Drain Cleaning Tips »
How Do I Unclog Paper and Napkins?
To remove a paper and napkin clog, start with your easiest options first.
If you believe that a large volume of tissue paper, baby wipes, paper towels or other sanitary products has clogged a toilet or drain line, start by trying to pull out as much of the material as you can.
- First, try using a toilet auger (or "closet auger") to pull out or break apart any flushed material that's close to the bowl.
- A toilet auger is a hand-held snake, typically with 3 to 6 feet of cleaning cable, and a curved, plastic elbow sleeve to help you avoid scratching the visible ceramic surface inside the bowl.
- A toilet auger with a cable that can telescope to 6 feet in length can be purchased online and in many hardware stores for under $50.
- To remove a paper and napkin clog with a toilet auger:
- Use care to insert the plastic sleeve into the opening at the bottom of the bowl before you extend the cable, and always keep the protective sleeve pressed firmly against the opening to avoid scratching the visible ceramic surface inside the bowl.
- Press down and rotate the toilet auger handle to extend the auger cable through the toilet trap. Avoid using too much force so that you do not kink or knot the cable.
- It may take several attempts to fully clear the clog. Falling and siphoning water in the toilet bowl is an indication that the blockage may have cleared.
- Use extra care as you pull out the cable to avoid scratching the visible ceramic surface inside the bowl.
- Use caution when working on any plumbing fixture where chemical drain cleaners may have been used to avoid splashing liquid on yourself and surrounding areas.
- If you can't reach the clog with a toilet auger, and you can find an alternate, clogged drain opening that's upstream of the toilet (like a sink, a clean out opening in a wall, or a walk-in shower floor drain), try using a handheld drum auger to clear the drain.
- Important: to avoid scratching the visible ceramic surface inside a toilet bowl, do not run a handheld drum auger directly into the toilet.
- A 25 foot handheld drum auger can be purchased for around $30.
- This is a good next choice, since the auger can break through many clogs that are further away from the toilet.
- To unclog the bathroom drain line using a handheld auger:
- Read and follow the drum auger safety instructions, then put on work gloves and eye protection.
- Expose the alternate drain opening that's upstream of the toilet and then feed the auger into the drain by locking the cable, turning the drum in a clockwise direction, and then unlocking and feeding the cable as needed to pass the auger tip through elbows and obstructions.
- After you have inserted the drum auger all the way into the drain, pull out the auger cable as you feed it back into the drum. It may take several attempts before the drain is unclogged.
- Use extra caution when working on any plumbing fixture where chemical drain cleaners may have been used to avoid splashing liquid on yourself and surrounding areas.
- Note that removing the toilet, checking for material stuck in the toilet trap, running a drain snake through the drain opening in the floor, and then reinstalling the toilet is usually the most time-consuming option but might be necessary if no good, alternate drain opening can be found.
- If a large volume of tissue paper, baby wipes, paper towels or other sanitary products has caused several plumbing fixtures to all clog, you might be able to break apart and flush out the clog with a sewer jetter.
- If you're trying to clear cloth baby wipes and other dense material that is more difficult to break apart with a pressure washer, you may need to start from a downhill opening such as the main drain cleanout outside the home, and point the sewer jetter nozzle uphill so that the back jets work with gravity to flush the material out of the drain.
- Note that electric pressure washers usually don't have sufficient power to flush out cloth baby wipes and other dense material unless the clog is less than 25 feet from a bottom opening where you will insert the sewer jetter.
- You should avoid using a sewer jetter if you think that the drain pipes could have structural problems caused by foundation issues, or if the pipes could be made of ceramic (clay) or Orangeburg (wood composite) material.
- For detailed tips to clean your main drain with a sewer jetter, visit the unclog a main sewer drain tips page.
- For tips to clear a toilet that's been clogged with paper or napkins, visit the unclog a toilet tips page.
- If you're not comfortable performing any of these steps, hiring a good, licensed plumber could save you money in the long run. To find a good plumber in your area:
- Start by asking family, friends and co-workers to recommend a licensed plumber who has performed similar services for them.
- If you are unable to find a good recommendation from someone you know, search local directories like Google Maps, Yelp and CitySearch for licensed plumbers nearby who have good online reviews. Don't always trust reviews from individuals who published very few other reviews, or from people who give only positive reviews to everyone. Be aware that good service providers sometimes get a small number of negative reviews for reasons that might not be relevant to your situation. Look for a company with several reviews that tell a positive, believable story about repairs that are similar to yours.
- After you find one or more licensed plumbers who seem to have a good reputation, search online for the company name and the names of individuals at the company, if known. Take into account both the positive and negative information that you find about the company.
- Be aware that good plumbers sometimes have a backlog of several days during peak times when there are low temperatures, heavy rainfall or holidays. Sometimes heavy demand can be a sign of a company with lots of repeat customers.
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