We’ve all had our fair share of plumbing issues and even an embarrassing toilet clog. You go to flush your toilet and find that it’s clogged, except this time the water doesn’t stop rising. Now you’ve got an overflowing toilet bowl and no idea what to do with it. So, how do you stop an overflowing toilet?
The first thing that most people do when the toilet water starts to hit their bathroom floor, is panic. It’s a reasonable reaction; no one wants dirty toilet water overflowing all over their floors. Especially when there’s the possibility of water damage. If you ever find yourself in this situation, there’s plenty of things you can do (besides panicking) that can minimize the impact of a toilet overflow. It may require some fast thinking and quick action, but as long as you keep these next steps in mind, you’ll be a pro when it comes to your toilet overflowing.
Why Does a Toilet Overflow?
Usually, a toilet overflow is caused by a clogged toilet or clogged drain pipe. As embarrassing as it may be to admit you clogged the toilet, that’s usually the main cause for an overflow. Flushing items that shouldn’t be flushed is a great way to get some wet bathroom floors. Toilets, especially those that have a septic tank, are also prone to toilet paper clogging. If you bundle too much toilet paper and try to flush it, that can cause a drain clog as well.
A less common cause is a malfunctioning toilet. The float, which works hand in hand with the fill valve to keep the water level consistent, can fail from time to time, allowing more water into the bowl than there should be. If the float is not calibrated correctly, this is grounds for an overflowing toilet.
What to Do When Your Toilet is Overflowing
If your toilet starts to overflow, there’s some procedures you should follow to fix it. Just keep in mind that you must be quick in order to minimize the impact of the overflow effectively.
1. Don’t Flush the Toilet Again
If the water level in your toilet bowl is continuing to rise right after you’ve flushed, that means you’ve got a clog on your hands. There’s something that is preventing the water from flushing down the toilet drain. Flushing again will only allow more water to collect in the bowl, and because of the clogged drain, will have nowhere to go except to overflow.
2. Remove the Toilet Tank Lid
If your toilet is stuck on overflow mode, it’s time to do some investigating under the hood. Remove your tank lid and place it to the side. You need to do this quickly, so don’t bother trying to place it on some towels or anything like you normally would. Just make sure the lid is in a good place that is out of the way.
3. Locate the Flapper Valve
Once your tank lid is off, take a look towards the bottom. In the center of toilet tank on the bottom, there is a small rubber piece; this should have a chain or lever that attaches to it. This is called the flapper valve. This valve is what lets the toilet tank refill your toilet bowl whenever you flush. Manually push on the flapper to seal it shut. Doing this will not let anymore water from the toilet tank into the toilet, which should minimize the overflowing toilet bowl.
4. Locate the Toilet Float
Now that your flapper valve is secured, look for the float that’s inside your toilet tank. The float is what controls the tank’s water level by operating the fill valve. The float can either be a cup-like shape or a ball shape. Look for whichever your toilet might have.
Once you find the toilet float, lift it up to prevent the toilet tank from filling with more water. The fill valve and float are the main water supply for the toilet bowl; the water level should begin to drop once the float is raised. If you find that your water level in the toilet bowl is returning to normal after a minute or two, it’s safe to drop the float and let the bowl refill. You should be able to let the water level rise again with no worries of overflowing.
If for some reason the float method doesn’t work for you, you can also unplug the refill tube that’s attached to the overflow valve. This will also prevent the tank from filling up.
5. Find the Shut-off Toilet Valve
After you’ve completed the last 4 steps, it’s probably a good idea to shut off the water supply to your toilet for a little while until you can tackle the overflowing issue. To do that, look for a valve that is near the bottom of the toilet or on the wall behind it. It will be close to wherever your toilet connects to the wall.
This is the toilet shut-off valve. Turning this won’t allow any more water to flow into your toilet tank, in turn preventing further overflowing. Turn the valve clockwise to shut it down.
If the water is still rising even after you’ve raised the float, keep the float raised while you turn the valve. If you can’t reach the shut-off valve while still holding onto the toilet float, find a way to rig the float to stay up, or just quickly let go and shut the water off. Make sure you locate the water valve first before you let go of the float. It’s a race against time!
6. Turn Off Your Home’s Water Supply
This should be your final resort. If you’ve gone through each of these steps and are still left with an overflowing toilet bowl, shut off the water to your entire home. Sounds drastic, but its worth it to prevent a toilet flood in the home. This should prevent any further overflowing entirely. If your toilet bowl still continues to rise, then you probably have a serious plumbing issue at hand with your home’s sewer line. If this happens, call an emergency plumbing service. A professional plumber will be able to conduct drain cleaning and plumbing services to resolve your problem.
What NOT to Do When Your Toilet is Overflowing
Now that you’ve learned some mitigation techniques for an overflowing toilet, there’s also some things you should keep in mind that are big no-go’s for a toilet overflow.
Do Not Flush the Toilet
As I said before, do NOT flush again. Flushing again will only bring more water into your toilet bowl, which is no help when it’s overflowing. I know that might be your first instinct (I would probably be guilty of it too), but flushing will only make it worse if your plumbing is clogged.
Do Not Put Foreign Objects or Chemicals Into the Toilet
It’s definitely tempting to stick something from around the house down the drain to see if it will fix the problem. However, introducing outside objects or chemicals might just make the issue worse. Especially since most of us are not a professional plumber; if you are inexperienced with commercial plumbing you’re more likely to clog the toilet even more. Trust me, I’ve learned that the hard way too.
While there are some home remedies you can try, like bleach or a metal coat hanger, anything more than that is not recommended. Don’t discard these well-known home fixes, just be careful with what you’re doing. Don’t try and shove just anything down into your toilet drain, it’s not going to magically fix it. You might even damage your toilet bowl or the water pipes before you manage to unclog your drain. It’s not something that would be worth messing around with if you don’t know what you are doing.
Do Not Remove Pipes
Now, I know what you’re thinking next. If I can’t stick something down the drain, why not take a look inside the drain myself? That’s probably not a good idea. Disconnecting the wrong pipe can cause more than just a flood; it can cause water damages to your floors and walls, damage to your pipes, and even more complex flooding problems. So, it’s best to stick the the previous steps only. Don’t try and play the plumber game.
How to Fix Your Overflowing Toilet With a Plunger
You’ve successfully stopped the toilet from overflowing. But now what do you do? Most of the time, an overflowing toilet is caused by a clog. In order to stop the toilet overflow, you need to find the root problem. There’s another set of steps you can take to ensure you take care of the clog in your toilet drain once you’ve got the overflowing under control.
1. Stop Using All Other Water-Consuming Devices
Don’t use any sinks, drains, or other toilets that are connected to your plumbing system until you root out the clog. Any plumbing fixtures should be on temporary hold until you fix your toilet issue. Using them might make the overflow worse and can also make it difficult to narrow down exactly where the problem lies. If you stop the use of other plumbing, you can narrow the issue down to a manageable area.
2. Try Using a Toilet Plunger to Remove the Clog
If you’ve got a plunger on hand, try using that first to remove any clogs in your toilet. A toilet plunger is usually sufficient enough to resolve minor toilet and drain clogging. See if you can remove whatever is blocking your pipes using the plunger. If this doesn’t resolve the issue, keep continuing.
3. Check Other Plumbing Fixtures
If you’ve tried your hand at plunging the problem toilet and still no luck, the issue might lie elsewhere. Try taking your plunger to your other plumbing devices, like other sinks or toilets. Doing this will help you find out exactly where the issue is originating from.
If you’ve got upper floors to your home, it’s helpful to have a partner around to keep an eye on the lower floors. While you’re checking the upper fixtures, let them know to watch the lower drains. If the upper drains seem to be working, they might just be draining into the lower floors’ drain line. It’ll make it easier on you to have someone to tell you if that’s the case. Teamwork makes the dreamwork.
4. Check the Other Toilets
If the other toilets are working just fine, more than likely it’s just the one toilet that’s affected by the clog. But if multiple toilets are overflowing or presenting plumbing issues, there may be a bigger problem behind the scenes. Your home drain line system might be clogged or your sewer line system might be failing.
5. Call a Professional Plumber
If all your hard plunging efforts are failing and you just can’t seem to find where the clog is, it’s time to call the professionals. Commercial plumbing services are there to serve you exactly for this reason; it’s their job! If the overflow is getting out of control, plumbing companies also offer emergency plumbing services, which are often same day service. So, depending on your needs and the severity of your overflowing toilet, there’s multiple options of who and what service to call. If you’ve managed to stop the overflow with little to no damage to your plumbing, you usually don’t need emergency plumbing services; they are going to be more expensive. But if you can’t solve the issue on your own, paying for an emergency plumbing service can save you much more time, money, and pain than if you wait for a scheduled plumber.
How to Fix Your Overflowing Toilet Without a Plunger
Oh no, you don’t have a plunger! If for any reason you can’t get your hands on a plunger, don’t worry! There’s still ways to unclog your overflowing toilet without one. Not many people actually know that a toilet plunger is not technically necessary to fix a clogged toilet. Strange, isn’t it? Keeping reading to find out how you can fix yours without a plunger.
1. Use Dish Soap
This might sound a little strange, but the most common way to unclog your toilet without a plunger is actually dish soap. Dish soap is fortunately a thing that most of us have on hand at the house in a good amount.
Just pour a few good squirts of dish soap, or even shampoo if you’re out, into your toilet bowl. Pour some hot water over the soap to lather it and wait a good 15-20 minutes. Once the time has passed, try flushing the toilet. This method works best if you know it’s a toilet paper clog; dish soap can break up toilet paper easily. It can work for other types of clogs too though, so don’t write it off just yet.
However, if your toilet bowl is pretty full already, this might not work well at all.
2. Use Hot Water
Start by running hot water from another fixture in the room, whether it be the sink, bathtub, or shower. While that’s running, grab a large container and fill it with hot water. Pour the hot water slowly into the toilet bowl, being very cautious not to cause another overflow. Hot water is great for breaking up clogs and has a good chance of resolving your clogged toilet in no time.
Just keep in mind that if your sewer line is clogged, this won’t work. In fact, pouring hot water into your toilet might make it worse. If you think you have a clogged sewer line, it’s best to call a professional plumber right away.
3. Try Using Some Bleach
If you’ve got a resistant clog, try using some bleach. Just like you did with the dish soap in the first method, pour up to a cup of bleach into your toilet bowl. Wait about 10 minutes then try to flush it. If it fixes the clog, congrats! If not, move on to the next method.
Keep in mind that using bleach to unclog your toilet is not really recommended. Bleach is a very potent chemical that can be harsh on your drain pipes and any gaskets in your plumbing system. It’s harsh on you too, if it comes into contact with your skin or eyes. Be extra cautious when handling bleach at home.
Other commercial drain cleaners are also not recommended. Most of these cleaners are easy to mix incorrectly with other household cleaners, which can result in a toxic chemical reaction. Releasing toxic chemical gasses into your home is not a very good idea. So, if you must use them, try not to mix them with anything else.
4. Use a Metal Clothes Hanger
We’ve all been here before: the infamous coat hanger. These are pretty standard in every home, so go grab a metal clothes hanger and bend it out until it’s mostly straight. It doesn’t have to be perfect. While using an actual toilet snake is probably better, a coat hanger is still a viable substitute.
Once you’ve got your hanger straightened, push one end into the toilet drain and wiggle it around. Keep moving it for a good few minutes to try and remove whatever is clogging it. Try to get as far and as much surface area inside your drain as possible. Once you feel satisfied, remove the hanger and give it a test flush. If it flushes, great! If not, you can keep trying with the hanger (or a drain snake, if you have one) until the clogs hopefully resolves.
How to Prevent Future Overflowing Toilets
You’ve successfully fixed your overflowing toilet bowl. That’s definitely something to be proud of. And definitely not something that you want to happen again. There’s some tips you should keep in mind going forward that can reduce the risk of another toilet overflow.
Be Mindful of What You’re Flushing
There’s some pretty obvious things you shouldn’t flush down your toilet, which I hope you would understand. But there’s also some things that you never might have guessed could cause a clog.
Your toilet is made for one purpose: to flush away waste and toilet paper. Anything more than that might cause a drain pipe clog or failure to flush, resulting in an overflow. There’s quite a few things you should never flush to keep your plumbing as healthy as it can be. Here’s a list of some of the most common items that are mistakenly flushed. Keep in mind that this list is not extensive and does not cover everything that you shouldn’t flush.
There’s a lot of chemicals out there that can cause permanent damage to your water pipes. Any unused medications, household cleaners, fertilizers or pesticides, paints, automotive liquids, or other flammable chemicals should never be flushed. These can corrode and damage your pipes; some of them can also hard on the way down, eventually leading to a clogged and very narrow drain pipe, which in turn causes an overflow. They can also contaminate other water supplies that your plumbing system may be connected to, and cause damaging toxins to enter someone else’s body or even yours. So let’s keep those out of our toilet endeavors.
Any big items like kid’s toys or cat litter can cause a serious drain pipe backup. I’m sure you probably are aware that this isn’t a good idea, but keep an eye out on your pets and kids. Some things might get flushed by accident without your knowledge. If your kid is especially unhappy with their dinner, make sure they don’t go and flush it down the toilet. It’s more common than you might think.
Things like cat litter are super absorbent and toxic too. They can contaminate water supplies just like chemicals and other animal waste products with harmful diseases and parasites.
Disposable Napkins and Diapers
While it might seem like a good idea, things like diapers should never be flushed. Diapers and sanitary napkins are made to expand when they absorb moisture. I’m sure you can figure out how this is going to end. If you flush a something that’s already meant to soak up water and will expand when doing so, that’s a one-way ticket to a clogged toilet. So, just keep the flushed disposables to toilet paper and you’ll be good to go.
Fats or Oils
Have you ever tried cleaning your stove after cooking an especially delicious (but maybe a little greasy) meal and found it pretty difficult? Well, the same thing will happen to your pipes if you flush your oil down the toilet. Oil and grease is very hard to remove from surfaces, and will build up over time. Your drain pipes will become narrower and will be clogged much more easily. You might think it’s okay if you flush the oil down while it’s still hot and runny. But that’s not the case; the oil will cool inside of your pipes and that’s when it will solidify to the inside of your drains. You should refrain from pouring oil or grease down any sort of drain.
Choose Your Toilet Paper Carefully
While all of us love a comfy paper while we’re doing our business, your toilet won’t love it so much. Extra plush paper is more prone to becoming a dense mush inside of your pipes. While commercial plumbing systems might be able to break it down, your home sewer system is most likely a little more fragile.
While you should try and stay away from the fluffiest paper on the market, you don’t have to purchase sand paper for your bottom. A mid-grade toilet paper is the best option to balance comfort and home plumbing safety.
Fix an Overflow or Clog As Soon as You Notice It
Most signs of a toilet clog might be ignored by homeowners until it gets bad. Just take a few extra seconds after you flush to make sure your toilet is functioning properly. A little bit of preventive maintenance goes a long way when it comes to an overflowing toilet bowl. As soon as you notice something, act quickly. Try to unclog the drain or call a professional if it seems out of your range of fixing. It’s better to take a few seconds now than be stuck with a flooded