April 18, 2024
Home & Garden

What is the history of the plunger? What are the types of plungers? How do you use the plunger the right way?

  • January 15, 2024
  • 7 min read
What is the history of the plunger? What are the types of plungers? How do you use the plunger the right way?

Plungers, those handy tools we reach for in the face of stubborn clogs, have a surprisingly interesting history. From their modest start in the late 19th century to the different types available today, plungers have become essential fixtures in our homes.

Let’s dive into the captivating journey of plungers, explore their various types, and uncover the right way to use them for household victories.

What is the history of the plunger?

The humble plunger may seem like a simple tool, but its history is quite fascinating. The plunger’s origin dates back to the late 19th century, and it has since become an essential tool in households around the world.

The concept of a plunger began with the need to address clogged drains and pipes. Before plungers, people struggled with blockages, often resorting to cumbersome methods like using a coat hanger or pouring chemicals down the drain. It was a messy and unreliable process.

cropped image of plumber taking plunger in kitchen

The first patent for a plunger-like device was filed in 1874 by JOHN S. HAWLEY. This early design was a far cry from the modern rubber plungers we use today. It featured a wooden handle with a rubber cup attached at the end. While the basic idea was there, it took some time for the design to evolve into a more effective tool.

In the early 20th century, advancements in rubber manufacturing allowed for the production of more efficient plungers. Rubber cups became larger and more flexible, providing a better seal over drains. This improvement significantly enhanced the plunger’s effectiveness in creating the necessary suction to dislodge blockages.

During the mid-20th century, the design of the plunger underwent further refinement. The classic shape that we recognize today emerged – a wooden or plastic handle attached to a red or black rubber cup. This design has proven to be simple yet highly effective in addressing various issues for plumbers.

The plunger’s popularity soared as it became a household staple. Its ease of use and affordability made it a go-to tool for homeowners dealing with minor plumbing problems. The plunger’s versatility extends beyond just unclogging drains; it has also been employed to fix toilet issues and even as a basic tool for some DIY plumbing repairs.

Interestingly, the plunger has found its way into popular culture, becoming a symbol of the common household and a comedic prop in various movies and TV shows. The iconic image of someone wielding a plunger while dealing with a plumbing mishap is instantly recognizable.

In recent years, there have been further innovations in plunger design. Some models feature accordion-like sections for improved flexibility, while others incorporate additional features like fold-out flanges to create an even better seal. Despite these advancements, the basic principles behind the plunger remain the same – create suction to dislodge or break up blockages in pipes.

cropped view of man holding plunger in sink with water

What are the types of plungers?

Plungers come in various shapes and sizes, each designed for specific tasks around the house. Here’s a breakdown of the common types of plungers and their uses to help you tackle plumbing issues with confidence.

  1. Cup Plunger:
    • Design: The classic plunger with a rubber cup at the end.
    • Use: Ideal for flat surfaces like sinks and tubs. Creates a tight seal for effective plunging.
  2. Flange Plunger:
    • Design: Similar to the cup plunger but with an additional soft rubber flap (flange) on the bottom.
    • Use: Specifically designed for toilets. The flange helps create a better seal in the curved toilet drain.
  3. Accordion Plunger:
    • Design: Features a bellows-like accordion section.
    • Use: Great for toilets and sink drains. The accordion design provides extra flexibility for effective plunging.
  4. Taze Plunger:
    • Design: Has a sleeve that can be extended or retracted.
    • Use: Versatile for various drains. The adjustable sleeve allows for customization based on the size of the drain.
  5. Power Plunger (Air or Water Pressure Plunger):
    • Design: Utilizes air or water pressure to clear clogs.
    • Use: Effective for tougher blockages. Forces a burst of pressure into the drain to dislodge obstructions.
  6. Bellows Plunger:
    • Design: Resembles an accordion plunger but with a different handle.
    • Use: Excellent for toilets and flat drains. The bellows design provides a strong burst of pressure for effective unclogging.
  7. Shower Drain Plunger:
    • Design: Small, often with a specialized shape.
    • Use: Specifically designed for shower drains. The compact size and shape allow for easy manoeuvring in tight spaces.
  8. Sink Plunger (Flat or Ball Plunger):
    • Design: Features a flat or ball-shaped rubber cup.
    • Use: Designed for sink drains. The flat or ball shape provides a good seal on flat surfaces like sink basins.
  9. Accordion Cup Plunger:
    • Design: Combines the accordion and cup plunger designs.
    • Use: Versatile for sinks and toilets. The accordion cup provides flexibility and a tight seal.
  10. Mini Plunger:
    • Design: Compact, with a smaller rubber cup.
    • Use: Perfect for small drains, like those in bathroom sinks. The mini plunger allows for precise and focused plunging.
smiling electrician repairing electrical box with plunger in corridor

How do you use the plunger the right way?

Using a plunger may seem straightforward, but doing it the right way can make a significant difference in its effectiveness. Whether you’re dealing with a clogged toilet or a stubborn sink drain, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to use a plunger correctly, making the process easy and efficient.

1. Choose the Right Plunger:

  • Make sure you’re using the appropriate plunger for the job. Cup plungers work well for sinks and tubs, while flange plungers are designed for toilets. Using the right tool increases your chances of success.

2. Create a Good Seal:

  • For sinks and tubs, fill the basin with enough water to cover the plunger cup. This helps create a seal and provides added force during plunging. For toilets, make sure there’s enough water in the bowl to submerge the plunger cup.

3. Position the Plunger:

  • Position the plunger directly over the drain opening. Ensure that the plunger cup completely covers the drain for a proper seal. In the case of a toilet, place the plunger over the drain opening at the bottom of the bowl.

4. Push and Pull, Don’t Smash:

  • Apply gentle pressure on the plunger, pushing it down over the drain, then pull it back up. Avoid smashing the plunger down forcefully, as this may break the seal. The goal is to create suction to dislodge the clog.

5. Maintain a Rhythmic Motion:

  • Engage in a rhythmic plunging motion, maintaining a steady pace. This helps build up suction and pressure, increasing the likelihood of clearing the clog. Repeat the push-and-pull motion for about 15-20 seconds.

6. Check for Movement:

  • After a few plunging attempts, check for any signs of movement in the water. If the water starts to drain or there’s a change in the toilet bowl, it indicates progress. For sinks and tubs, check if the water is draining freely.

7. Repeat if Necessary:

  • If the clog persists, repeat the plunging process. Sometimes, it may take several attempts to fully clear the blockage. Be patient and persistent in your efforts.

8. Use Additional Methods if Needed:

  • If plunging alone doesn’t work, consider using a plumbing snake or chemical drain cleaner. These tools can help reach deeper into the pipes and break down stubborn clogs.

9. Clean the Plunger:

  • After successfully clearing the clog, clean the plunger thoroughly. Rinse it with hot water and disinfect it to prevent the spread of germs. Proper maintenance ensures your plunger remains a reliable tool for future use.

10. Prevent Future Clogs:

  • Adopt preventive measures to minimize future clogs. Dispose of grease and food scraps properly, use hair catchers in drains, and avoid flushing non-flushable items down the toilet.

By following these simple steps, you can use a plunger effectively and tackle common plumbing issues with confidence. Remember, a little technique goes a long way in making the plunging process easy and successful!


In the tale of household problem-solving, plungers stand out as unsung heroes. From early designs to the versatile models we use now, plungers reflect our ongoing search for practical solutions. Understanding the types of plungers gives us a toolkit to address specific plumbing issues effectively. And when it’s time to use this unassuming tool, the right technique can turn a potential headache into a manageable task.

So, the next time you grab a plunger to face a clog, remember the rich history, diverse types, and proper usage tips that make this everyday tool an indispensable convenience in home maintenance. Happy plunging!

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