Some people think toilets can flush away all kinds of materials. The reality is, however, that toilets are designed only to flush away human waste and toilet paper – nothing more.
Unfortunately, many other things get flushed down toilets including sanitary products, baby wipes, food, and even paper towels. While these objects might go down at first, they can build up in the pipes and cause a significant blockage deep down in the pipeline.
If your toilet is clogged with paper towels, you might wonder what to do about it. Paper towels will not break down as toilet paper does, so you’re going to have to face up to getting your hands dirty and use a little ingenuity to get your toilet functional again.
- Why Paper Towels Clog Toilets
- How To Fix A Toilet Clogged with Paper Towels
- Dissolving Paper Towels In The Toilet
- FAQs Toilet Blocked With Paper Towels
Why Paper Towels Clog Toilets
The main reason paper towels are more likely to clog a toilet is their structure. Think about it, they are designed to wipe surfaces and absorb moisture. No one wants a paper towel breaking down in their hands, so by design, they are durable and strong.
Toilet paper, on the other hand, is designed to deteriorate quickly when wet and break down into small paper particles. As such, if you flush paper towels, you are just asking for trouble.
Paper Towel Structure Vs Toilet Paper
Although toilet paper and paper towels are made from the same material, it’s how paper towels are manufactured that makes them different from toilet paper. The paper towel manufacturing process includes two parts: the creping stage and the embossing stage.
During the creping stage, blades break the fiber bonds within the paper. This allows for more space inside the paper for water absorption.
The embossing stage is where manufacturers add texture to the paper towels by stamping them. Not only does this step add a nice-looking pattern to the paper, but the texture allows for even more space for water absorption.
The combination of steps involved in paper towel manufacturing creates a product that won’t disintegrate quickly in water, which is why you usually find them in kitchens where spills happen more often. This is precisely why paper towels are not recommended for use in toilets.
How To Fix A Toilet Clogged with Paper Towels
If you have flushed paper towels down your toilet and have suddenly found yourself confronted with a major clog, don’t panic. The bad news is, as paper towels don’t break down, you will need to get down and dirty with your toilet to clear the blockage. Follow the steps below to clear a toilet clogged with paper towels.
Step 1: Gather the Equipment Required
Before tackling your clogged toilet, you should gather the supplies you’ll need and prepare the area. Things you will need include:
- Rubber gloves: Your hands will touch the toilet water, so don’t forgo these.
- Plunger: Plungers are great for coaxing minor clogs along.
- Toilet auger: If the plunger doesn’t work, you will need to use a toilet augur (drain snake).
Take a moment to remove any rugs or bath mats that might be in the area you’ll be working. Toilet water is likely to splash on the floor. Also, make sure the toilet lid stays open on its own to make it easier to work in the bowl. If it doesn’t stay open by itself, prop it open.
Step 2: Try To Remove Paper Towels By Hand
If you can see the clog, put your gloves on and remove as much of the paper towel as you can by hand. The more you can get out this way, the easier it will be to get your toilet up and running again.
Sometimes the blockage occurs in the S trap and it’s not accessible by hand. If this is the case move on to the next step.
Step 3: Pour Soapy Water into Bowl
A great hack when dealing with toilet clogs is hot, soapy water. Pour some dish soap into the toilet bowl followed by a pan of hot water. Allow the mixture to sit for about 30 minutes to lubricate the drain.
The soapy water will infiltrate the clogged material, soaking into the paper towels and basically creating lubrication around the wall of the waste pipe, which will make a big difference in shifting the blockage when plunging.
Step 4: Slowly Plunge To Clear Bowl
Anytime you have a toilet clog, the first tool to use is a plunger. You can either use a bellow accordion plunger or a flange plunger.
Flange plungers are the best option, they are shaped like a bell, which allows them to create a tight seal inside the toilet drain. If all you have is a flat plunger, it will work, but it might not create the powerful suction it’ll take to remove a stubborn clog. A bellow accordion plunger will push a jet of water down the pipeline. Your goal is to remove the paper not push it further down.
Place the plunger into the toilet drain and slowly begin moving it up and down. The idea here is to gently coax the paper towel wad back up into the bowl so it can be removed. Take your time and don’t get crazy with the up-and-down action. You don’t want to push the clog down further if you can avoid it.
Step 5: Finally Try A Toilet Snake
If plunging fails to clear the blockage, you can try a toilet snake. Also called a toilet auger, this tool goes deep into your toilet’s plumbing to clear clogs your hand and the plunger cannot reach.
Toilet snakes are long and flexible, with a barbed or coiled head on the end. They have a handle that you hold onto that turns to control the tool when it’s inside your pipes. To use the toilet auger, place the barbed end into the toilet drain and slowly guide it down until you feel resistance. This resistance is the paper towel clog.
Turn the handle, which will wind the snake’s barbed head into the clog, and grab it. You can then gently pull the snake out, and hopefully, the clog with it.
Usually, a toilet snake is very effective at clearing toilet blockages, but if your toilet is still clogged after using the snake, try dissolving the paper towel using the suggestions below.
Dissolving Paper Towels In The Toilet
Dissolving a paper towel that’s clogging a toilet might be a slow process, and there’s no guarantee it will work, but it’s worth a try if nothing else has worked thus far. Here are a couple of things you can try to dissolve a paper towel clog in your toilet.
Some people are not keen on using harsh chemicals in their septic systems, but when desperate times call for desperate measures, these products can be a lifesaver. Most retailers sell chemical drain cleaners, but you must be sure you are purchasing a product that’s designed for clearing toilet clogs.
Green Gobbler Drain Clog Dissolver, for example, is made to dissolve all types of materials including toilet paper, hair, soap, baby wipes, and paper towels. It is safe for toilets, and you can find it on Amazon.com. Whether you buy this brand or something else, be sure to read the label carefully to determine if it is safe for use in toilets.
Vinegar, Baking Soda, and Hot Water
For those of you who prefer a more natural clog dissolver, try a combination of white vinegar, baking soda, and hot water. This concoction creates a chemical reaction that fizzes and foams to dissolve and dislodge clogs in drain pipes without the need for harsh chemicals.
Start by pouring a cup of baking soda into the toilet bowl. Follow that with four cups of boiling water and one cup of white vinegar. Let the mixture sit for 20 minutes before flushing.
FAQs Toilet Blocked With Paper Towels
Here are a few answers to some commonly asked questions about clearing a toilet clogged with paper towels.
Will The Toilet Unclog Itself If I Leave It
No, paper towels are made to withstand deterioration, so a toilet clogged with paper towels needs immediate attention as it will not unclog itself if left alone.
How Should I Dispose of Paper Towels Instead of Flushing Them in the Toilet?
Ideally, paper towels should be composted. If you don’t compost, however, you can simply throw them in the trash.
As a retired Master Plumber Jamie has over 30 years of hands-on experience, making his plumbing knowledge second to none. He has also worked on both residential and commercial HVAC installation and repair projects.