Toilet clogs range from the merely annoying to the extremely urgent, and you can handle the vast majority of them with a plunger, if you know how to wield that tool properly. A toilet auger -- or snake -- is the next-best option, and when that doesn't work, you can either reach in or simply remove the toilet. If frequent clogs are a problem, it may be time to clean the vent pipes.

Angry man sitting by a toilet and talking on phone
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Don't get angry -- get the right plunger.

Before You Begin

If you're dealing with overflow, shut off the toilet valve to eliminate the possibility of accidental flushing. To prevent wastewater from splattering while you're working, put on rubber gloves and dip out some of the water with a dipping container, such as a plastic tub, into a bucket. A clog in the toilet trap needs different treatment than one deeper in the pipes, so check the other drains in the bathroom. If they're working normally, the blockage is probably in the toilet or the waste fittings just beyond it.

Plunging Almost Always Works

The cap-shaped plunger under your bathroom sink isn't a toilet plunger; a toilet plunger has a bell shape with a narrow opening that fits inside the waste opening. Fill the cup with water before inserting it in the bowl to ensure that you're pumping water -- which is incompressible -- instead of air, which isn't. If the clog is in the waste line and not the toilet itself, cover all nearby drains and overflow holes with duct tape. If you plunge correctly, the only clogs that can then resist your efforts are solid objects or ones that have accumulated over an extended period of time.

Snake It, Hook It or Reach In

Clogs formed by impacted waste can usually be cleared with a toilet auger. Insert the auger in the toilet and feed it until it stops, then crank. If it doesn't reach the obstruction from the toilet, you need to look for another place to insert it -- usually a cleanout under the house or in the basement. The clog may be a solid object, such as a plastic toy, stuck in the toilet's trap. Try hooking it out with a clothes hanger or -- unappealing as it sounds -- reaching in with a rubber-gloved hand and pulling it out. If you can't reach it, there's little else to do than empty the bowl, pull the toilet and reach in from the other side. That's also the way to remove a solid object from the waste opening.

An Ounce of Prevention

Prevent clogs by periodically pouring an enzyme-based drain cleaner into the toilet. The enzymes feed on the biological materials that cause clogs. Since they take time to work, these cleaners don't provide a way to clear a clog in an emergency, and you should avoid caustic drain cleaners -- they damage the pipes and are bad for the environment. Watch what you flush down the toilet during normal use; items such are hair, cat litter and dental floss promote clogs, and diapers, tampons and condoms can easily get stuck. Finally, adjust the float in the tank to bring the water level to within an inch of the top of the overflow tube to ensure sufficient water for flushing.

Clear the Vents

Blockages in the vent stack on the roof of your house can cause negative pressure in the pipes, and that leads to frequent clogs. Clear the vent by physically removing objects and spraying water into the vent opening. If the water backs up, clear the obstruction with a sewer auger.