The art of plunging

The art of plunging
toilet plunger

Even if you have a low opinion of haute culture, you can still master one form of performance art that unites us all — plunging. Every sink, toilet and tub clog presents an opportunity for expression. To go from apprentice to professional, studiously follow the advice of these plunging masters:

Stock your art supplies

Andy LeVahn, manager of highly rated LeVahn Brothers Plumbing and Hardware in Osseo, Minnesota, says there are two main types of plunger: cup and flange. “You have the classic image of the plunger, and that’s the cup,” LeVahn says. However, cup plungers must seal against a flat surface to create pressure, so they work best for sink, tub and shower clogs.

When it comes to flange plungers, those that look like a cup with a nozzle on the bottom, are better for older toilets; while the longer type with bellows work better for newer, low-flow toilets. LeVahn advises homeowners to check the toilet’s manufacture date, which is stamped right inside the tank or the underside of the lid, before buying a plunger. “The last thing we want is for them to return a plunger,” he says.

Technique is everything

“What you want to do is make sure the plunger has water all around it, so you can get suction,” says Steve Russell, owner of highly rated Russell & Son Plumbing Contractors in Santa Ana, California. “Sometimes it takes five or six times to do it.”

When tackling toilets, Russell says homeowners should take the tank lid off to manually flush. This way, if the clog is not gone, you can stop the water before the toilet overflows.

If it still doesn’t drain, the clog may be further in and require a closet augur. This is a type of small drain snake that you can find at the hardware store, and might want to keep around. “The plunger is the most basic thing you can use,” Russell says. “And it’s not going to work on everything.”

Know what each piece needs

Sometimes, the problem is blatantly obvious. But if your toilet simply isn’t flushing everything, it might be something else.

LeVahn says hard water causes calcium deposits to form around the toilet’s rim, which restricts water flow. The limited water flow does not provide enough force to flush. “There has to be a rush of water into the toilet for it to flush properly,” he says. “So sometimes it’s not even the clog.”

To check, LeVahn suggests you pour a bucket of water into the bowl. If it flushes easily, clogs probably aren’t the problem and you need a chemical solvent to remove the deposits instead.

Admit when you’re a has-been

For clogs that just won’t clear, it might be time to call in a professional, says Edmond Luku, owner of highly rated Crown Plumber in Leesburg, Virginia. Professional plumbers use drain snakes and other more invasive tools to remove stubborn clogs. “If the drain keeps getting slow, if the dishwasher is backing up to the kitchen sink, they have to call a professional,” he says.

If that time comes, pass on the torch to a highly rated artist, ahem plumber, on Angie’s List.