Whether you rent or own your home, a good plunger is essential: You don’t want to be stuck in the middle of the night waiting for a plumber to fix an overflowing toilet or unclog a drain, whether you’re responsible for the repair or not. But you can’t just grab any old plunger off the shelf—there are actually different plungers for different bathroom jobs, and using the right one will get things flowing more quickly and with a lot less effort on your part.
There are different plungers for drains and toilets
I never thought much about the shape of my plunger until dealing with a clogged tub drain a few months ago. (Did you know it’s possible for an entire washcloth to slip down the drain? It happened to me.) I watched a lot of YouTube videos telling me to fill the tub with a few inches of water, cover the drain with the plunger, and start pumping away. But my plunger didn’t have a flat bottom like the ones in the video—it had an extra, floppy bit of rubber at the end, which made it difficult to form a tight seal around the drain. (Dislodging a washcloth takes a lot of effort, apparently.)
Turns out that I was attempting to use a toilet plunger on a sink drain. A quick trip to the hardware store for the right tool, and my problem was fixed. (I also got some drain covers.) As an added bonus, I no longer have to think about using a toilet plunger in my sink or tub.
It’s certainly possible to unclog a toilet with a sink plunger and vice versa, but not always—and in any case, using the right one will make the job easier. Here’s how to choose the right plunger for your next unclogging.
Drain plungers (also called sink plungers) have flat bottoms
Drain plungers are the platonic ideal of plungers. They are what I would draw if you told me to draw a plunger, or what I would reach for if I was a cartoon duck attempting to use it to fight crime: your basic rubber cup atop a wooden handle.
These plungers are great for unclogging a tub or sink drain because the flat bottom allows them to form a tight seal with the surface surrounding the drain. Plungers do their work through suction, and the tighter the seal, the better the suction.
Toilet plungers (also called forced cup plungers) have a flange
Toilet plungers may look like sink plungers at first glance, but if you flip them over and peer into the cup, you’ll see a rubber flap (called a flange) that you can pull out, forming a sort of nozzle shape. This narrower end extends into the hole at the bottom of the toilet bowl, the point being, again, to allow you to form a tighter seal and plunge more effectively. You can fold the flange back into the cup and use it on a sink drain too, but it won’t be as effective. (Also: gross.)
For more intense jobs: The beehive or accordion plunger
If your toilet is prone to getting really jammed up (no judgement), you can get a “beehive” plunger or an “accordion” plunger. Either of them will be your best bet for clearing a big clog, with the caveat that they truly are single-purpose tools. You can’t use either to unclog a sink. Both are designed with larger cups and narrower openings, allowing you to both create a tighter seal and plunge with more pressure with every pump.
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