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Sink and Toilet Plungers-Choosing the Right Tool for the Job

Updated on June 29, 2011

Which Kind of Plunger to Use on Which Type of Drain

It may surprise you to learn that new types of plungers are being invented all the time! The combination of a simple idea, a variety of materials options, the wide differences in drain shapes, and the very real need for something to clean drains and clear clogs has led to so many different styles, shapes, and uses for plungers that it can be hard to keep them straight.

The red rubber suction cup plunger is still as popular as ever, because when used correctly, even this old design can work wonders. But for even better chances of success, match your plunger purchase to the drain it will be clearing. The old standby with its wide flat face can be difficult to work on curved drains such as those in toilets and lavatory basins. Fortunately, the enormous variety of plunger shapes available means there is one for every type of drain in the home.


Sink Plunger or Toilet Plunger

Plungers will be split into two broad categories. There are plungers designed for use with toilets, and plungers intended for use with sink and floor drains.

Toilet plungers will not have the traditional wide open-faced plunger's shape, but instead are shaped to fit the tubular curving shape of a toilet drain. Toilet plungers will have a flange of extra material extending from the bellows which can be inserted snugly into toilet drains.

Plungers intended for use on floor drains and basins with flat bottoms will not have this extra flange of plastic or rubber as part of the plunger shape. These plungers will have wider, open suction cup shapes, in order to enclose the drain opening.

Both toilet and sink plungers come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and designs.

Top-Rated Sink and Drain Plungers

Neiko 60166A Toilet Plunger with Patented All-Angle Design | Heavy Duty | Aluminum Handle
Neiko 60166A Toilet Plunger with Patented All-Angle Design | Heavy Duty | Aluminum Handle

Super-pliable industrial-rubber cup with tiered ridges forms ultra-tight seal on any size drain. Heavy-duty steel handle allows for maximum pressure forced down drain to source of clog.


Plastic or Rubber

The second major design consideration when purchasing a plunger is the material it is made of. Rubber and softer plastic belled plungers can be easier to use, because the more pliable material will flex in both directions as required when plunging.

Other plungers are made of stiffer plastics. These plungers are frequently one-piece designs. Because they are all one piece of plastic, these designs can be easier to clean than handled plungers. The drawback to stiff plastic plungers is they are much more difficult to use, both in plunging and keeping up an airtight seal.

Bellows or Ball

The final significant difference among the plungers available today is the shape of the plunger compression container. The champagne glass shaped sink plunger is the most familiar, but also very common are what are called ball-plungers. Less common, but seen in more and more of the modern plunger designs, is the spring-plunger, with a bellows shaped chamber.

Ball-plungers will have a ball or spherical shaped compression chamber. Spheres are used because they enclose the greatest volume with the least amount of material, meaning efficient transfer of the plunging action into water movement and clog busting. Ball plungers are typically easy to work, and very effective.

Bellows plungers are the more modern design. Both sink and toilet plungers are available with large bellows chambers, in an assortment of shapes. Spring plungers can be very effective, bring more pressure to bear on the drain per square inch than a standard design. The large bellows chamber can be cumbersome, however, and not always easy to effectively use.

Popular Toilet Plungers

simplehuman Toilet Plunger, Stainless Steel/Black
simplehuman Toilet Plunger, Stainless Steel/Black

Drip-free design: hold the housing beneath the plunger to catch drips

Snap-in base: plunger locks into the housing for neat and clutter-free storage

Comfortable grip: convenient handle with a wide, ergonomic knob

Stainless steel accented housing: neatly stores plunger out of sight


Soft and Solid Clogs

Plungers are tools for unclogging drains blocked with soft, decomposable or degradable material. Do not attempt to plunge a solid object or dense obstruction through your plumbing—you may end up making things worse and footing an expensive repair bill.

Plungers are recommended for clogs such as those that build up over time in slower or infrequently used drains, and for clogs that are created by over-zealous, but proper use of things like the toilet or shower. Clogs from hair, grease, oil, sewage, toilet tissue, and similar stuff can be handled with a plunger.

Do not use a plunger to force things like children’s toys, dentures, cosmetics containers, toiletries, and so on through the plumbing. When an object or obstruction that won’t break down—for example cloth or paper towels—is the cause of the stopped drain, then other tools and procedures will be used. Consider calling a plumber or professional drain service in this situation.


Plunging Into Happiness

With so many to choose from, how can you pick just one?

You shouldn’t! The fact is that most homes will benefit from owning two plungers; one for use in the toilet and one for use in sinks. Because the design and function of these drains are so different, the types of plungers required for clearing them will be different as well. Amazon has several highly rated plungers of both types available.


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