don’t need a plunger to unclog a toilet. Just use 3 or 4 gallons of water from a bucket. (Tim Carter)

Q. Tim, I was really grossed out this past weekend. A toilet clogged in our home and while using a normal plunger some of the nasty water squirted up on me. It was horrible. Then you have to clean the yucky plunger. Ick! Is there a safer and more sanitary way to unclog a toilet? – Becky, Scottsdale, Ariz.

A. Everybody’s had to deal with a clogged toilet before, and that splash back is pretty nasty. I’ve got good news. There’s an easy and fast way to unclog a toilet that doesn’t involve using the black bulb of nastiness in the toilet bowl.

I’ve been a master plumber since age 29. I’m naturally inquisitive and I thoroughly enjoyed both my high school and college physics classes.

Years ago, as a young man, I noticed two things about toilet clogs. The first was that when a clog happened and you flushed the toilet, the water would rise up to the top of the bowl and sometimes overflow. Talk about a gross mess! I discovered how to quickly take off the lid of the tank and lower the flapper valve to stop the flow of most of the water into the tank to minimize the flood.

But then I noticed often after a few minutes or even an hour, the water level in the bowl would drop back down to normal. That meant some water was leaking past the clog. I thought about these things and decided to experiment. I remembered a simple formula from my physics classes: Force equals mass times acceleration

My thought was to dump the heavy water as fast as possible into a toilet bowl. This would produce a large force to free the clog. I filled a smaller bucket with water, perhaps two gallons, and poured it as fast as I could into the clogged toilet bowl without splashing it all over the place.

It’s important to realize I aimed the column of water from the bucket directly at the bottom of the bowl where you see the toilet colon passageway disappear. The water level in the bowl started to rise and just before it was to overflow the rim of the bowl, the toilet flushed on its own. The rush of heavy water from the bucket cleared the clog!

This method doesn’t always work the first time, but I started to notice the water level in the bowl would lower faster. This meant more water was passing the clog faster, which meant I was making progress. I’ve even used this same method in hotel rooms using the waste can in the bathroom as my bucket.

I taped a quick video showing exactly how I unclog toilets with a bucket of water. You can go to my AsktheBuilder website to watch it. Just go to: toilet.