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How to unblock a toilet

Let’s all make this perfectly clear, in normal times the CIPHE recommends calling a professional installer to deal with blocked toilets, drains and general sanitation issues. If you can do so, you should still call in your professional plumbing and drainage engineer. However, the current Coronavirus pandemic may make employing a tradesperson tricky, especially if you are displaying symptoms of Covid-19, are self-isolating or have a vulnerable person in your home.

Blocked toilets have posed a particular issue due to the recent toilet roll shortage. People that have used alternatives such as wet wipes and cotton wool, may have flushed these items. However, this can cause big problems. You should only ever flush the three P’s - pee, poo and (toilet) paper - down your lavatory. This is what your plumbing and sewerage systems were designed for. The pipes are relatively small and easily blocked and there really isn’t much room for anything else to pass through.

This means that everything else should go in the bin, and especially includes:

  • Any type of disposable wipe – baby wipes, make-up wipes, antibacterial cleaning wipes etc, even if it says it is flushable. 
  • Paper kitchen roll, paper hand towels or any other type of paper product that is not toilet roll.
  • Any type of cotton wool product, including cotton wool pads and cotton ear buds.
  • Sanitary items such as sanitary towels and tampons, including any of the packaging they are supplied with. This also includes incontinence pads and liners.
  • Nappies.
  • Contact lenses.

 

Prevention is better than cure as unblocking toilets or waste pipes is both deeply unpleasant and a potential health hazard. If your toilet is blocked you may have the following issues:

  • Water rising up towards the brim of your toilet
  • Water taking a long time to drain out of the toilet bowl.

 

Away from the home, over half of sewer flooding is caused by blockages in sewers and drains, directly leading to pollution and exposure to bacteria that can cause serious life-limiting health conditions. 

 

Unblocking a standard toilet:

  • The starting point is the toilet bowl as this is probably where you would see a blockage. If it’s full of waste and this would obviously be messy contaminated waste, you need to take precautions if you are thinking of attempting to try unblocking it yourself.  
  • Unblocking a toilet is not going to be nice. You must wear long sleeved rubber gloves and safety glasses. 
  • You will probably require a bucket of hot water as this might help dissolve things. If you’re going to put any chemicals down the toilet, beware they give off fumes and doors and windows need to be open. 
  • Drain un-blocker chemicals are very powerful and can be very dangerous if breathing in, getting on your skin or eyes. Always read the manufacturer’s label to see what they recommend for its correct safe use. If in doubt, don’t use it. 
  • Make sure you wear old clothes, or clothes that you wear around the house when doing jobs - they will potentially be contaminated afterwards and will require washing separately.
  • Make sure the area has been protected with old newspapers / dust sheet etc and that you have removed as much as possible from the toilet area. Splashing might occur and therefore removing items nearby will help.
  • You would start with a plunge/force cup if you have one. Otherwise you might use a traditional mop, but it is very important this is not used thereafter. By plunging the force cup (or mop) down into the outlet, you start a momentum of pressure - as it is pulled backwards the contents ought to be sucked out by the pressure created. 
  • Once clear, flush the WC several times. Thoroughly clean down all areas around and within, including the underside of the seat to ensure there is no contamination. 
  • If you need to seek the help of a professional, you can find a plumbing and drainage professional online at www.ciphe.org.uk.

 

Tips:

  • Don’t wait for a slow draining toilet to get worse. Take action as soon as you suspect there may be an issue.
  • If you call out a plumber/drainage person make sure you get an idea of charges before they arrive. Don’t panic and make ill thought out reactions.
  • However, a blockage can be involved or very simple and until you start you don’t know how long you might be or if you require equipment. As drainage is mostly out of sight it is difficult to diagnose just looking at it. This is why you should check charges beforehand as sadly there’s always unscrupulous people. 

 

What to do if you have a mechanical WC:

If you have a mechanical WC (macerator) then the guidance hasn’t changed. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Macerators only take toilet paper, so anything else will block the motor and cease it. This will lead to failure and potentially great expense. 

If your mechanical WC is blocked, call in the services of your professional plumber ASAP. You should not try to fix the problem yourself.

 

External blockages:

 The CIPHE does not recommend DIY tasks on drainage systems, especially outside. This is because when you lift manhole covers they can be heavy, deep or when exposed they make the area un-safe, unless you know what you are doing. 

In the case of external blockages you must get an agreed cost form a professional engineer. This might be per hour, call out charges or for specialist equipment. Don’t go forward with open ended cost.

If you need to call in professional help, make sure you engage the services of a member of the CIPHE. They have been vetted for qualifications and experience by the Industry’s Chartered Professional body and abide by a Code of Professional Standards. You can find one online at www.ciphe.org.uk