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January 10, 2011 8:52 PM   Subscribe

Flushable cat litter has clogged the toilet. I'm housesitting and broke, and plunging is not helping. Help?

After I flushed the flushable cat litter, the toilet is egregiously plugged. Hours of intermittent plunging have helped a little, but not nearly enough. I've been working my way through this guide to unclogging a toilet but it's helping only a little.

The owners of the house are in another country and I can't contact them tonight. The plumber I called quoted me $200 to augur it out, which I don't have and which I don't think I could reasonably ask my broke friends to pay without talking to them, anyway. My question is twofold:
1) what can I possibly do to unclog this damn toilet?
2) given that a) my friends and I are broke and b) I flushed the cat litter exactly as I was shown, and it was the litter that the owners put in right before they left (as in, I didn't add that litter at all, so I couldn't have added too much or too little), what seems like a fair split of the plumbing costs/costs of getting any necessary materials to unclog this toilet?
posted by verbyournouns to Home & Garden (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I think I'm going to go get a toilet snake if I can, per the advice in a similar askme thread.
posted by verbyournouns at 8:57 PM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Also, given that the hardware store just closed, is there some terrible disadvantage to waiting a day to snake it? I would be worried about some crazy papier-mache situation.
posted by verbyournouns at 8:59 PM on January 10, 2011

Do you think that letting it soak longer will break it down better? Wouldn't papier mache only happen if it was able to dry (which presumably it isn't if it's submerged)?
posted by elpea at 9:03 PM on January 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's made of paper, it will (hopefully) degrade enough for plunging to work in a few hours or by tomorrow.

Try hot water. But not to overflowing.

DO NOT PUT DRANO IN THE TOILET. It's highly caustic, and if the drano water over-flowed the toilet it could be dangerous and cause chemical burns or extreme discomfort if it got on you or the cat.

If the problem doesn't clear on it's own or with a little plunging by tomorrow, someone you know may have a "snake." This is a corded metal device that is either hand-cranked in one version, or attaches to a heavy duty drill. Where you are it may be called an plumber's augur? Anyway, you can get one at the hardware store, maybe for around $50 to $100 US. It's almost exactly what the plumber would have used during that $200 service call - but try asking around first, especially if you know someone handy.

You could maybe try bleach instead of hot water (or a little bleach in the hot water??) but I'd be really really careful and ventilate the bathroom and move the cat box out before going that route. The bleach will undoubtedly (eventually) dissolve the paper... but it is caustic and dangererous like the Drano if used incorrectly.

I've done this with flushable litter. You likely won't need a plumber and the mistake isn't fatal - relax and just keep working at it with the plunger and water. Good luck!
posted by jbenben at 9:05 PM on January 10, 2011

Good point elpea!

OP - make sure there is always some water in the toilet until this clears and the paper doesn't dry out.
posted by jbenben at 9:08 PM on January 10, 2011

Best answer: I don't think there is a lot of harm letting it sit overnight. A snake should fix it if the clog is in the S-bend. Is this a house or an apartment? I assume a house, from "housesitting" and a lack of a manager being called.

Are other drains in the house working as they should? If you fill the kitchen sink does it drain? If the other drains are seemingly working OK, you can probably figure the clog is in the S-bend. Snaking will fix it, almost assuredly.

If the other drains are slow, the main line to the septic or street is clogged, probably by tree roots, not uncommon at all. This will need to be dealt with by a pro with a special auger.

As for cost, if I were the homeowner and you had followed the directions on litter I had put in the box, I would find it ludicrous to think you would be out-of-pocket to fix the problem. Even if you had made a mistake, these things happen. Not everyone is me.

I find that filling (with a bucket) the toilet bowl to nearly full and leaving it will sometimes break a clog (usually of, er, organic material) if left for awhile. Check back from time to time to se if water is trickling through the clog, and top-off. Obviously don't put so much in that you can't work a plunger or a snake, but the weight of two or three gallons of water is not inconsiderable and can sometimes break a clog.
posted by maxwelton at 9:11 PM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: anecdata - after making exactly this mistake with various types of pine and other flushable litter, I now scoop and dispose in the outside garbage. I know your friends said to flush the waste, but in my experience, every type of litter will clog the toilet that one-damn-time you accidentally try to flush just a wee bit too much in one go. it's not your fault! but don't court disaster again once this clears. just scoop and take it outside for the duration of your stay.
posted by jbenben at 9:22 PM on January 10, 2011

Best answer: This page suggests liquid dishwashing soap. As does this one.
posted by MexicanYenta at 9:28 PM on January 10, 2011

Closet augers ("toilet snakes") do NOT cost $50-100 as quoted above. I just bought one the other day for $9 and it was a 3-foot General Wire brand like this one. Not sure why they are so expensive online, I got mine at a local hardware store for cheap!

Yes, it really was only $9... I checked the price again when I went back to buy something else.
posted by buckaroo_benzai at 9:29 PM on January 10, 2011

I think verbyournouns is saying it'd cost $200 to get a plumber to come out and use an snake on the toilet, not that getting your own snake would cost that much.

I think leaving it soak overnight has a decent chance of fixing the clog, actually— if the water level is dropping slowly (a good sign) top it up occasionally to keep the pressure and water flow on. If an overnight soak and some more plunging in the morning doesn't do it, get a snake at the hardware store and you'll probably be fine.

(This is based on my own experiences with flushable-litter clogs as well as clogs of my own design.)
posted by hattifattener at 9:40 PM on January 10, 2011

(Oh, sorry, I misread your comment as referring to the original post not to jbenben's comment.)
posted by hattifattener at 9:41 PM on January 10, 2011

Snake it a little with an unfolded wire coathanger. Hold onto the hook end so you don't lose it. I know nothing of cat litter, but might the flushable aspect refer to uh... clumps... at a time? From your post it sounds like you tipped the whole tray in there.
posted by Iteki at 9:43 PM on January 10, 2011

I second buckaroo_benzai: where I am, even a much longer 25' drain auger will only cost 15-20 bucks. Cost-wise, this is a no-brainer.
posted by astrochimp at 9:46 PM on January 10, 2011

Try boiling water poured slowly from up high. Don't know why it works, but it has for me when nothing else would.

Be careful with a hanger or anything metal - it can scratch the porcelain.
posted by cecic at 9:46 PM on January 10, 2011

Response by poster: Such good advice so far, thank you! The toilet is currently full of hot water, poured from waist height, and dish soap. Fingers crossed...

Worst comes to worst, I'll sleep here tonight and try to keep things wet. So far no word on who the property manager is, but I've done some internet sleuthing and some trying to find neighbors.
posted by verbyournouns at 9:53 PM on January 10, 2011

Response by poster: Praise Jesus and Metafilter, it worked. 6 hours, 4 hours of plunging, and (I think this is the key) about 45 minutes of quality time with hot water and a ton of dishwashing soap, the problem is resolved. I'm marking as best answers the ones that helped this time, but all answers were so appreciated.
posted by verbyournouns at 10:39 PM on January 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Glad you got it cleared. And remember, "flushable" refers to the clods and turds you scoop out of the box. It isn't flushable if you pour the whole box-full of litter into the toilet!
posted by exphysicist345 at 11:07 PM on January 10, 2011

I recently had the opportunity to shop for toilet augers. Expensive!
I cheaped out and bought a $20 one that didn't work.

Then I called my Dad who had the same model Home Depot was selling for $50 and that did the trick.

So... My advice would be, if all else fails.. see if a homeowner you know might have a decent toilet auger you can borrow.
posted by j03 at 11:19 PM on January 10, 2011

I had a similar problem once, and managed to get the night clerk of the hotel next door to lend me their toilet snake for a few minutes.
posted by Harald74 at 12:44 AM on January 11, 2011

given that a) my friends and I are broke and b) I flushed the cat litter exactly as I was shown, and it was the litter that the owners put in right before they left (as in, I didn't add that litter at all, so I couldn't have added too much or too little), what seems like a fair split of the plumbing costs/costs of getting any necessary materials to unclog this toilet?

Fortunately, you don't need the answer this time, but the answer to this question is:

100% the home-owners. 0% you.

If you were doing as instructed while doing them the favor of baby-sitting their cat, and something goes wrong, it's their cost to absorb, just as if it had happened while they were home. You wouldn't pay the vet bills if the cat got sick on your watch, would you?
posted by jacquilynne at 8:03 AM on January 11, 2011

I'm really glad that the hot water and suds worked...because I tried that once and it didn't work, and my boyfriend called me an idiot.
posted by radioamy at 8:54 AM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you ever need to borrow a tool to take care of problems like this in the future, NeighborGoods.net or Freecycle.org could be helpful.
posted by Ryogen at 8:57 AM on January 11, 2011

I'm a pretty handy dude and I recently found out that I've been using a plunger incorrectly my whole life. The point of a plunger is to suck, not push, if you're under the same misconception I was. So, push in slow and pull out fast. I guess it's really an anti-plunger,
posted by cmoj at 2:29 PM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

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