Toilet plungers: you know them, you love them, they’ve saved your bathroom floor from ruin more than once. While most people know how to use a plunger (or learn quickly under pressure), it’s less common knowledge that there are multiple different kinds of plungers.
We’ve put together the ultimate guide to every sort of plunger you might find for sale. Some of these are lifesavers, some not so great, and some you have to see to believe.
1. Cup Plunger
This plunger has the simplest design. It consists of a long handle made of wood, metal, or plastic, attached at one end to a flexible cup. The inside of the cup is empty, with no flange or other attachment.
Cup plungers are often used as toilet plungers, but this isn’t their intended purpose. They don’t seal toilet drains very well, and often get stuck inside-out and fling dirty water back on their users.
The proper application of a cup plunger is using to unclog sinks and bathtub drains that can’t be cleaned with pliers or a wire hook. Plug the overflow hole, use the plunger to seal the drain, then run water over the cup until it’s submerged. Plunge up and down hard, and check for drainage every ten strokes or so.
2. Flange Plunger
“Flange” is a word you’ll hear a lot when shopping for a plunger. It refers to the rubber plug attached inside the cup which keeps the plunger from inverting.
Unlike cup plungers, flange plungers are designed for toilets. The flange is the first part of the plunger to enter the toilet and seals the pipe more tightly than the cup alone could. Like other toilet plungers, flange plungers often come with drip platforms, so you can dry them out and avoid splashing toilet water on the floor.
3. Beehive Plunger
Beehive plungers are designed to be versatile. Instead of a cup, they have a stout rubber attachment shaped like a beehive, which tapers off to a smaller flange at the bottom. Not every toilet drainpipe has the same diameter, but the beehive’s inverted-dome structure means you can just keep pushing until it creates a seal.
The best beehive plungers can seal pipes up to six inches across. Some also come with t-shaped handles for added leverage while fighting blockages.
4. Tiered Plunger
Tiered plungers work on the same principle as beehive plungers, but with several flat tiers instead of a rounded edge. If you aren’t sure a plunger will fit your toilet, or if you want one plunger to use in multiple toilets, you can’t go wrong with either a tiered or beehive plunger.
A quick side note: we strongly recommend buying a plunger with either a metal or plastic handle. Wooden handles look and feel nice, but wood is a much rougher surface, and is more likely to gather dirt, grime, and bacteria over time. Wooden handles also start to rot through when they get too damp.
5. Bellows Plunger
Cup plungers are great for sinks and showers. Flanged, beehive, and tiered plungers are ideal for toilets. Starting with the bellows plunger, though, the items on this list will get steadily more controversial.
Bellows plungers can be bought for toilets or sinks. Instead of a solid tip, they have a corrugated bowl that compresses like an accordion. The collapse makes the plunge more powerful, and in theory, flushes out blockages more quickly. In practice, it’s not always easy to direct all that power.
The problems get worse when you try to clean them. The crevices of a bellows plunger are natural gathering places for fecal matter and dirty water, and since they’re hard to thoroughly clean, they get unsanitary very quickly.
6. Power Plunger
Here’s where it gets weird. The power plunger scraps the “rubber cup and handle” design altogether, replacing it with a gun-shaped pump that pulls toilet water in and shoots it back out at the blockage.
It’s definitely a novel way to replicate the back-and-forth action of a traditional plunger, but we’re not seeing anything here that entices us to switch over — especially since there’s a risk that the power plunger will just fling toilet water in your face instead of moving the blockage.
7. Touchless Plunger
Touchless toilet plungers purport to be a new development in sanitation, granting you the power to remove a blockage without touching anything that might touch the toilet water. A touchless plunger is a giant bellows that you insert between your toilet seat and bowl, then pump by moving the seat up and down.
We can’t stress this enough — do not buy or use one of these. The best-case scenario is that it will do nothing. As for the worst-case scenario, we can’t put it better than this one-star Amazon review did: “Doesn’t clear clogs, and generates enough pressure on the entire bowl that it lifts up the flapper in the tank, causing an unexpected flush and subsequent overflow. Succeeds only at moving the mess from the toilet to the floor.”
8. Disposable Plunger
Shockingly, touchless plungers are not the worst idea we found while researching for this article. That award must go to the Disposable Plunger, also known as the Pong Tu, which is a giant sticker you place over your entire bowl. Once it’s “sealed,” you flush again to flood your bowl on purpose.
Then, when the sticker starts to bulge outward, you press down on it with your hands, essentially giving your toilet the Heimlich maneuver.
Hopefully, we don’t have to explain why this is a terrible idea.
What Kind Should You Get?
Someday, somebody may improve on the classic toilet plunger design. When that happens, we’ll be first in line, but it hasn’t happened yet. For now, a toilet plunger is a long handle with a cup or bowl on the end, and that’s what you should buy.
To unclog a sink, bathtub, or shower drain, get a cup plunger without a flange. For a toilet, get a flanged plunger, beehive plunger, or tiered plunger. Don’t forget to spring for a plastic or metal handle, since wood holds too many bacteria. A drip holder is also a great idea.
Be sure to sanitize your plunger regularly. You can do this right in your toilet: pour a few capfuls of bleach into the bowl, leave the plunger in there for about 15 minutes, then flush the toilet several times before removing it to clean off all the bleach.
Featured Image Credit: Pixel-Shot, Shutterstock
Pete has been working in the trades since high school, where he first developed a passion for woodworking. Over the years, he has developed a keen interest in a wide variety of DIY projects around the home. Fascinated by all sort of tools, Pete loves reading and writing about all the latest gadgets and accessories that hit the market. His other interests include astronomy, hiking, and fishing.
As the founder of House Grail, David’s primary goal is to help consumers make educated decisions about DIY projects at home, in the garage, and in the garden.