I have a 3 year old (deep sigh) who decided to flush a subscription card from a magazine down the toilet.

She did this a couple weeks ago, but I think we are just now seeing the affects of this choice-- our guest bathroom appears to be clogged. When flushed, the bowl fills up and then very-slowly drains to nearly nothing. I've tried plunging the toilet but that hasn't helped.

My next step is to buy a snake, but in an effort to save a few bucks and not buy another tool I'll not frequently use (I have a small home, with limited space for storing this type of stuff) I was wondering if there are other tricks I could try. Personally, I'd like to try pouring some form of Draino down the toilet but apparently your not suppose to do that. Is there any chemical that I can use to dissolve the paper that is safe for water treatment? If not, are there other steps that I can try before calling a plumber or buying a snake?

Thanks guys.

2 Answers 2


You have a 3-year old (deep sigh) - odds are pretty good it's not a 2-week old subscription card (ought to be pretty much mush by now) but some other object likely flushed more recently.

My slow-toilet (unreliable) magic trick is dishwashing liquid, which sometimes (but not always) lubricates things enough to make plunging far more effective. Just a little is all it takes, and using vast amounts won't help more. A cup of bleach overnight sometimes also helps, presumably from breaking things down a little and freeing some sludge. Verify that you can (or refresh your memory on how to) unlock the bathroom door from outside, and lock it while the bleach is in to keep the 3-year old out.

Pouring in hot water can also help, but overdoing that could damage the wax seal, and then you'd be pulling the toilet - which is one more option for desperate cases, albeit one most people prefer to avoid. But if there's something like a doll's head or golf-ball down there, a snake may not grab it, and then pulling the toilet is the only thing that will work. I would agree with @Keith Hoffman that it's nothing to fear, and the tools required are far more general-purpose than a snake (wrenches, mostly.) It just crosses into the "icky" factor that makes plumbers so much money ;-) - face that and save. Sponges and rags are an alternate way to get the water out, and remember to have a plastic bag stuffed with something (other bags or paper work) to plug the hole while the toilet is off (and don't forget to take that out before replacing the toilet.)

The main reason (AFAIK) to strictly avoid Drano® (et al) in a toilet is that you have a MUCH higher chance of causing yourself (or the 3- year old if she gets in there while it's in) serious chemical burns from splashing in a relatively open toilet, rather than a more contained sink drain. My personal experience from sinks is that it usually doesn't help anyway, but does make the next plunging session much more worrisome.

  • Don't use Drano or bleach if you're on a septic system!
    – Doresoom
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 17:47
  • 1
    Any reasonable quantity of bleach is not an issue in a normal septic system. Yes, it will kill some bacteria. No, it won't come anywhere near killing all (or even a particularly large percentage of) the bacteria in a 500, 1000 or 1500 gallon septic tank. Cornell states that it would take approximately 2 gallons to kill most of the bacteria in a 1000 gallon tank, and they would recover in about 60 hours. A cup is fine, just don't go crazy with it. waterquality.cce.cornell.edu/publications/…
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 18:52
  • 1
    I'd also add that I wouldn't be afraid to learn to pull the toilet. It's not such a bad job and it is a good homeowner skill to have. For a $5 part and about an hour of your time, you can likely avoid a $200 roto rooter charge at some point if you know this skill. A shop vac (not a regular vac and remove the filter) helps to empty the tank. Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 21:26
  • @Ecnerwal Ok, thanks for the source. I guess I've always been overly conservative with my septic system.
    – Doresoom
    Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 15:18
  • Being careful is fine, it's just that there are a lot of myths and misinformation (many actively spread by folks selling things that do no good or do actual harm, according to more reliable sources.) Not putting cooking grease down the drain is a real benefit. Using "sludge removing additives" rather than calling for a pump-out can ruin your drainfeild by moving sludge into it. The best thing you can do for your septic system is to have it pumped on a regular schedule (adjusted by how long it had been and what it looked like last time) and perhaps have an output filter added if there isn't one
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 15:33

If the soap doesn't work, I'd go with a drain zip before going to a snake. There are a lot of brands, burt basically a drain zip is a three dollar, 2.5 foot (3/4 meter) long flat, bendy piece of plastic, with plastic barbs along the sides. It's great for getting hairballs out of the shower drain, and should bend its way quite nicely through the toilet to the point of your blockage. Most hardware stores (US) sell the things.

  • Ah, this is a good tip too. I'll remember this when our shower clogs.
    – RLH
    Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 12:19
  • Great tip. Many discount stores sell these for even less. Commented May 19, 2018 at 19:00

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