Buyer's Guide: Plungers

It happens to all of us at one point or another. A shower drain backs up and refuses to empty out the tub, a sink fills up far faster than it empties itself out, or-the most dreaded moment of all-the toilet refuses to cooperate when we flush. Under these less-than-ideal conditions, it's important to have the right tool on hand and the know-how to use it properly.

But a plunger isn't a one-size-fits-all solution for each of these scenarios. Depending on the type of drain you need to unclog, one may be more helpful than the next. Read on for an overview of the various options, plus our recommendations for the best plunger in each category.

Types of Plungers

Sink and Shower Plungers

When you're dealing with a flat drain-i.e., a sink, shower or tub-all you really need is a cup-shaped plunger that can provide some suction, creating a pressured push to get things moving right along. The best plunger for a clogged sink drain is one with a simple round rubber cup large enough to cover the drain; the edge of the cup should come in direct contact with the bottom of the sink in order to create the strongest possible seal around the drain before you pump and release. (A shorter handle, usually four or five inches long, is a bonus for more controlled plunging action!) You won't want to try unclogging a toilet with one of these, though; its size and shape won't allow it to get the job done.

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Toilet Plungers

For the dreaded task of dealing with a stopped-up toilet, you need a plunger with a base made to reach into the recessed drain. The most effective options on the market can be categorized out into few different shapes:

  • A beehive plunger (pictured at left in the lineup above) looks just like its name implies: It's a rounded cylinder that's widest in the middle, similar to a cartoon honey hive drawn in the shape of an exaggerated barrel. This silhouette, along with the flange (an extended cylindrical lip) at the far end, makes it a universal tool that can fit into almost any toilet drain. If the toilet drain is fairly wide, you can press the beehive plunger further into the recess until you've completely sealed the drain; if narrow, less of the beehive will fit, but you'll maintain a strong seal.
  • A bellows-style plunger (pictured at middle) looks a bit like an accordion along the outer edges of its bowl. This design allows for the plastic bowl to collapse and expand much like the musical instrument does as you apply pressure and pull back. This creates better water displacement than a traditional plunger and releases the clog a little quicker with less effort. (These accordion-style tools are also made with slightly shorter handles for use on sink and tub drains, so choose the right handle length for the job at hand.)
  • A traditional flanged plunger (pictured at right) looks a lot like a cup plunger, but a narrow flange or tiered flange will fill the drain to create a seal when it's plunged all the way to the bottom of a toilet bowl. It may require more effort to unclog the toilet than a beehive or accordion plunger, but not much.

Of these options, all will get the job done. If you're looking to release a toilet clog in just one or two quick tries, though, either an accordion/bellows or beehive plunger is your best bet.

PRO TIP: No matter the type of plunger you pick up, consider this important accessory to keep your bathroom or kitchen sanitary: a drip tray. When a plunger is not in use, especially just after it's been utilized and rinsed, it's wise to keep the instrument itself up off of the floor. Drips of dirty toilet water are not only unsettling, but they can cause water damage wherever you keep your plunger handy (such as a wooden cabinet interior).Some plungers come with a tray that collects excess water and even conceals the business end of the plungers. Don't worry if the plunger you pick doesn't, you can often still purchase one separately.

The Best Plungers

After comparing plunger reviews from consumers and publishers alike, we've rounded up three of the most highly rated options available today. Sure, most of these tools fall in the under-$20 range, but when you're in a mess you don't want to rely on anything but the best plunger to get you out fast. Narrow your search fast with these bonafide favorites below.

Best Plunger for Sinks and Tubs (Cup): Liquid Plumr Mini Sink and Drain Plunger

Design and durability are what make this sink and tub plunger a favorite among average homeowners who want something very simple-a compact, cup-style plunger that's easy to use and highly effective. Made by the ever-popular toilet chemical manufacturer, the Liquid Plumr Mini Plunger's 5-inch flat cup unclogs small drains with ease in bathroom and kitchen basins.

Best Plunger for Sinks and Tubs (Accordion): Plumbcraft Mini Plunger

This compact bellows-style tool earns high marks for its work in tubs, showers, and sinks with drains smaller than 4-1/2 inches. With a textured handle providing a good grip for dealing with flat-drain clogs, the PlumbCraft Mini Plunger displaces water and creates pressure sufficient enough to clear up most clogs quickly. Bonus: its petite size makes the plunger easy to stow away after the dirty work is done.

Best Plunger for Toilets (Beehive): Korky Max Beehive Plunger

Beehive plungers are known for their universal fit, covering both older and newer toilet bowls with openings ranging from round to keyhole thanks to a rounded design. But in addition to sealing toilet drains up to 6 inches wide, the Korky Beehive brings something extra to the table: Its T-shaped handle makes it easy to apply maximum pressure and control without risk of gross splashback.

Best Plunger for Toilets (Accordion): E-Z Bellows Plunger

Looking for the extra oomph of an accordion-style plunger? For toilets, this on is a perennial hit. Affordable, reliable, and extremely durable, the E-Z Plunger is easy to use and known for getting the job done on the first try.

Best Plunger for Toilets (Traditional Flange): Neiko All-Angle Plunger

Thanks to a cup with tiered flanges ranging 4 to 6 inches wide and heavy-duty suction, this plunger gets the job done on most toilets, in parts thanks to its unique all-angle design. Meanwhile, the lightweight aluminum handle resists both mold and rust and even features a hole at the end for hanging in a supply closet with your dustpan and broom (although we recommend purchasing the kit with a drip pan and stand to protect your flooring or cabinetry). Durability, affordability, and ease of use-the Neiko offers all three.