Toilets are of course a miracle that we have modern plumbing to thank for. Without toilets, our world would look very different, and it wouldn’t smell very nice either! With that being said, for all of the good that they do, toilets are not without their problems.
One of the most common ones you might encounter include a toilet paper clog in the sewer line beneath the unit. Obviously, a sewer line that is full of toilet paper isn’t going to do you any favors and this is the issue that we are here to solve right now.
Why Can Toilet Paper Clog a Sewer Line?
Ok, so toilet paper is of course designed to be flushed down the toilet, as the name of it implies. With that being said, although toilet paper is a godsend in terms of personal hygiene, it’s still not without its problems. The main issue with toilet paper is that although it will eventually dissolve on its own when exposed to plenty of water, it just doesn’t dissolve all that fast.
Too Much Toilet Paper
Now, if you don’t use all that much toilet paper and you are reasonable with how much of it you flush down at once, the slow rate of dissolving shouldn’t be much of a problem. That said, people are not always reasonable, and some people just make small errors in judgment, or in other words, you might on occasion try flushing a little more toilet paper than the sewer pipes can handle.
There’s a fine line between using just enough toilet paper and trying to flush so much that you cause a clog.
Type of Toilet Paper
While the quantity of toilet paper that you use is definitely a deciding factor here, it’s not the only one. Another factor to consider here is what kind of toilet paper you use. Obviously, that horrible single-ply toilet paper that you are forced to use in commercial establishments doesn’t pose much of a risk, and two-ply isn’t too bad either, but those three and four-ply toilet papers that are about as thick as your T-shirt, those can cause problems.
Issues with Flushing
Yet another issue that may cause your sewer pipes to clog with toilet paper is if there are issues with your toilet itself. In other words, your toilet might not have enough force to flush everything down with efficiency. Maybe your toilet has a broken component that reduces flushing pressure, or maybe it’s just a very low flow toilet that never produced all that much pressure to begin with.
The bottom line is that if your toilet is not producing enough flushing force or pressure, this could very well be the culprit.
The other cause of sewer pipes being clogged with toilet paper is potentially the sewer itself. You might have very narrow sewer pipes that just cannot handle all that much toilet paper. Moreover, if your sewer pipe is narrow, the bends and U-turns in those pipes are prime candidates for getting clogged. As you can probably tell, if this is the problem, then it’s a fairly serious issue that’s going to take more than a bit of plunging or enzymatic toilet cleaner to take care of.
5 Best Ways to Dissolve Toilet Paper in a Sewer Line
What we want to do right now is to talk about all of the best ways to unclog your sewer lines of that pesky toilet paper. We are going to start with the most common methods, and if those don’t work, then we’ve got some other possible solutions too. Start with the first, and if that doesn’t work, move on to the next, and so on and so forth.
#1: Plunge the Toilet
Whether it is the sewer line under your toilet that is clogged or the toilet itself that is clogged, the number one first thing that you should always try doing is using that good old toilet plunger of yours. No, this is technically not dissolving the toilet paper in the sewer line, but that said, whether we are talking about dissolving or simply forcing the clog through the pipes with plenty of force and pressure, our main goal is to unclog your toilet and sewer by whatever means necessary.
Your first line of defense here is always the plunger. So, put the plunger in the toilet, make sure that it is covered with plenty of water, create a good seal at the bottom, and then use as much strength as you can muster to give the toilet a few good plunges. In most cases, this should be enough to get the job done.
If simple plunging does not do the trick, try it a couple of times more, and if you still have no success, move on to the next method.
#2: Snake the Toilet
The next solution to this issue is to try using a toilet snake, also known as a drain auger. Now, these are special drain unclogging tools that professionals use. That said, you can buy these things at local hardware and plumbing stores for like thirty dollars, and it is something handy to have on hand, so we think it’s an investment worth making.
Once you have your toilet snake, extend it so that the cable or snake portion is down in the sewer. Once you feel the coil at the front hit an obstacle, you know you have reached the clog, and when you feel that clog, you want to twist the auger back and forth really fast, and also push it back and forth through the pipe. For more on the process, read my guide about how to use a toilet auger.
This should usually be enough to completely demolish toilet paper and any other obstacle in the way enough so that it can then move through the pipe. If you either cannot find a clog with the auger, or you cannot seem to unclog the pipe with the auger, then move on to the next step.
3. Use Baking Soda and Vinegar
If you think that you need to use some kind of chemical or fluid unclogger, before you use a professional grade chemical drain unclogger, you can try using a combination of baking soda, vinegar, and hot water. Vinegar works quite well at dissolving toilet paper, and moreover, when you mix it with baking soda, it creates a chemical reaction that creates a lot of oxygen, kind of like Oxiclean laundry detergent.
All of that oxygen being created in such a small space creates a pressure buildup, and if you are lucky, it will force the toilet paper out through the sewer.
All you have to do here is to pour half a cup of baking soda into the toilet, then follow that up with half a gallon of hot water, then follow that with a few cups of vinegar. If that does not work, try alternating the baking soda, vinegar, and hot water (try different orders, or in other words, add the vinegar before the hot water). If this still doesn’t do the trick, move on to the next method.
4. Use a Chemical Drain Cleaner
If the natural method listed above does not work, you can try using a chemical drain unclogger, an enzymatic drain unclogger that can actually dissolve toilet paper. Just make sure that you get something that can actually dissolve toilet paper (not just human waste), and something that is toilet safe.
Not all drain uncloggers are toilet safe, so pay attention.
Generally speaking, you just have to pour the liquid into the toilet and let it work its magic. That said, always follow the directions on the packaging.
5. Do a Pressure Release
If none of the above works, try finding the sewer cleanout line in your yard or somewhere on your property. This will look like a three- or four-inch PVC pipe with a cap on it. If you open this cap, it may release the pressure and allow the toilet paper to flow through the sewer. Just don’t forget to turn off the main water line to your house before attempting this.
If you cannot find the cleanout line, you may need to call a professional for assistance.
How Long Does It Take for Toilet Paper to Dissolve in a Sewer Line?
Generally speaking, your average toilet paper should take no longer than about five minutes to dissolve, although it does depend on its quality and thickness. Moreover, if you use too much toilet paper, and it is very tightly packed together, then water will not be able to penetrate to the interior of the toilet paper clump, thus making this process take much longer.
What If None of the Above Works?
The unfortunate reality here is that if none of the solutions that we discussed today work, then your only viable option left is to call in the professionals, or in other words, you’ll need to hire a plumber to provide you with assistance. Unless you are a plumber by trade, you don’t want to go opening up and messing with pipes yourself.
Now that you know what the possible causes of a clogged sewer line are, at least in relation to toilet paper, and now that you know what options are at your disposal in terms of viable solutions, you can work to solve the problem in the best and easiest way possible.