Stuck without a plunger? These home remedies could save your clogged toilet

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Imagine this: You’ve rented a chic Airbnb or motorhome for the weekend, and you’ve just had a memorable meal with friends. Now nature is calling, and you hurry to the bathroom and get to work. Maybe it’s just you, or maybe the plumbing isn’t working properly, but somehow the toilet is clogged – and there’s no plunger in sight.

Don’t panic. And don’t you dare leave the bathroom in such a state. Now is the time to look for some simple household items in your vicinity that can help you.

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Here’s what you do. Grab some dish soap, hot water and a bucket — then let the chemistry take over. Yes, the plunger-free method really is that easy. Here’s how to do it.

For more household tips, here’s how to kill Mold in your washing machineand 12 easy ways to make your mattress last longer.

Everything you need to clean a toilet is probably already in the bathroom

Dish soap in toilet bowl Dish soap in toilet bowl

Most clogged toilets can be unclogged with soap, warm water and time.

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Again, you only need three things that can be found in almost any bathroom: soap, warm water, and a container to pour water into the toilet bowl. Dish soap, warm bath water, and a 5-gallon bucket work best, but if privacy is important and you might be exposed if you leave the toilet, a few pumps from the hand soap dispenser and some warm water from the sink in a small plastic trash can will do.

First, heat the water in the sink or tub – as hot as you can get it. Don’t overheat yourself – the water doesn’t need to be boiling. At that temperature, you could break ceramic dishes or, worse, injure yourself. Just let the tap water get as hot as it can go and you’ll be within range.

While you’re waiting for the hot water, go ahead and clean everything off the floor – scales, bathmats… pets. Of course, you’ll have to be very careful to avoid any spills, but it’s better to be safe than wet.

Keep this inexpensive, small spray bottle in your pocket or bag to keep a fresh scent in whichever restroom you use.

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Let the chemistry do the work, but be careful

Your goal is to get the liquid in the toilet bowl as hot and soapy as possible, as quickly as possible, without letting it overflow. This is the step that requires the most skill.

If you’ve tried to clear the clog a second time and the toilet bowl is completely full, pour the soap directly into the toilet and then add as much hot water as you can – if possible.

If you have enough space, go ahead and mix the soap and water first, then pour the soap mixture into the bowl as quickly as possible. In a perfect storm, the heat and soap will lubricate the clog while the force of the water pushes it through. That being said, hope your reflexes are quick, as you may have to stop pouring abruptly if the clog doesn’t dislodge immediately.

A note on soap: You can’t over mix the soap at this point. You’re not going to be stirring the solution much, so the bowl won’t become a foam volcano if you over mix. I’m not saying you have to pour the whole bottle of soap in, but I’m also not saying you shouldn’t. Get my point?

Dish soap and trash can Dish soap and trash can

Dish soap works best, but hand soap will work if needed. Then you just need warm water and something to pour it into the toilet, such as a small trash can.

Dale Smith/CNET

No matter what, don’t move the toilet bowl

Whatever you do, you don’t need to stir it to mix the hot, soapy water with the cold, dirty water that’s already there. Science will take care of that for you through a process called osmosis. If the clog doesn’t clear after a soapy-water tsunami, your next step is to simply be patient.

Most toilet backups are not 100% blocked, so there is a good chance that your toilet will empty slowly at first. Keep an eye on the water level and as it gets lower, keep adding more hot water to keep it full. If the blockage is not too severe, the added pressure of the filled toilet bowl and the lubricating quality of the soap will help flush out the backed-up matter pretty quickly.

waste bin with water waste bin with water

Many bathroom waste bins are small enough to fit under the sink, but if yours doesn’t you can use the tub or shower faucet.

Dale Smith/CNET

If all else fails, give it more time

The worst-case scenario is that the clog is stuck so tightly in place that the steps above don’t push it down quickly. If this happens, you don’t need to call a plumber or run to the hardware store just yet.

Give the warm soapy water some time to break up the clog. Walk away, close the bathroom door, and wait 30 to 60 minutes before checking again. When you do, you may be pleasantly surprised to find that your problem has disappeared down the drain.

This could mean that you might be exposed if you’re trying to unclog a toilet discreetly. In that case, all you can do is hope that you don’t become the butt of any jokes in the future.

Best of luck to you in this too.

For more cleaning tips, check out our 14 favorite cleaning tools and learn how to clean your kitchen faster in 15 minutes or less.

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