What's the Difference: Toilet Plungers
Standard, ribbed, and bellows
We expect a lot out of the drain systems in our toilets, which regularly have to accommodate human waste and toilet paper of various amounts, and sometimes even small toys, earrings, or other objects that fall into the bowl and are unknowingly flushed down. When blockages occur, the first tool that most homeowners and plumbers turn to is a plunger. All plungers are not the same, however.
A plunger has to form a tight seal to work efficiently. On a flat surface such as a kitchen sink or shower pan, a force-cup plunger can form this seal easily. Move the plunger to the curved drain opening in a toilet, though, and forming a seal becomes more difficult. That’s where the toilet plunger comes in. With a cup that’s traditionally made of black rubber instead of red, a toilet plunger has a pullout flange that fits into the drain opening and creates a much better seal. In addition, the cup on a toilet plunger is deeper than that on a regular plunger. A better seal and a deeper cup mean greater clogbusting power.
Be careful, though. If any part of the seal formed by the wax ring is weak, pushing too hard could force water through the ring and lead to a leak where the toilet meets the floor. Proper technique is key. Use a series of gentle pumps rather than one or two quick, forceful pushes. The best way to break up a blockage is by repeated back-and-forth movement of water, which happens when you push the sealed plunger down and then pull it back up again.
Two variations on the toilet plunger are widely available. The first looks like a regular toilet plunger except that it has a ribbed cup. These ribs allow the plunger to flex at various angles. As a result, the cup is smaller than on a regular toilet plunger. With toilet bowls coming in a wide variety of shapes these days, however, being able to use the plunger at an angle can come in handy. The second variation is a device, made of one or two pieces of hollow plastic, that hardly looks like a conventional plunger at all. This plunger’s handle connects to a bellows that ends with a flange for fitting inside the drain. The bellows provides a lot of force with a minimal amount of effort, but because these plungers are made from plastic instead of rubber, it may be more difficult to get them to form a tight seal. For newer toilets that have an elongated drain, however, bellows plungers may fit more snugly.
All three of these toilet plungers can trap water and solids. Be sure to empty your toilet plunger into the bowl after use, or you may have a small mess to clean up.
No matter which type of plunger you choose, plumber Mike Lombardi suggests trying it out first. “The fun thing about home centers is you can take a plunger from its display and test it for fit in the toilet aisle,” he says. After you’ve made your choice, Lombardi recommends trying the fit and feel when you don’t have a blockage and the water is clear. Better to work on your plunging technique when there’s no risk of sending dirty water flying.
Photos: Rodney Diaz