It’s a complete nightmare situation: You’re in a public bathroom (it could be at work, a restaurant, or the movie theater), you try to flush the toilet, and nothing happens. You try again: still nothing. You try a third time, and hold your breath and cross your fingers and start to pray while you watch and wait, but it just won't go down.
If you were at home, it would be NBD—you could just grab a plunger and get to unclogging, and wouldn’t have to worry about completely embarrassing yourself in front of coworkers or complete strangers. But if you’re out and about, and someone is knocking on the door behind you, things aren’t so easy. So what are you supposed to do if you clog a public toilet?
First of all: Don’t panic. The situation may seem hopeless, but you do have options … You just may need to get creative. Here’s exactly what you can do to unclog a toilet in an emergency, other than going back in time and choosing a different stall.
1. TURN OFF THE WATER.
The only thing worse than a clogged toilet is a clogged, overflowing toilet (which may possibly be the worst thing in the world). To make sure that doesn’t happen, reach behind the toilet bowl and twist the silver metal knob to the “off” position, which will keep more water from flowing into the bowl.
2. SEE IF THERE ARE ANY PRODUCTS HANDY.
Depending on where you are, there may be toilet bowl cleaner, or even a plunger, hidden in a cabinet or underneath the sink. If you can find drain cleaner, pour it in and let it sit for a few minutes to clear the clog (just check first that it is toilet-compatible, as not all drain cleaners are). If you can find a plunger, here are a few tips for using it like a pro:
- Make sure you can get good suction between the plunger and the toilet, which is what plumbers call a “good seal."
- Plunge up and down quickly, repetitively, and with strong force. Make sure you don’t pull too hard, otherwise you’ll break the connection between the plunger and the bowl, which will create even more of a disgusting mess.
- If you see the water start to move, it’s a good sign—it means the clog is moving and the bowl is draining. Turn the water back on, allow the tank to fill, and flush everything down. Give it a second flush just to make sure everything is clean and clear and under control.
3. TRY THE SOAP AND WATER METHOD.
For most scenarios, at this point it's best to just skip to the final step—but if you're committed to seeing this through or are truly terrified of alerting anyone else to the problem (maybe you're on a first date or a new job), you can try this life hack. Squeeze hand soap or dish detergent into the bowl. Then, pour as much hot water into the bowl as you can (you'll have to scout for a bucket, bowl, cup, or other receptacle to move the water from the sink to the toilet). The force from the water may be enough to get the clog down on its own; otherwise, let it sit for a few minutes. The soap will work to break up some of the fat in the clog, which will help things go down more easily.
4. TELL SOMEONE.
We know—it’s awkward and embarrassing, but don’t be that guy who makes a run for it. When all else fails, find an employee and tell them what’s up. You can always pretend that you “found it that way.” And if you have a pen handy, leave a note on the stall or restroom door alerting the next customer to the situation until help is on the way.