How to clean a blocked toilet

[Translate to english:] Antheus von Villeroy & Boch

Food waste, sanitary products or even just too much toilet paper can block a toilet. To get the water flowing again, you need to clear the blockage or call a plumber in to do it for you. With our tips you can learn which simple household items can clear blockages and how to quickly get your toilet back in working order.

Toilet brush and hot water

For light blockages, a toilet brush may be all that is needed to clear the pipe: just push the head of the brush down the toilet as far as possible and wiggle it back and forth with strong, sharp movements. At the very least, this will unclog blockages at the top of the siphon. If the water starts to drain normally, flush the toilet a few times. While doing this, you can also clean the brush in the flushing water.

Hot but no longer boiling water can also unclog siphon blockages. But be careful: high temperatures can damage the delicate porcelain, which is why you should always leave the water to cool for a minute or so.

Pour several litres of warm water directly down the toilet drain and leave it to work for a few minutes. If this doesn’t work on its own, you can then try to clear the blockage with your toilet brush as described above.

[Translate to english:] Subway 2.0 Toilette von Villeroy & Boch

Plungers: Clear blockages with pressure

A plunger isn’t just a good tool for blocked toilets, but for other blocked pipes and siphons in bathrooms and kitchens, too. A plunger consists of a flexible rubber suction cup fixed to a wooden handle. It creates both positive and negative pressure, and works best under water. If your toilet is blocked, simply place the plunger over the toilet drain, ensuring the suction cup completely covers the hole. Now, with a bit of momentum, use moderate force to push the handle down. Then pull it back up. This creates alternating negative and positive pressure, which works mechanically on the blockage and draws it upwards.

What if I don’t have a plunger?

Plastic bottles as DIY plungers

If you don’t have a plunger at home, you can also use an empty plastic (PET) drinks bottle. Big bottles (with a capacity of 2 litres, for example) made of thin, flexible plastic are most suitable. It is important that the bottle’s diameter is at least as wide as the toilet’s drain, so that it can generate enough negative pressure.

Screw the lid onto the bottle tightly and remove the base of the bottle using a sharp knife or utility knife. Then press the open end over or into the hole and pump it, just like you would with a plunger, to clear the blockage and restore normal water flow.

[Translate to english:] DirectFlush Toilette von Villeroy & Boch

Vinegar and bicarbonate of soda clear blockages overnight

With some patience, vinegar and bicarbonate of soda (the main component of baking powder), you can unclog siphon blockages without much effort at all. First, pour one or two sachets of baking powder down the drain, followed by a bottle of vinegar. This results in a chemical reaction which can be intensified by adding roughly 3 litres of hot (but not boiling!) water. Make sure you ventilate the room and for best results, leave the mixture to work overnight. By the following morning, the blockage should have cleared.

Plumbing snakes: A tool for the pros

You won’t get very far with plungers, toilet brushes and the like if the blockage is stuck in the pipe behind the toilet trap (U bend). So, if none of the previous methods worked to unclog your toilet, you need a plumbing snake just like the professionals use. You can buy one of these snakes in various sizes and designs at your local DIY store. They consist of a flexible, helical shaft which you can rotate using the crank handle fixed to the back end of the spiral. Attached to the front end is a small tool in the shape of a grabber or spanner. The plumbing snake is long enough to penetrate the pipe system and clear deposits and blockages at a pipe bend, for example.

Carefully push the plumbing snake down the toilet, and continue pushing until you feel a noticeable resistance. At this point, begin lightly turning the crank, so that the tool at the tip of the spiral can unclog the blockage. Once the standing water starts to drain, slowly pull the plumbing snake back out and rinse with a few litres of hot water.

If none of these methods work, call in an expert

No luck with the plumbing snake either? Is the standing water still in the toilet bowl? Then it sounds like you are dealing with a stubborn or particularly deep blockage. A blockage like this may be caused by a blocked downpipe, which might be situated on a floor below your flat in the building, in the basement, or even somewhere in the municipal pipe system. In such cases, only a professional can help. If you live in a rental property, you should contact your landlord immediately and ask them to send a plumber who can investigate the blockage and resolve the issue at its root.

[Translate to english:] Fachpartner von Villeroy & Boch

Clogged toilet: Who pays?

If the toilet is blocked and only a plumber can fix the issue, both the tenant and the landlord will be asking, “Who bears the costs?” This is explicitly regulated in tenancy law. Section 535 (1)(2) of the German Civil Code (BGB) states: “The lessor must surrender the leased property to the lessee in a condition suitable for use in conformity with the contract and maintain it in this condition for the lease period.”

[Translate to english:] Subway 2.0 Toilette von Villeroy & Boch

More specifically, this means that the tenant must only pay for the drain cleaning if they caused the blockage themselves. If the blockage is caused by too much toilet paper, a cloth or a toothbrush, for example, then the tenant bears liability. The tenant is not responsible for blockages caused by deposits in the pipe system. Instead, the landlord must pay in full for the pipe cleaning, because they are obliged to ensure that a functioning toilet is always available to the tenant.