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Everything You Need to Know About Plungers

Overview: When we say “plumbing tool,” what’s the first thing you think of it? It’s a  plunger, right? They’re the quintessential tool for unclogging blocked pipes and solving plumbing problems. Let’s dive into the history and types of plungers! 

What happens when your toilet gets clogged? It can be frustrating when another daunting task is unexpectedly added to your to-do list. Fortunately, you probably have a useful tool close at hand. Plungers are one of those functional tools found in everyone’s bathroom, helping us unclog our toilets without calling in professionals.

We’re pretty sure you know exactly what a plunger is, but just in case: Cambridge Dictionary defines a plunger as “a suction device consisting of a cup-shaped piece of rubber, used to get rid of things blocking pipes.”

Necessity is the mother invention, which means as long as there’s been plumbing, there’s been a need for tools that serve the purpose served by plungers. Let’s dig into the history of plungers for a better understanding of our toilet-adjacent friend.

 History of the Plunger:

There’s more mystery on this topic than you might think. While many people consider Samuel Prosser to be the originator of the plunger, the truth is that there really isn’t a lot of detailed information about who had the idea first. There are no patents on record beyond Samuel Prosser’s back in 1777, which was for a device that was similar to a plunger and was used as part of a toilet-flushing system. We can consider this a kind of “proto-plunger.”

In 1875, John S. Hawley filed a patent for what he referred to as “vent-clearers for wash-bowls.” Hawley’s invention included a rubber cup attached to a vertical handle, to be used for the purpose of clearing obstructions in “discharge-pipes” of sinks and similar water basins. Its similarity to a modern plunger is unmistakable.

Occasionally, the invention of the plunger has been attributed to Jeffrey Gunderson. But Gunderson’s plunger was developed in 1932, many years after Hawley filed his patent. Although Gunderson may have refined the design of the tool, he was standing on the shoulders — or perhaps the suction cups — of giants.

Related Reading: Unclogging the Sweet History and Etymology of the Plunger  

 Types of Plungers:

Since plungers are the most common toilet tools, and they’re found in almost every bathroom, you’ve probably never stopped to ponder whether there are different types of plungers designed for different uses. Let’s take a closer look at the three main types of plungers: the sink plunger, the toilet plunger, and the accordion plunger.

 Common Sink Plunger / Cup Plunger:

People think of this variety when they hear the word “plunger.” Sink plungers are designed differently, with a straight handle — usually wooden — and a rubber cup. The cup is almost always red. Why? Your guess is as good as ours!

These plungers work perfectly on flat surfaces, as the cup needs to lay flat parallel to the affected area and create the vacuum necessary to dislodge the clog. On the other hand, the curve of a toilet bowl won’t allow the proper seal to occur; therefore, using the same plunger is less effective in toilets.

This plunger can create either positive or negative pressure, depending on which way you apply force. Positive pressure is created when you’re forcing the cup down, while negative pressure happens by the vacuum effect when the cup is pulled away from the fixture.

So the best way to use these cup plungers is on bathroom sinks, tubs, kitchen sinks, or other similar flat surfaces.

 Toilet Plunger / Flange Plunger:

This variation on the standard plunger provides the flexibility to fit in just about any drain. Similar to the sink plunger, this plunger also has a cup, with the slight difference of a soft rubber flap that extends down past the end of the cup. That’s the flange.

The flange flat fits nicely over the curved toilet drain, providing a seal and suction in the right places. The flange also gets tucked into the cup as you apply force, giving you space to use the plunger as a cup plunger.

Although this plunger is versatile and can do multiple tasks for you, we definitely don’t recommend using the same plunger on both toilets and sinks! This practice is highly unhygienic and could lead to cross-contamination.

 Accordion Plunger:

No, it’s not a plunger you use to clean out your accordion. This is another style of toilet-friendly plunger. The accordion plunger is made up of hard plastic that can produce a lot of force if used correctly. You’ll need to apply a lot of pressure to use the plunger as the plastic is hard, so creating a vacuum seal over the drain will be challenging. Unlike those rubber plungers, this plunger is made of plastic and can scratch your toilet surfaces, so be careful while using it.

Safety Tip: Plungers are essential for toilet health, but keep in mind that you shouldn’t use a plunger immediately after using chemical solutions in your toilet. This safety tip is important as plunging can create a backlash and lead to toxic chemicals splashing throughout your toilet, on your walls, and even on your skin. Always use caution when cleaning with chemicals!

 In Summary:

A clogged drain is a major inconvenience. It’s frustrating to have such an annoying problem pop up unexpectedly and disrupt your daily routine, so most people cross their fingers and hope that one of the household plungers described above can eliminate their clogs. However, if you find that you’re unable to plunge away your problem, NIR Plumbing will be happy to help you with clogs or any other plumbing mishaps.

Our technicians are here to provide excellent drain cleaning and plumbing services. Reach out to us today for a free consultation!

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