Paper towels cause a large number of clogged drains and toilets. Toilet paper is manufactured specifically to dissolve easily in water, whereas paper towels are the opposite—they need to be tough enough to sop up heavy spills without falling apart.
When you accidentally flush paper towels into your toilet, they most often get stuck in the toilet trap. The toilet trap is a U-shaped pipe in your toilet that prevents clogs from getting pushed further into the sewer. Thankfully, it's usually easy to free a paper towel clog and get your toilet running again. To find out how to do it, read on.
1. Try Plunging the Toilet First
Plungers are quite effective at removing paper towel clogs from toilets since paper towels can be pushed around easily by water. It's best to use a plunger with an accordion flange for unclogging your toilet since it creates a better seal with the toilet drain. Without a tight seal, the plunger will just move water around in the toilet bowl instead of unclogging the paper towels jammed in the toilet trap.
When you're plunging a toilet, use more force when you're lifting the plunger up than when you're pushing the plunger down. When you do this, you'll often create enough force to suction the paper towel clog out of the trap. The paper towels will float back into the toilet bowl, where you can easily remove them.
2. Use a Toilet Auger to Remove Paper Towels From the Trap
If your plunger doesn't eliminate the paper towel clog, you'll need to purchase a toilet auger. A toilet auger is a thin, flexible pipe that's attached to a hook. They're made specifically for removing clogs in a toilet trap.
Thread the toilet auger gently through the drain in the toilet bowl, and then push it upwards into the toilet trap. The toilet trap initially curves upwards. After a few inches, it begins to curve downwards again. Toilet augers are flexible enough to navigate these curves, but using one can take some finesse. If you feel resistance when you're threading the auger into the toilet trap, try to hook the paper towel clog and draw it back into the toilet bowl.
In some cases, a paper towel clog can be pushed into the sewer line instead of becoming caught in the toilet trap. If you don't feel any resistance when you're threading the auger through the toilet trap, this is a likely scenario.
3. Rent a Pipe Auger to Break Apart Deep Clogs
When your paper towel clog is in the sewer line, you can try to remove it with a normal pipe auger. They're much longer than toilet augers, but they're used in the same way. You can rent them from most home improvement stores.
Depending on the way that your bathroom's plumbing is arranged and the location of the clog, you may be able to remove it by threading the pipe auger through the drain in your shower or bathtub.
If you can't locate the clog by pushing a pipe auger through the bathtub or shower drain, you'll most likely have to remove your toilet. Once it's removed, a pipe auger can be used easily on the exposed drain. Removing the toilet is best handled by a professional plumber, since replacing the toilet along with the wax seal underneath can be a difficult process.
Thankfully, most paper towel clogs can be removed using a plunger with an accordion flange. If your clogged drain is stubborn or if you think that the clog is deep in your home's plumbing, call a plumber to have it removed—you won't risk damaging your plumbing while you're trying to remove the paper towel clog.