The Three Types of Plungers

Exasperated looking woman holding small blue plunger

We know: This is pretty nerdy. So what? We’re plumbers–we love plumbing. Talking about plumbing, writing about plumbing, explaining all the little details of plumbing. Besides, this is actually really useful information. Most homeowners don’t know this, but there are different kinds of plungers, with different uses. Some plungers are made to work well on sink clogs, some don’t work well on toilets, some are specifically made for toilets.

If you don’t know your plunger, you might not be clearing clogs as effectively as you could be. Depending on what you’re using, you could even be damaging your appliances. See? We’re helping! It’s not like we just really want to write about plungers. Well, ok, but that’s not the only reason. Here’s the official, nerd-approved breakdown of the three most common kinds of plungers and what they’re good for. Look this up next time you’re primed to plunge, and you’ll know get that puppy flowing again with all the effectiveness (and gusto!) of a genuine nerdy plumber. We’ll be really proud of you, too.

red cup plunger

Cup Plunger, or Common Sink Plunger

This is the plunger you think of when you picture a plunger. You know the one: a straight, plain handle, usually made out of wood or plastic, and a red (probably) rubber cup at the end. This is by far the most common plunger you see in households and businesses.

Ironically, it’s kind of annoying to us plungers that the cup plunger is the golden standard. A lot of homeowners will see the cup plunger and assume it’s the right tool for the job. That’s not always the case! Cup plungers work by creating a vacuum inside the cup and over the drain. This vacuum creates positive pressure (when pushing down) and negative pressure (when pulling up), which work to dislodge the clog.

The problem with the cup plunger is it only creates this vacuum when it’s placed on a flat surface. That means it’s great for unclogging drains in tubs or some sinks— Basically, it’ll work if you can get it on a flat surface. You know what doesn’t have a flat surface? A toilet bowl (at least, we hope your toilet bowl doesn’t have a flat surface). That means cup plungers aren’t very good at unclogging toilets. When we see homeowners using cup plungers to try to unclog their toilets, it breaks our picky plungy hearts. When it comes to what you probably picture using a plunger for, if you’re doing it with a cup plunger you’re doing it wrong.   

black accordion plunger

Accordion Plunger

Now we’re talking. This puppy was designed to plunge toilets. Plus, it kind of looks like a Xenomorph, which is sweet. Accordion plungers are made of hard, usually black plastic. The business end of this plunger narrows to a smaller cup. This cup was made to fit over the drain at the bottom of a toilet bowl perfectly. The ribbed “accordion” generates considerable pressure, and should easily break up any clogs in your toilet.

You might call us out for acting stuffy and superior, but one issue with the accordion plunger is it tends to be hard for non-pros to use. The rigid plastic makes it tough to initially get on the drain. Once you do get it on, the accordion plunger can make it a bit unwieldy; it can easily slip off the drain. Finally, that much pressure being generated by hard plastic can be damaging to your toilet bowl, marking it up or scratching it.

Accordion plungers are definitely effective, but they can also be a little overkill, like using a chainsaw to trim your hedges. Wait, try to think of an analogy that doesn’t sound super fun.

black flange plunger

Flange Plunger/Toilet Plunger

At last, we come to the “Goldilocks plunger”! The flange plunger looks a bit like the cup plunger, but it tends to have a longer handle, and the cup tends to be black rather than red. The most important difference between the two, however, is that the flange plunger has a soft rubber flap–the eponymous flange–that folds out from inside the cup. This flange is easily maneuvered and fits nicely over the toilet bowl drain. By placing the flap over the drain, it’s easy to create the seal required for pressure to be exerted. Dislodging toilet clogs with a flange plunger is a lot quicker, easier, and more effective than using a cup plunger.

If this was an infomercial, at this point we’d say: but that’s not all! The flange can be easily tucked inside the cup to make, essentially, a cup plunger. That means the flange plunger can be used on sink clogs, toilet clogs, or whatever else you need unclogged. Just, you know, maybe don’t use the same plunger you use to unclog your toilet on your kitchen sink. That’s pretty nasty.


See? Learning about plungers is helpful AND fun! Ok, well it’s helpful right? It’s fun for us… As a homeowner, you should consider investing in a flange plumber for your bathrooms and either a cup plunger or another flange for your sinks, tubs, and anything else. If you have a particularly stubborn clog and you don’t want to call us (we get it; it’s personal. That clog is your toilet Moby Dick), consider an accordion plunger. If you have any other questions–seriously, any other questions; we love talking plumbing–or if you need any help with home repair problems big or small, get in touch today! We promise we won’t geek out unless you ask us to.

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