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How To Unclog A Toilet Using A Shop Vac

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My girlfriend decided to “help” by cleaning the bathroom last night. But rather than throw the used paper towels in the garbage like a normal person, she decided to flush them down the toilet because they were icky.

Yep, you guessed it. The toilet clogged!

Thankfully, it wasn’t your typical toilet overflowing with poop going everywhere type clog. It was just a slow flush with the water rising dangerously close, before going back down. But knowing that there was indeed a problem, it needed to be addressed before it became a bigger issue.

I started off with the plunger, but that wasn’t working. Thinking my crappy plunger was at fault, I made my g/f ask to borrow our neighbor’s plunger. We were able to get more suction with the borrowed plunger, but still couldn’t get the toilet unclogged.

People suggested using a wire hanger, being careful not to scratch the porcelain in the process. That didn’t help either. The wire hanger was too rigid, and I couldn’t get it past the first bend.

I decided to visit Home Depot this morning to pick up a closet auger, as most professionals said that’s your best bet (short of removing your toilet and getting to the clog that way). But on the way there, I remembered that my folks had a heavy-duty wet/dry shop vac at their house. I had seen a suggestion online last night that suggested using a shop vac to suck out the obstruction. It was worth a shot, I could always get the auger if this didn’t work.

Here’s how you unclog a toilet using a shop vac:

  1. Empty the water out of the bowl using the vacuum.
  2. Place the end of the hose a few inches into the drain. Use just the flexible hose; no attachments. Use old towels to create a seal around the drain.
  3. Turn on the vacuum and push pressure on the towels to create a good seal. There’s a good chance the vacuum can suck out the clog.

Within two seconds of turning on the vaccum, I heard something get sucked in. I turn off the shop vac, open up the canister, and there are the offending paper towels! I flushed the toilet, and everything was as good as new!

Hope this helps!

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. steve

    June 2, 2011 at 6:51 am

    • Zander

      June 2, 2011 at 10:08 am

      I tried the plunger first, followed up by a metal hanger. Neither one did the trick. I was actually on my way to Home Depot to purchase an auger when I decided to try the shop vac first, and it saved me $15. 🙂

  2. Aharen

    June 22, 2012 at 3:28 pm

    This totally worked!!!

    • Zander

      June 22, 2012 at 3:47 pm

      Glad I could help!

  3. Bradd

    November 26, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    I tried a good plunger, no go. It normally works.

    I then tried hanger and realize that was futile.

    I happen to have a shopvac and decided to try it before buying an auger. It took about 10sec and *whomp* a fist sized clump of toilet paper. That cleared it up and flushes great now.

    I was told that it might be part of a broken glass in there, but it seems it was just paper. I guess I will know soon enough if it clogs again.

  4. Brandon

    June 10, 2013 at 5:40 pm

    Awesome tip! It helped me retrieve a capri sun that my son threw down the toilet. Saved me from pulling toilet out as nothing else would work.

  5. wendy

    December 22, 2015 at 3:25 pm

    I accidentally dropped the toilet paper roll holder into our toilet. Husband suggested that we call a plumber to dismantle the toilet ($250?) This shop vac method did it in about 3 seconds! Thank you!

  6. Jenn Hu

    February 3, 2016 at 7:11 am

    Thank you for the idea. Could you tell me the HP (power) of the Shop Vac? Will 2HP Shop Vac do the job? Thank you.

    • Zander

      February 3, 2016 at 3:15 pm

      Mine was a 3HP Shop Vac, but I don’t see why a 2HP one wouldn’t be able to get the job done!

  7. L M

    April 5, 2016 at 11:58 am

    YES!!! After using Dawn soap, coat hangers, 2 Augers, baking soda & vinegar and 2 shots of vodka (for me, not the toilet), I found this article and pulled out the wet/dry vacuum. 6 seconds later the clog (plastic spoon) was removed. Thanks, Zander!!!

    • libra

      June 8, 2017 at 11:39 pm

      L I know what you mean, I have tried almost everything you have listed and still no results. I tried the vac and ut didn’t have nothing to really seal it with and I did see some change but now that I know exactly what to do, really think this could work for me.

  8. Dan

    October 16, 2016 at 4:50 pm

    Hey Zander thanks for posting. Tolite drain totally backed up for days now.Actually heard and saw something bubbling, gurgling in the toilet several days ago. Treied hot water baking soda, vinegar. Then dish washing liquid, hanger. Then tried your method today. I have a smal husky wet dry vacuum. I tried it. To no avail. Although, I will say that the water level once it comes up is less and it is draining a bit faster down than before. Do u suggest I get a more powerful wet dry vac? I am at my wits end with this. Thanx

  9. Frank Torres

    December 20, 2016 at 8:03 pm

    I used an snake, coat hanger and plunger all no luck. Hooked my $69 shop vac and within 10 seconds we were flushing again. Had to throw away shop vac but worth it. Very gross. Crap size of mini soccer ball. Disgusting but worked.

  10. Gene D.

    January 29, 2017 at 12:35 pm

    When using vac to clear out crappy toilet is the exhaust air wet. foul? Does entire bathroom have to be sanitized after freeing toilet clog?

    • Zander

      February 6, 2017 at 5:23 pm

      No.. You’re only running the vacuum for a few seconds at most, so there’s no concern about smell or anything like that.

  11. Joyce

    September 28, 2017 at 2:13 pm

    I’m sure your girlfriend is a ‘normal’ person. And she was trying to help. She just made a mistake. Have you ever made a mistake?

    • Jeff

      January 19, 2018 at 4:36 pm

      He didn’t attack his girlfriend in his article and you don’t know her, so how about you focus on the purpose of the article?

  12. Jeff

    January 19, 2018 at 5:16 pm

    Thanks very much for posting this. My 3 year old used a ton of toilet paper and it was the worst clogged toilet I’ve ever seen. First, I used all ideas I found online with hot water, soap, bleach, etc. None of it worked. I considered using my shop vac, but I was little worried about a complete mess from it until I found your article. It was definitely important to plug up the gaps in the drain around the shop vac (like you said) to create a good suction. It actually took me a few minutes of doing that until I heard the thump of the fist-size of toilet paper coming out, so if you’re reading this, don’t give up right away if it doesn’t work in a few seconds. Even though I ran it for a few minutes, I didn’t have issues with smell or anything nasty like that.

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