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Unclog your toilet with this simple and ingenious trick -- no plunger required

Everything you need to free a clogged commode is probably already in your bathroom, even if you don't have a plunger.

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You can clear most clogged toilets with nothing more than soap, hot water and a little bit of time.

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Over the course of many years, I've practiced and honed the ancient art of unclogging a clogged toilet without needing to use a plunger. Why not just buy a plunger? Simply put, I never needed to on account of this particular bit of washroom wizardry. This technique is especially handy if you ever find yourself staring down a stopped-up commode in someone else's bathroom with no plunger in sight -- a situation in which you might be understandably reluctant to call for backup.

I didn't invent this particular process for plunging without a plunger -- the same basic technique can be found all across the web on plumbing and DIY blogs, both mainstream and obscure -- but I can attest to its power and might. 

In fact, the next time you clog up a toilet for whatever reason, even if you do have a plunger handy, you might want to try this instead, and avoid the splashy, drippy, unsanitary mess a plunger can make.

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Dish soap works best, but in a pinch hand soap will do just fine. Then you just need hot water and something to put it into the toilet with, like a small waste bin.

Dale Smith/CNET

Most bathrooms have everything you'll need

To perform this trick, you'll need three things that can be found in almost any bathroom: soap, hot water and a vessel for transferring the water to the toilet bowl. Dish soap and a 5-gallon bucket work best, but if secrecy is paramount and leaving the lavatory would blow your cover, a small plastic waste bin and a few pumps from a hand soap dispenser will do just fine.

To prepare, you'll want to get the hot water running in the sink or tub and give it enough time to reach its maximum temperature. You don't want (or need) to use boiling water, which could damage the toilet's porcelain, or worse, injure you. Just let the tap get as hot as it can get -- that'll be hot enough.

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While you're waiting for hot water, go ahead and clear everything off the floor, like scales and bathmats. You're going to be very careful to avoid any spills, of course, but better to be safe than soggy.

Mixing the magical potion

The objective is to get the liquid in the toilet bowl as hot and soapy as possible without letting it overflow. You can either pour (or pump) soap directly into the bowl and then add hot water, or you can mix the soap with the hot water before you add it to the bowl.

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Many bathroom waste bins are small enough to fit under the sink, but if yours is not you can use the tub or shower faucet.

Dale Smith/CNET

I prefer to add soap directly to the toilet bowl if the clog hasn't left a lot of clearance (say, less than an inch). This ensures a high soap-to-water ratio. If, however, there's ample space above the water line (an inch or more), premixing ensures more even soap distribution.

You really can't overdo the soap at this point. You're not going to be agitating the solution, so you won't spawn a suds volcano if you go overboard. I'm not saying you have to pour the whole bottle in there, but I'm also not saying you shouldn't. Anywhere from a tablespoon to a half cup should work.

Carefully and gently add the hot water

Mixing everything up in the toilet bowl is the step requiring the most finesse. You want to raise the average water temperature and get the soap into every crevice, but you don't necessarily want to create a slurry with what's already in there. 

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Add anywhere from 10 to 100 squirts of hand soap to your solution -- you really can't overdo it.

Dale Smith/CNET

So don't use anything to stir it up. Instead, don't be shy about pouring your hot water -- go ahead and dump it in there. Just be careful not to overfill.

Most toilet backups aren't total clogs, so there's a good chance yours will drain slowly at first. Keep an eye on the water level and, as it drops, continue to add more hot water to keep it full. If the clog isn't too stubborn, the added pressure of a full toilet bowl should help usher the backed-up matter through pretty quickly.

If all else fails, time is on your side

The worst-case scenario is that the clog is wedged too tightly in place and the above steps don't push it down right away. If that happens, you don't have to call a plumber or head to the hardware store just yet. 

Try giving it some time to let that hot soapy water work on breaking up the clog. Walk away, close the bathroom door, and wait 30 to 60 minutes before you check on it again. When you do, you may be pleasantly surprised to find your problem has disappeared down the drain.

Your toilet isn't the only piece of household plumbing that can clog, but thankfully there are equally quick, clean and efficient ways of handling other simple home plumbing problems. If the drain in your kitchen is giving you grief, check out these three techniques for unclogging your kitchen sink. When your shower head just doesn't put out the pressure it used to, here's how to quickly break up mineral buildup in your shower head. Once you get that disposal cleared up, consider putting it to good use and purge your refrigerator with this easy-to-follow guide.

Originally published last month.