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How to use a toilet auger to unclog a toilet

Toddler looking in toilet. Children's toys are often the cause of a clogged toilet.

Sometimes an ordinary plunger just isn’t enough to clear a stubborn clogged toilet. Before you call a plumber, consider investing in a tool that will let you fix the problem yourself most of the time: a toilet auger.

Want to try plunging first? Read our step-by-step guide.

What is a toilet auger?

A toilet auger is a plumbing tool designed to clear clogs by maneuvering through the pipe inside the toilet, pulling up any obstructions. It’s about three feet in length, so it can go all the way through to the drain pipe connecting your toilet to the rest of your plumbing, beneath or behind the toilet.

Toilet augers have a protective rubber sleeve that sets them apart from regular drain snakes. This rubber sleeve prevents them from scratching or damaging the toilet’s porcelain.

Priced between $10 and $80, a toilet auger is a bigger investment than a simple plunger. Compared to a plumber’s fee, however, it’s not a bad bargain.

Preparing to use an toilet auger

Before you use an auger on your toilet, you should:

  • Check the water level in the toilet. If it’s too low to submerge the bottom “bend” of an auger handle, add some water to the bowl (not hot or you could crack it). This is to help prevent scratching the porcelain. If there’s a lot of water in the bowl, bail some into a bucket so it doesn’t splash out while you work.
  • Take the lid off the back of the toilet and locate valve arm attached to the flapper. The flapper is a round, rubber stopper that controls the flow of water from the tank to the bowl. If too much water runs into the bowl and it looks like it might flood, pull up on the valve arm of the flapper. Note: If your toilet doesn’t have a valve arm, you’ll need use the shut-off valve at the back of the toilet.
  • To save on clean-up time afterward, put on rubber gloves and cover the floor around the base of the toilet with old rags or towels.
  • Never pour chemical products into the toilet before using an auger! They could splash out and burn your skin.

For beginners: the part of an auger

If you haven’t used one before, a toilet auger can seem a bit strange and intimidating. To get started, it may be helpful to go over the parts of the auger and what they do.

Augers have two main parts: the solid handle and the flexible cable that runs through it.

In more detail, an auger has:

  1. A crank that sits on the very top of the handle. This crank is directly connected to the top of the cable, so you can pull it right up off the top of the handle to pull up the cable. You turn the crank to push the cable down through the toilet pipe.
  2. A grip at the top of the handle, for you to hold on to while you crank. It also has a little clip to hold the cable when you’re not using it.
  3. The long tube of the handle is mainly there to give you some space from the toilet, so you can stand up while you crank.
  4. The bowl guard is the little bend at the bottom of the handle. You’ll insert this bend into the entrance of the drain hole at the bottom of the toilet bowl.
  5. The snake is the name for the long, flexible length of cable.
  6. The auger head is the little spring at the end of the cable. It’s used to catch hold of clogs so they can be pulled out.

Don’t worry if it still sounds complicated—you’ve got this!

How to unclog a toilet with an auger

  1. Hold the handle grip with one hand and the crank with the other. Pull the crank up off the top of the handle until the cable as far up as it will go. The auger head “spring” at the end of the cable should be pressed up against the bottom of the handle.
  2. Lower the bowl guard or “bend” at the bottom of the handle into the toilet bowl. Gently insert it into the mouth of the drain, pointing in the same direction as the drain.
  3. Push the crank back down toward the top of the handle, until it comes to a stop or resistance.
  4. When you feel a stop or resistance, begin turning the crank in a circular clockwise motion as you continue to press down. Turn until the crank is sitting back on top of the handle—that means the cable is all the way through the length of the toilet pipe.
  5. If the cable gets stuck on the way down, try pulling up and cranking and then pushing down and cranking a few times. Don’t try to force the cable down or you could damage your toilet.
  6. Pull the crank back up straight off the handle to pull up any clogs or objects. If it gets stuck on the way up, crank the handle (still in a clockwise motion) as you pull up.
  7. You may need to try this a few times to dislodge the clog. You’ll know you’ve succeeded when the water in the toilet bowl goes down.
  8. When you think you’ve removed the clog, pull up the crank completely and remove the auger from the toilet. Try flushing (be ready to stop the flapper in the tank if the bowl fills up too much).
  9. Flush a few more times. If your toilet flushes normally each time, your clog has been successfully removed!

Before you put away your auger, make sure you wipe it down and remove any blockage debris from cable and the auger head “spring” at the end.

What to do if the toilet is still clogged

If even an auger can’t unclog the toilet, the blockage is either too solid or too deep down in the pipe. Either way, it’s time to call a professional plumber.

Don’t feel badly if you weren’t able to clear the clog yourself. Sometimes clogs are a result of weird and unexpected things.

We at Neighbourhood Plumbing have seen everything—including two instances in the Beach neighbourhood of East Toronto where the clogged toilet was due to a rogue tree root that had grown into the pipes of the house!

A bathroom floor with the toilet removed to show a solid mass of tree root in the toilet pipe.
“The roots actually grew up around the toilet flange and it actually inside the toilet. First time I’ve ever seen this in 25 years!” – Patrick, Neighbourhood Plumbing

If you live in East Toronto and have a clogged toilet that you can’t fix with an auger—or if you don’t want the hassle of doing it yourself—contact Neighbourhood Plumbing and we’ll get you unstuck!