How Do You React When Your Toilet Overflows?

I have a variety of theories about how I may react in a variety of urgent, panicked situations, but I’ve found I don’t really know until those situations happen.

A few days ago, Megan and I had just finished playing Terra Mystica remotely with some friends on Board Game Arena. Our post-game chat lasted longer than I expected, so I excused myself for a few minutest to use the bathroom.

I won’t burden you with the details, but from the title of this post, you probably know what happened in that bathroom. After a hearty flush, the waters started rising instead of draining.

In this character-defining moment, I grabbed the plunger and, well, plunged it into the toilet. No response–in fact, the water seemed to rise even faster. I flushed and plunged again. This time it was really bad–the water started pouring out of the toilet onto the tile.

I gave up on plunging and started grabbing towels to soak up the water so the bathroom wouldn’t flood. Then I continued plunging as if my life depended on it, all while Megan and company cheerfully chatted away a few rooms over (and perhaps wondered why I was taking so long).

Finally I got the plunger to work, and the toilet successfully flushed. I gathered the towels, threw them in the washer, cleaned the floor, washed up, and dragged myself back to the Zoom call.

When I later recounted what happened to Megan, her first response–as you may have already said in your head–was, “Why didn’t you turn off the water?”

She’s right. That’s the obvious first thing to do when your toilet starts to overflow. It’s one of those things I know in my brain, but in the heat of the moment, the first thing I could think of was to remove the symptoms, not address the source of the problem. There’s probably some deeper life lesson there.

But now I know. Now I’ve been through a toilet overflow, and hopefully next time I’ll remember the right thing to do.

Have you ever had this happen? Or have you ever found yourself in an urgent, panicked moment and learned something about yourself in the way you responded?

2 thoughts on “How Do You React When Your Toilet Overflows?”

  1. I think I had that happen once before I learned my lesson. I’m a total panic guy though, so I would just sit there and watch it happen before realizing I need to do something about it.

    My rule is to plunge and plunge until I get some water to drain before I flush again. I never flush while the toilet is actively stopped. Flushing doesn’t open any drain valves, the drain is just an open S-bend. Adding more water to the bowl doesn’t usually clear things up, just makes an overflow more likely. Also, watch the air trapped under the plunger. It increases the plunger displacement, and the air won’t help clear the drain. So put the plunger at an angle when you first put it in the water.

    I’m not sure whether it would help to turn off the water. It doesn’t hurt, of course, but I think the biggest issue is the large influx of water when the tank drains. There is a little bit of trickle post flush, but I think the majority of the water comes from that first woosh.


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