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The Best Toilet Plunger

We spent over 30 hours considering almost 40 plungers, talking to a fourth-generation plumber, and finally testing eight plungers on three toilets. We found that the best, by far, is the Korky 99-4A Max Performance Plunger.

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Last Updated: February 8, 2017
Our pick for a compatible drip tray for the Korky 99-4A Max Performance Plunger is no longer available from Kleen Freak. An identical tray, called the MAXClean Universal Plunger Holder Drip Tray, is currently available on Amazon. We’ve updated the guide with the new name and link.

The Korky easily surpassed all of the other plungers in pure pipe-clearing power. We built a transparent toilet-drain mockup then jammed in a foam ball to simulate a clogged pipe, and while the Korky was able to move the ball down the pipe at a rate of 2 to 3 inches per plunge, none of the other plungers could even budge it. A plunger has to make a tight seal against the bottom of the bowl, and the Korky’s unique beehive design—soft, pliable rubber at the lower half, a stiff midsection, and thicker rubber up near the handle—made it notably more effective than the seven other plungers in our tests. Including the test rig, we tried the plungers on three toilets, each of which had a different drain shape, and the Korky was always the most effective. The Korky also has a distinctive T-handle grip that naturally aligns your arm as you plunge, making it easier to use a powerful stroke with less wrist strain than you’d get with the typical straight handle.

Also great
MAXClean Universal Plunger Holder Drip Tray
The MAXClean tray holds the Korky plunger and contains any drips.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $13.

Unlike many plungers, the Korky does not come with a drip tray. We found that the MAXClean Universal Plunger Holder Drip Tray is a nice fit and will catch any drips coming off the Korky. The MAXClean tray has a one-piece design that is very easy to wipe out and disinfect. None of the other six trays we looked at could hold the Korky’s odd shape. The MAXClean tray and the Korky plunger make for a basic and utilitarian look, so if you’d prefer a more presentable plunger, read on to our next pick.

If the Korky is not available or if aesthetics are your number one concern, we like the Simplehuman Toilet Plunger. At the level beneath the impressive Korky, the majority of the tested plungers all had roughly the same plunging power, but the Simplehuman stood apart as the nicest-looking plunger we tested. It comes with a stylish drip tray that conceals the plunger cup, has enough ventilation for adequate drying, and is very easy to clean. Unlike the others we looked at, this tray has a magnet that attaches to the plunger handle, so you can transport both the plunger and the tray just by holding the plunger handle.

Also great
Ridgid 59787 3-foot Toilet Auger
The Ridgid is a surefire way to clear a pipe, but storage and cleaning make it inconvenient for most people.

Some clogs are beyond any plunger’s capabilities. To reliably bust up even the most wedged blockages, we recommend the Ridgid 59787 3-foot Toilet Auger. This kind of tool, frequently called a closet auger, is what the pros use: Instead of clearing a clog with water pressure, like a plunger, a closet auger sends a coiled metal snake down the drain to physically push, pull, and maneuver the obstruction until it is free. We tested two augers and preferred the Ridgid, which offers great overall build quality, handles in all the right places, and a nice sturdy clip that secures the snake section when it’s not in use. The downside of a closet auger is that cleaning and storage are more difficult than with a plunger.

Table of contents

Why you should trust us

To learn a little more about what makes a good plunger, we spoke with two people who are all too familiar with the act of unclogging a loo. First, we talked with Debbie Hogan, a senior cleaning associate for Manhattan Maintenance with more than 15 years of experience in the cleaning industry. Manhattan Maintenance covers the New York and New Jersey area and specializes in janitorial services for retail stores, commercial operations, retirement communities, and fitness centers, among many other clients. We also talked to Tim Byrne of Precision Plumbing & Mechanical. Byrne is a fourth-generation plumber in the Boston area with over 30 years of experience, and he’s the principal as well as the lead plumber in his company—meaning, he still gets his hands dirty.

Beyond those conversations, we scoured the Web for any additional information on plungers, including how-to videos and tips from plumbing websites.

My own experience with plungers doesn’t go much above and beyond the level of most people, but I did spend 10 years in construction, gaining a decent familiarity with the ins and outs of plumbing systems. I also have three small children and have rescued more than one toy from the toilet drain. The same goes for the editor of this guide, Harry Sawyers, who once augered out a lemon that his kid had stuck down a toilet.

Toilet anatomy 101

Once something gets through the tight constraints of the toilet trap, that object hits the wider pipe, and it should be smooth sailing from there.

Before you select a plunger, it’s helpful to know a little bit about your toilet and plumbing. As Precision Plumbing & Mechanical’s Tim Byrne told us, “The vast majority of blockages happen in the toilet and not in the plumbing system.” All bottom-discharging toilets have an internal portion called a trap, a U shape in the outlet pipe that is designed to hold water (on some toilets, like this one, they become design elements). The purpose of this trapped water is to block the pipe so that nasty sewer gases can’t escape up into your home. Sinks have traps, too, but those are external and are not directly part of the sink; you can find them in the undercabinet plumbing.

While the benefits of the trap are enormous, its sharp curves can create a bit of a traffic-flow problem, particularly for solid items. Not surprisingly, this is where most toilet clogs occur. The internal piping of the toilet is usually in the range of 2 to 2½ inches in diameter, but when it gets to the floor level, the pipe connects to the home’s larger waste lines, which open up to 3 or 4 inches in diameter. So once something gets through the tight constraints of the toilet trap, that object hits the wider pipe, and it should be smooth sailing from there all the way to the septic tank or the sewage-treatment facility. But getting through the toilet isn’t always easy, which is why everyone needs a way to deal with a clog.

How we picked

Our research turned up a lot of creative tools for unclogging a toilet, but our experts steered us toward the old-fashioned plunger with the straight handle and black rubber cup. The cup typically has a flange or a tapered shape on the underside that helps create an airtight seal at the bottom of the bowl. This is the style that Applewood Plumbing Heating & Electric in Denver calls the “best all-around home plunger,” and it’s the kind that both Tim Byrne and Debbie Hogan recommended to us.

The most important feature of a plunger is the ability to make a tight seal against the bottom of the toilet bowl. With a successful seal, the force of the plunge is directed into the drain line toward the obstruction. If the seal is not secure, the force of the plunge is lost out the sides of the plunger cup, which is not only ineffective for unclogging but also can result in unpleasant splashing and splattering.

Making that seal may sound simple, but toilet bowls come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, so getting a good fit on the outlet isn’t always easy. Some bowls have a rectangular drain, some have a square one, some are oblong, and some are even shaped like a keyhole. To find a solution for this problem, manufacturers have come up with assorted cup designs, ranging from flanged to beehive to tiered. We tested representatives of all three shapes.

comparison of three different plunger cup shapes

Three cup styles (left to right): beehive (Korky), flanged (Simplehuman), tiered (Neiko).

You should avoid using the simpler sink plungers, which are marked by a reddish-tan plunger cup and the lack of any kind of lower flange. These plungers are designed to suction against flat surfaces like shower and sink drains, and can hardly make a seal against the irregular shapes of a toilet bowl. One supposed benefit of the flanged style of toilet plunger is that the flange can fold up into the cup, transforming the tool into a flat-bottomed sink plunger. This is a good trick to know in case of emergency, but we strongly advise having a designated plunger on hand for sinks. It’s wise to keep a toilet plunger confined to your toilets for, well, obvious reasons.

As for added plunger features, Precision Plumbing & Mechanical’s Tim Byrne told us that “you want a handle that won’t hold bacteria.” That means either metal or plastic; wood-handled models are out. Wood is by nature textured and porous, so repeated submersion in toilet water can transform it into a petri dish. Debbie Hogan of Manhattan Maintenance agreed, telling us she uses “plastic [handles] for the anti-microbial properties.”

Some plungers are also available with a drip tray, a little stand for the plunger to sit on while it’s not in use. These aren’t essential to the function of the plunger, but they do provide a number of benefits. Most important, they offer a place to put a wet plunger immediately after use and prior to cleaning. Without a drip tray, the options are to immediately clean the plunger or to put it on the floor (nasty), in the shower (nastier), or in the tub (nastiest). In some cases, drip trays are no more than a simple dish, but the better designs extend upward and hide the plunger cup. This design not only adds a nice, finished aesthetic but also conceals the wet portion of the plunger, potentially sparing a houseguest a little embarrassment. The best of these covered drip trays also allow enough air to circulate so that the plunger can dry out.

all eight contenders upright on wood floor

The tested plungers.

We tested eight plungers, basing our selections on overall customer satisfaction on Amazon and at other retailers. We also factored in manufacturer reputation, making sure to include respected home-goods companies like Simplehuman and OXO. You can find a lot of plungers out there, so we made sure to have representatives of all the various shapes and styles. Some of the plungers we looked at come with a drip tray. But drip trays are available separately, too, so we felt that if a plunger performed particularly well, the drip tray could reasonably be a second purchase.

As for pricing, most of the stand-alone plungers we looked at were in the $10 to $20 range; models with drip trays bumped up about $10, to the $20 to $30 range. Generic models are available for less than $10, but those have quality issues, including poor cup-to-handle connections; thin, flimsy plunger cups; and uncomfortable handles (the $10 Libman 0598004 Premium Toilet Plunger and Caddy that we tested was representative of these cheaper models). We were also concerned about the handle breaking—while in use, a plunger goes through a decent amount of strain, so durability is crucial.

In addition, we tested two closet augers (aka toilet augers), pro-oriented tools that send a coiled metal snake down the drain to physically bust up clogs. Because they actually pull and push the obstruction instead of relying strictly on water pressure, they can handle tasks that plungers can’t, such as a wedged toy or anything else that might get flushed down the toilet. It’s for this reason that closet augers are the preferred tool for pro plumbers. The downside is that they can be awkward to use and difficult to clean, so they’re impractical for most people. The good ones cost around $30, which might seem like a lot for a tool you’re likely to have in addition to a plunger, but the investment is still a fraction of what a plumbing service call can cost.

Knowing it would be a secondary recommendation, we didn’t do a full dive into closet augers. Instead, we decided to test a pro-quality one alongside a smaller, feature-free auger to get a sense of the range of available options and to see if the added features and durability of the pro model are worth the cost. (Spoiler alert: They are.)

How we tested

full test rig - toilet, pipe, bucket -with plungers

Our test setup.

We tested the eight plungers and two augers on three toilets. Two (a Toto and a Mansfield) were installed in a home, and the third (Foremost) we installed on a platform, complete with a 3-inch drain line, the final foot of which we switched over to clear piping. We did this so that we could monitor the activity in the pipe as we stopped up the end. Each toilet represented a different drain shape: Mansfield’s traditional rectangular, Toto’s oblong, and the unusual Foremost with a rectangular drain but a straight vertical rear wall.

We also were lucky enough to have a few naturally occurring clogs to deal with, so we plunged those as well.

To test the suction and the water-moving power of the plungers, we shoved a tightly fitting Franklin foam baseball into the end of the clear pipe and poured about 3 gallons of water into the bowl of the toilet, simulating approximately two flushes from a standard low-flow toilet. The water backed up at the plugged ball and filled the pipe and bowl. Then we used each plunger in an attempt to dislodge the ball, keeping watch on the movement of the water and the ball. We also simulated a number of clogs in the toilet piping using handfuls of wet leaves.

front close up view of test rig

The underside of the test rig. We simulated standard house plumbing with a 3-inch drain pipe.

Because the other two toilets were installed in a home, we tested the plungers there by submerging them in the bowl’s natural water level and trying to clear the toilet by just plunging the water into the drain line. Even without a blockage and a bowl brimming with water, we could fairly easily see which plungers were able to make a seal and which ones weren’t. We also were lucky enough to have a few naturally occurring clogs to deal with, so we plunged those as well.

Throughout testing, we kept a close eye on the ergonomics of the handle, the stiffness of the rubber cup, and the sturdiness of the cup-to-handle connection.

Our pick

top pick plunger on side on floor

The Korky 99-4A Max Performance Plunger.

In our testing, we found that the Korky 99-4A Max Performance Plunger stood far, far above the rest. The Korky achieved the most secure fit on all three toilets, which, coupled with the extra-large plunger cup, created the most powerful plunge. In fact, the competition wasn’t even close: During our staged test, the Korky was able to move the foam ball down the pipe at a rate of 2 to 3 inches per plunge, while none of the other plungers could move the ball at all. The Korky also benefits from a unique T-handle design, which we found to be the most comfortable to plunge with.

Video of foam ball being sucked through pipe

The Korky 99-4A easily pushed the ball down the pipe. None of the other tested plungers could even budge it. Video: Doug Mahoney

We could feel the difference between the Korky’s large, sustained pushes and the smaller bursts of the other models.

Considering the Korky’s unique and superior plunging capability, it’s not surprising that the design of the plunger cup is different from the rest. Instead of a more common shape, such as a flange or a stepped-down tiering, the Korky is the only plunger we saw with a bulbous lower half, giving it the look of a rubber beehive. That lower portion of the cup has a thin wall, so it’s soft and pliable and can easily conform to irregular bowl shapes, while the upper part is thicker, which maintains the shape of the cup yet compresses with a nice, even resistance. At the midpoint of the bulb are two rings of rubber that add stability to the upper half and prevent the cup from quickly collapsing in on itself, a problem we had with some of the other plungers we tested.

Hand squeezing cup of top pick plunger

The business end of the Korky is large and extremely pliable, so it easily conforms to a wide variety of toilet shapes. I washed my hands after this photo.

The Korky’s cup is also huge compared with the others we tested. It has the capacity to hold about 7 cups of water, twice as much as the next-largest plunger cup. So not only does the Korky make an excellent seal at the bowl, but it also sends a tremendous amount of water down the pipe. While plunging, we could feel the difference between the Korky’s large, sustained pushes and the smaller bursts of the other models. Proper plunging technique involves wiggling the blockage back and forth, and we found that the Korky was successful with the “pull” as well.

Aiding that water-moving power is the T-handle grip, also unique to the Korky. This grip naturally positions the arm to be in line with the plunger handle, which keeps the wrist straight and makes for an easier plunging motion—and, we feel, adds the ability to better moderate the strength of a plunge. Other plungers we tested had either a straight handle end (like a broom handle), which was straight-up uncomfortable, or a pommel grip, which turned the wrist and decreased control over the plunge.

The three plunger handle end options close up

The three predominant plunger handle styles (left to right): T-handle (Korky), straight (Nieko), pommel (Simplehuman).

Flaws but not dealbreakers

The primary drawback to the Korky plunger is that it’s large and doesn’t typically come with a drip tray. We spoke to Korky about this, and representatives told us that the company offers a version with a caddy, the 95-4, but it’s harder to find. You can get it at a handful of specialty retailers (Walmart has it online, but it ships from a third-party retailer), or you can get essentially the same product branded as the Lavelle Industries 95-4A Beehive Plunger (Lavelle is the parent company of Korky). However, the Korky 99-4A, our pick, is widely available online as well as on the shelves of Home Depot, True Value, and a host of other retailers. We found that the MAXClean Universal Plunger Holder Drip Tray is a nice fit for the Korky, and it’s available for purchase separately (we have more thoughts on this topic below).

Another downside is the Korky’s height. At a little over 2 feet, it was the tallest plunger we looked at, and it might have a hard time fitting upright in an undersink storage area. The others we tested mostly landed in the 22- to 23-inch range, so the difference isn’t huge, but it is something worth knowing about if that’s where you plan on storing your plunger.

One general plunging concern we read about, that applies to the Korky, is that if the obstruction is in the main drain line rather than the toilet, a strong plunge could pressurize the pipes enough to send water through the seal that exists between the toilet and the floor (typically made with a thick wax ring).

However, this was exactly the situation we created with the foam-ball test—and after days of repeated forceful plunges, we never saw any water at the ring area. We could see it happening with a deteriorated wax ring,1 but in that case it could occur with any plunger, not just the Korky. And as we said above, the majority of clogs are in the toilet, not in the main line, so the chances of this happening are rare. But if you do ever see water coming from underneath the toilet, it’s time to call a plumber.

Last, the inside of the Korky cup has a honeycomb pattern up at the handle end, which could potentially be a difficult area to clean. In all of our tests (even on the real clogs), nothing ever got stuck in the honeycomb, but it’s worthwhile to double-check this area after each cleaning.

On Amazon, the Korky currently has a solid rating of 4.4 out of five across 245 reviews. Reading them over, however, they present a study in contrasts. For example, some people say it doesn’t fit a Kohler toilet at all, while others love it because it fits their Kohler perfectly. We found inconsistencies like this in the customer feedback for many of the plungers we tested. The large majority of the Korky feedback is positive and coincides with our own findings.

Don’t just set it on the floor

top pick plunger on our pick for drip tray

Not the most beautiful combination, but the MAXClean drip tray fits the massive Korky plunger cup and gets the job done.

Also great
MAXClean Universal Plunger Holder Drip Tray
The MAXClean tray holds the Korky plunger and contains any drips.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $13.

If you get the Korky, we also recommend the MAXClean Universal Plunger Holder Drip Tray. This third-party drip tray is nicely compatible with the Korky. It has a simple, no-frills design, but it gets the job done. A lot of the trays we looked at couldn’t hold the unusual beehive-shaped cup of the Korky, but the MAXClean cradled it with stability. The MAXClean has a one-piece design that is easy to rinse off and sanitize. It also has a helpful little handle on one side, which reduces the “ech” of picking it up.

The MAXClean costs about $9 at this writing, putting the total purchase at the $25 mark, a sum consistent with what other nice plungers and trays cost.

If there is a downside to the MAXClean, it’s that it isn’t the most attractive tray, and it does nothing to hide the jumbo plunger cup of the Korky. If that will be a problem for you, our runner-up pick offers a much better look.

If your main concern is a discreet look

runner up plunger with caddy on floor

The Simplehuman Toilet Plunger.

If the Korky is not available or if you’re willing to sacrifice plunging strength for aesthetics, we recommend the Simplehuman Toilet Plunger. Other than the Korky, most of the tested plungers had roughly the same water-moving power, but what sets the Simplehuman apart from the rest is the overall design and the convenience of the drip tray. With its stainless steel shaft, white accents, and stylish caddy, the Simplehuman is without question the best-looking plunger we tested. But the Simplehuman’s drip tray is not just about form: In addition to hiding the plunger cup in an attractive way, it has an open back that allows for air circulation and drying, which isn’t the case with all of the drip trays we saw. Also, when the plunger is resting in the drip tray, it catches a small magnet that holds the two together, so transporting a wet plunger drip-free is as simple as clicking it into the tray and lifting the handle. That handle’s pommel design is nice, too, even if it doesn’t provide the ergonomics and control of the Korky’s T-handle.

The Simplehuman, like the other non-Korky plungers, was unable to move the foam ball during our tests. It made a good seal on the traditional Mansfield toilet’s rectangular outlet but had a much harder time with the irregular openings of the Toto and the Foremost. On our test setup, although the Simplehuman could create some water movement, it lacked the real pushing-and-pulling force of the Korky. Even on toilets where it can make only a so-so seal, however, we think this plunger could work enough back-and-forth to dislodge a typical obstruction (but we can’t guarantee that it would be able to do more than that).

Compared with any $10 generic plunger, the Simplehuman offers a nicer experience. While the plunging strength is comparable, the pommel grip of this design is much more comfortable to hold than the broom-handle end of less expensive models. Also, the plunger cup is of a higher quality and compresses evenly, giving you more control over the plunge. The thinner cups on basic models collapse quickly and don’t always pop back into shape.

close up of tray base

The Simplehuman plunger gets all the style points.

The Simplehuman also distinguishes itself with its aesthetic and functional plunger caddy. If you like your plungers discreet, the Simplehuman caddy covers the entire plunger cup. The nice part is that the back is wide open, which allows the plunger to dry. Many of the other drip trays we saw either don’t cover the plunger cup at all or completely enclose it. With the enclosed ones, we noticed that on the second day of testing, many of the plungers were still wet from the first day of testing.

The Simplehuman caddy is easy to clean, too, something we can’t say about some of the competition. Because it has a basic one-piece design, every spot is readily accessible. Other caddies in our tests had funny grooves or inaccessible spaces that we found either difficult to clean or downright impossible to get to.

Finally, the magnet at the top of the Simplehuman caddy clicks in with the metal handle of the plunger, creating a connection that’s strong enough for you to lift both the plunger and the caddy just by grasping the handle of the plunger. This design adds a lot of drip-free convenience if you keep the plunger in a hall closet, a garage, or a basement, or if you just need to take it elsewhere for a cleaning.

Other than the relative lack of plunging strength, our main concern with the Simplehuman plunger is the potential for rust to develop on the handle. We noticed a few Amazon comments mentioning this problem. Conversely, we also found many comments from longtime owners who say they’ve seen no rust at all. This is something we’ll be watching for as we test the Simplehuman plunger over the long term.

The ultimate clog buster

auger pick on side on floor

The Ridgid 59787 costs more than your basic closet auger, but it delivers on features and build quality.

Also great
Ridgid 59787 3-foot Toilet Auger
The Ridgid is a surefire way to clear a pipe, but storage and cleaning make it inconvenient for most people.

If you want stronger, surefire unclogging ability, and don’t mind complicated cleanup or awkward storage, we recommend the Ridgid 59787 3-foot Toilet Auger. This kind of tool, also known as a closet auger, is what the pros use. “I don’t use a plunger, I use a closet auger,” Precision Plumbing & Mechanical’s Tim Byrne told us. We looked at two models: a high-end pro version (the Ridgid) and a basic, stripped-down homeowner auger (the Cobra 40030). After using the two, we’re convinced that investing in the Ridgid is the way to go. Due to its superior build quality and abundance of convenience features, it’s what we’d want to reach for in an emergency.

“I don’t use a plunger, I use a closet auger.” —Tim Byrne, professional plumber

First, a little explanation of what a closet auger is and how it works. A closet auger consists of a flexible coiled-wire wand that slides in and out of a sleeve. At the top of the wand (protruding from the sleeve) is a rotating handle that turns the coiled wand. To use the auger, you pull the wand back up into the sleeve, place the bottom of the sleeve at the bottom of the toilet bowl, and push the wand into the toilet drain while you turn the handle. This rotation allows it to navigate the tight curves of the toilet trap. The end of the wand flares out a little and has a slight barb so that it can physically push or pull whatever is in the pipe. This design is more reliable than that of a plunger, which simply relies on water pressure. Closet augers come in a variety of sizes, but those with a 3-foot wand are typical, and they’re long enough to get through the internal plumbing of an average toilet.

Now, back to the specifics on why we liked the Ridgid. For starters, it has oversize handles on both the sleeve and the wand, making it much easier to hold and maneuver. The Cobra has a handle only on the wand, so while turning it, you need to grip the sleeve, which can slip. Also, the Ridgid sleeve is metal, not thin plastic as on the Cobra.

components of an auger

The Ridgid auger (top) has a secure clip that holds the wand during storage. The Cobra has only a small wire loop that you need to twist onto the coil of the wand. Also note that the Ridgid has two robust and contoured handles, whereas the Cobra has just a single small one.

Because of its more stable design and its two handles, we found the Ridgid easier to use. In contrast, after a couple of uses, the metal stem on the Cobra took on a substantial bend that made pushing the wand through the sleeve difficult. With the Ridgid, this just didn’t happen.

We also like that the Ridgid has a spot to secure the wand against the shaft while in storage. This design reduces (as much as possible) the footprint of this awkward tool. The Cobra has something similar, but on that tool the piece is just a metal loop that you have to thread around the end of the wand to secure it. You can do this by hand, or you can hook the wand end and turn the handle, spinning the wand onto the loop. Either way, it’s a little tedious, and the loop still allows the wand to move around. The Ridgid clip really locks the wand into a stable position.

There is a clear difference in cost. At this writing the Ridgid is roughly $35, while the Cobra is only about $10 (so the quality differences are not surprising). Still, even in the interest of saving a dollar, we wouldn’t recommend the Cobra even for occasional use. It just felt like it could give out at any moment. We’re not the only ones who think the Ridgid is worth the price: We found this video of a plumber demonstrating how to use an auger, and the one he’s using is the Ridgid. He states, “This particular closet auger is a good one.” And when we interviewed Precision Plumbing & Mechanical’s Tim Byrne, he told us that he regularly uses two augers, and one of them is the Ridgid (the other is a General). The Ridgid costs more than a plunger, sure, but it’s still certainly cheaper than a visit from a plumber, who would likely use a very similar tool to fix your problem.

Welcoming a closet auger into your life brings with it a couple of complications. For one, a closet auger is not likely to be something a guest could use. It’s an unfamiliar tool, and one that is too large and impractical to keep in most bathrooms. Storage is another issue: At over 3½ feet long, with an attached flexible wand, the Ridgid is not an easily contained shape or size, so even in a large hall closet you could have some difficulties. The reality is that this is a tool likely to end up stored in a basement or a garage—a stray nail on the wall makes a fine hook for it—and it’s an unlikely purchase for an apartment dweller with limited space.

Because of its size and moving parts, cleaning an auger is also an issue. Short of using a garden hose over a patch of lawn (or a street gutter), you have no easy way to fully rinse the coiled wand and the inside of the metal sleeve, especially if the barbed end has caught something. You could do the cleaning in a shower, but that’s … in the shower.

How to properly use a plunger

A plunger may seem like a simple tool to use—just put it in the toilet and jam it up and down a few times, right? Well, sort of. You actually have a few things to keep an eye on that can make the process a little easier.

First, it’s important to fill the plunger cup with water before you start plunging. The point is, you’re trying to use straight water pressure to dislodge the clog. If the cup is filled with air, your first plunge is highly likely to result in a messy blast of air pressing out of the sides of the cup. Instead, start by tipping the plunger over to its side as you lower it in the water; this should fill it, for the most part. Then, if possible, do a gentle plunge to bubble any remaining air out of the cup and siphon in water to replace it. This motion offers the added benefit of trying to pull the blockage up toward the bowl, which many people say is the best technique anyway.

Fill the plunger cup with water before you start plunging.

We read in a few places that plungers work best if the handle is oriented vertically rather than at an angle. But we found this to be dependent on the shape of the toilet drain. In our tests on a traditional rectangular outlet, this claim held true, but for the other shapes, we needed to shift the plunger around a little to get a nice seal, and it wasn’t always vertical.

Lastly, we recommend starting slow and adding force as needed. As Fine Homebuilding’s Don Burgard writes, “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.”

How to clean a plunger

You have a few ways to clean a plunger. They all start with an initial “cleansing flush,” to rinse off the plunger cup within the toilet bowl. From that point, you have a couple of options for disinfecting.

One method is to put a little bleach in the bowl and roll the plunger cup around in it for a bit. If you have a septic system, chlorine bleach is not the best thing for the hardworking bacteria in the septic tank, so you’re better off using an oxygen bleach such as OxiClean. The general consensus is that a little chlorine bleach likely won’t harm anything, but why take the chance? Plus, some people say that oxygen bleach is actually beneficial to the septic bacteria.

Another option, as described on Clean My Space, is to just rinse the plunger with water in the bowl and then spray it with a disinfectant.

If you have a drip tray, you have the third option of postponing the disinfecting until the plunger dries out and then hitting it with a spray disinfectant.

The competition

The Neiko 60166A is a highly regarded plunger, as it currently boasts a high Amazon rating of 4.6 out of five stars across well over 1,000 reviews. We found, however, that it didn’t plunge any better than the other non-Korky models. It has a tiered plunger cup, with an aluminum broomstick handle that ends in a plastic piece with a hook hole. The simple handle design made for an uncomfortable grip in our tests; we much preferred the T-handle and pommel grips that we tried.

Although the OXO Good Grips Toilet Plunger and Canister is similar to the Simplehuman in general cup and handle design, the drip tray presents some issues. It has two doors that open upward when you pull the plunger out, and doing so reveals an inner bowl, with drainage holes, that is set within the outer shell of the tray. The problem is that these two pieces don’t come apart, so you have no way to disinfect the area of the tray where the toilet water drips. Also, to move the plunger, you need to carry it from the drip tray, which is not as easy as lifting the Simplehuman by the handle.

The Kleen Freak Antibacterial Toilet Plunger comes in a few different designs, but the plunger cup is the same on all of them. It’s a squat tiered plunger, similar to the Neiko but not as large and with one fewer tier. It seemed to work okay in our tests, but we saw nothing that made it stand out from the pack. The drip tray that comes with this plunger is the same as the MAXClean Universal Plunger Holder Drip Tray that we currently recommend for the Korky. At the time we researched and tested for this guide, Kleen Freak was selling the tray separately, but it no longer is.

The BrassCraft Plunge-N-Store Plunger is shaped like the Simplehuman, with a lower flange. It’s comfortable to use but not as stylish, and the drip tray fully encloses the plunger cup, leading to a long drying time and puddles forming at the bottom of the tray. If you’re planning to go with a non-Korky alternative, we much prefer the Simplehuman.

Another plunger with a flange design, the Libman 0598004 Premium Toilet Plunger and Caddy is a generic plunger and representative of the models available for under $10. The handle feels fragile, the plunger cup is thin, and the cup-to-handle connection seems unstable.

The InterDesign Una Plunger is small and looks nice. But it’s generic, and we found nothing special about it. This model is representative of many other available plungers, with a basic flange design and no additional features.

As we described above, we also tested the Cobra 40030 Toilet Auger, which is basic and inexpensive. It will work in a pinch, but we don’t think it has the quality necessary for a long-term, reliable tool.

Cobra also has its own high-end closet auger, the 46030, which looks a lot like the Ridgid 59787. The 46030 looks to have a much better build quality than the tested 40030, but it still has the frustrating wand clip, and it is typically priced higher than the Ridgid.

We dismissed a number of other models without testing:

Neither of our experts likes accordion- or bellows-style plungers (such as the G.T. Water Products MP100-3 Master Plunger). Manhattan Maintenance’s Debbie Hogan told us that they are difficult to clean and have “too many hiding places for icky stuff.” Precision Plumbing & Mechanical’s Tim Byrne said, “I wouldn’t use one of those. Pretty nasty.” Reading the comments of other plumbers online, we got the sense that these plungers are powerful but difficult to use. They’re also made of a rigid plastic that can potentially mar the inside of a toilet bowl.

While this design has the upside of letting you blast fecal matter with what looks like a handgun, it’s not the best choice for most.

You’ll also find plungers like the Johnny Jolter, which work on the same principle as a bike pump, but instead of creating a focused stream of fresh air, they create a focused stream of filthy toilet water. The reviews are generally positive, although a few bad reviews mention the occurrence of “blowback,” which sounds dreadful. Their unfamiliar design also makes them impractical for guests and likely difficult to clean. So, while this design has the upside of letting you blast fecal matter with what looks like a handgun, it’s not the best choice for most people. The pro version of this tool, the Kinetic Water Ram, which uses compressed air, is one of Tim Byrne’s go-to tools (but it costs more than $200).

The PlungeMAX is another, er, interesting idea. It’s a giant bellows that you set up between the rim of the toilet and the lid. As you move the lid up and down, it pressurizes the pipes. Looking at its 2.2-star rating across more than 220 Amazon reviews, we decided to pass.

But of all the plunger designs, nothing is quite as unique and horrifying as the Pong Tu. This plunger consists of a giant sticker that you apply to the rim of the clogged toilet, creating an airtight seal. You then intentionally flood the toilet in order to get the water bulging against the underside of the sticker (we’re not making this up). The final step is to use both hands to press on the sticker as if you’re giving CPR to your toilet. This pressurizes the clog and theoretically releases it. If you don’t believe us, watch this (or don’t watch it—you’ll be happier if you don’t).

(Photos by Doug Mahoney.)

Footnotes:

1. If your toilet wobbles, there is a good chance the wax ring is compromised. Removing your toilet and replacing the wax ring may seem intimidating, but you can do so with a few simple tools. Videos like this one cover the basics nicely. Jump back.

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Originally published: February 2, 2017

This place is a mess.