What is a Toilet Plunger?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A toilet plunger is a tool designed for use in unclogging toilets. Plungers are used to break a seal inside the pipe to allow water to drain freely from the toilet bowl. In some cases, a plunger alone may not be enough, and it will be necessary to use a snake to clear out the clog. Hardware stores are a common source for plungers and they are also sometimes available at general stores, drug stores, and so forth.

Sometimes toilets become clogged and require the use of a plunger.
Sometimes toilets become clogged and require the use of a plunger.

The most basic toilet plunger design consists of a rubber cup on the end of a long stick. The cup is fitted over the opening at the bottom of the toilet and, using the stick, the user presses and releases several times to create a vacuum intended to pull the clog free. Other toilet plungers are more bulb-shaped, designed to create a tighter seal inside the toilet's plumbing. These plungers can be more effective at clog removal, in addition to less messy, as there tends to be less splashback.

The first step in fixing a toilet is determining the cause of the issue.
The first step in fixing a toilet is determining the cause of the issue.

Rubber and plastic toilet plunger designs are both available, including accordion-folding plastic to allow people to create a stronger vacuum. Plungers should ideally be used when there is some water in the plumbing, although it is advisable to at least partially bail out the toilet bowl to limit splashing. If using the plunger does not clear the clog, it might be too firmly lodged to be removed with a vacuum alone. In these cases, a snake should be purchased, rented, or borrowed and fed down the pipe to clear the clog.

Using a toilet plunger skillfully can require some practice. Too much aggression can break the seal created by the plunger and ruin the vacuum, in addition to making a mess. Being tentative may not create enough force to move the plug. Addressing clogs as soon as a toilet starts to drain more slowly is strongly recommended, as they are easier to remove when they are smaller.

Plungers are often stored next to the toilet in a dish or cup for convenient access. It is advisable to rinse the toilet plunger after use and periodically bleach it, as it can attract and hold bacteria. In addition to causing unpleasant odors, colonies of bacteria in the bathroom can also make people sick. Moisture around the plunger can also promote the growth of mold and mildew, and it is important to shake the plunger off in the toilet bowl to remove as much water as possible.

A toilet plunger should be periodically bleached to sanitize it.
A toilet plunger should be periodically bleached to sanitize it.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


This may sound strange, but I was looking for a decorative toilet plunger when I moved into my new house. I hated the look of my old one with the red rubber cup and yellow handle, since it clashed with the house.

I really couldn't find any plungers that were pretty, but I found a plunger holder, and that helped disguise it. My bathroom is decorated with an ocean theme, and the holder I found has an underwater scene with fish and sand on it. It is built to hold both a plunger and a toilet brush, and it covers up the majority of both of them.

I did buy a plunger with a turquoise cup and a white handle, and even though it isn't decorative, it matches my bathroom better than the old one. I suppose a plunger can't be very pretty and functional at the same time.


@shell4life – There are a few things that you can do to ensure that your plunger will do its job. The first thing is to have the correct amount of water in the toilet.

You should have enough toilet water to cover the bottom half of the plunger cup. If you don't, you can pour some in before you begin.

The next important thing is the pumping method. Always remember to go down slow and up fast. I call it pushing and jerking.

If you push and jerk about four or five times, you should be able to make it work. After your final jerk upward, pull the plunger cup off the hole and try to flush. If you have succeeded, then it will flush as usual.


@Perdido – I have trouble using my plunger, too! I feel like I have created strong suction, but once I release, the clog remains, and I usually have to get someone to help me.

Is there a secret trick to it, or do I just need practice? I feel like if I had some pointers, I could get the hang of it. Otherwise, I will probably just be stuck making the same mistakes and needing assistance.

My toilet can't hold much toilet paper before it starts to clog. I have to remember that, and sometimes, I overestimate how much it can hold, so it looks like I do need to learn how to properly use a plunger.


My office keeps a plunger in the bathroom just behind the left side of the toilet. Many people are afraid to use it, though, and I understand this.

I tried to use it once, and I guess I just didn't have enough force. I was scared of getting splashed by the dirty water, so I didn't give it my all.

I gave up and put it back in place. Then, I put a sign on the closed toilet lid that said, “out of order.” The janitor came by and took care of it, and though I felt bad for leaving him that mess, I knew he would be much more capable of handling it than I would.

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