How to Unclog a Toilet With a Garbage Bag

How to Unclog a Toilet With a Garbage Bag
Photo: Andrey_Popov, Shutterstock

Toilets are funny things. When we have easy access to a clean, working one, we don’t think about them too much. But when we’re stuck someplace without one, toilets quickly become an obsession — and when one in your home malfunctions, it is promoted to The Most Important Thing in Your Life, Currently. You simply haven’t experienced what scientists would call “rising panic” until you’ve flushed a toilet and watched in horror as the water level…rises. And if you’re using someone else’s toilet when it clogs and backs up, that rising panic can quickly turn into a full-on anxiety attack.

As gross as a clogged toilet can be, mankind in its collective wisdom has developed a slew of tools to deal with the situation, from your trusty old plunger to the poop knife. But what if you don’t actually possess either of these items? What if you find yourself watching grey water slowly fill up the toilet bowl and you, a supposedly grown person, have none of the basic tools to deal with it?

First, don’t panic. Toilets are actually surprisingly simple contraptions that rely on the fundamental forces of the universe to dispose of your waste. You, sitting on top of the food chain with your abnormally large mammalian brain, can leverage those same forces to solve this problem. While there are several techniques for unclogging a toilet without a plunger, most either require hot water dumped into the bowl (which can get messy fast) or at least some kind of tool. But there’s one way to unclog a toilet using something you definitely have on hand: A garbage bag.

How to unclog a toilet with a garbage bag

Your toilet isn’t fancy. Sure, maybe you have one of those toilets with a microchip and a bidet built-in, or one of those Japanese toilets that sings soothing songs to you while you strain and grunt. But it’s still a pretty simple device that uses water pressure and gravity to dispose of your waste. All a plunger does is weaponize that pressure by leveraging Boyle’s Law, which deals with gas expansion and compression — basically, it puts a seal in place and then forces pressurised air into your pipes to dislodge the clump of shame you’ve deposited there.

If you lack a plunger because you somehow missed that day of Adulting Class, don’t despair. All you need to do is find another way to create that pressure. While you can actually purchase a product to accomplish this, you can DIY it pretty easily using a garbage bag or some plastic wrap. In fact, plastic wrap like Saran Wrap might work best because it will grip the sides well, but any old garbage bag will do in a pinch. Here’s how it works:

  1. Wrap the plastic around the rim of the toilet. Create as tight a seal as possible. Getting a tight seal is why plastic wrap is your best bet, but if all you have is a trash bag just pull it tight and either tie it off to create the seal or use some tape to seal it tight to the bowl. Use a few layers so it’s thick and able to withstand some force.
  2. Once you have a tight seal, push down on the centre of the plastic over the bowl in a plunging motion. Don’t push too hard (you might want to wear gloves for this, in case your efforts to secure the plastic fail and you, er, plunge down into the mess below). Repeat this a few times.
  3. Flush the toilet.

You might need to do this a few times, but the pressure should eventually dislodge whatever’s blocking your pipes. You can see this in action if you want — it actually works!

Now that you’ve avoided disaster (not to mention a huge bill from the plumber), it’s time to have a sit and contemplate the series of life decisions that have led you here — with a clogged toilet and no plunger.

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