With any home improvement or maintenance, you want the right tool for the job to get things done properly.
Most plungers are designed to work with a certain type of drain. The standard issue plunger, with a suction cup shaped rubber bell on the end of a stick, is designed for plunging flat drains, like you might find in showers, floors, and utility sinks. That design is a poor choice for plunging clogged toilets or bathroom sinks though—the shapes of these drains and their basins require a differently shaped plunger.
You’ll recognize a plunger meant for toilets by a narrowing flange of rubber or plastic at the base of the plunger, which will fit snugly into the toilet’s drain. Sometimes the plunger narrows enough to be used in kitchen sink or even bathroom sink drains. A couple other design features plungers may have include being able to flip the flange inside, switching between the flat and narrowed style of plunger and other novel shapes that can add versatility to a plunger.
The other biggest design difference among plungers today is the shape of the compression container. The traditional plunger shape is referred to as a cup-plunger, the typical spherical bells of most toilet plungers cause them to be called ball-plungers, and finally those with the more modern spring-shaped, taller compression chambers are called bellows-plungers. Cup-plungers are versatile from sinks to tilets. Ball plungers can work in tighter spaces and at an angle. And bellows-plungers allow for more forceful plunging when clearing the most stubborn clogs.
Consider storage when making a plunger purchase decision. You want the plunger that will do the job, first and foremost, but between uses, a plunger doesn’t have much to do. Many plungers come with attractive bases for storage in a corner.
Plungers work best on clogs that can be busted up into smaller particles which then can continue flowing down the drain. Do not use plungers on clogs that cannot be broken up, or you could make the problem worse. For example, large pieces of soap, children’s or pet’s toys, or toiletry items—these objects will not be broken up by a plunger, and you may jam them only tighter in place.
In the case of solid obstructions, when a plunger is not advised, the obstruction must be removed from the pipes. This means gaining access so that you can reach and extract the object by hand or with a tool such as a closet or hand auger. If you know something foreign has been flushed or sent down the drains, you should consider calling a professional plumber or drain service that will have the proper tools and know-how to fix the problem.
For best chances of success you must use a plunger designed for your drain. Drains set in flat surfaces, such as shower drains, floor drains, and drains in laundry & shop sinks are best tackled with a plunger that has a wide, open face to surround the drain with an airtight seal. Narrower drains and drains in irregularly shaped basins like toilets and kitchen sinks require flanged plungers, which have extra material shaped to form fit the drain.
Some drains, like bathroom sink or lavatory drains and some bathtub drains are ill-suited for clearing with a plunger. These types of drains are complicated by unevenly shaped surrounding basins as well as secondary overflow drains which defeat any plunger if not sealed. Some tips for getting a plunger to work with these drains are included in those below, but more often clogs in these types of drains are cleared by cleaning the stopper or opening the trap below.
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