In the world of home ownership, operating a plunger falls into the category of things you should know, but might be too afraid to ask. It doesn’t seem that hard, after all: You just hold the stick and shove the big, squishy side until water starts going back down the drain (or just listen to this guy).

If that’s how you think a plunger should be used, don’t worry. You’re about 90% of the way there.

Know Your Plungers

Typically, there are two types of plungers available at just about every hardware or department store: the cup plunger and the flange. The cup plunger is easily recognizable: It’s the one that has a wooden “cup” attached to the end of a wooden handle. It’s great for everyday applications, such as sink or shower clogs, but it can’t create the tight seal that you need when trying to unclog a toilet.

For that, you’ll need a flange plunger. These types of plungers normally are one-piece and have several rings where the cup would normally be. At the base of the rings is the flange itself, which is placed into the toilet drain, creating an airtight lock around the hole that results in a more forceful suction.

Though you can use either plunger for either purpose, it’s best to keep them separated. Flange plungers won’t work nearly as well on a sink as a cup plunger, and vice versa (for more tips on buying the right plunger, check out this guide.

How to Plunge the Sink

Plunging is a messy business, so before you start trying to unclog that backed-up sink, bale out some of the water and debris first so you don’t splash it all over the counter (and yourself). Next, put a wet towel on the overflow drain to keep air from escaping, as well as any other nearby drains that may be connected. The goal is to create the most suction at the most affected area.

Note: If you plan on using chemicals to help fight the clog as well, don’t use them in tandem with the plunger. If you do, you’ll run the risk of splashing harmful chemicals that can cause serious injury.

Once you’re ready to go, put the rubber bell over the drain, placing the entire bell under water. Start with a gentle push at first to force the air out, then gradually create quicker and more direct thrusts in the direction of the drain. Continue for about twenty seconds and check to make sure the clog is cleared. If not, repeat the process.

How to Plunge the Toilet

Getting rid of a clog in the toilet is slightly more complicated, although the idea is largely the same. As stated before, use a flange plunger instead of a cup plunger for optimal suction, and resist the urge to keep flushing the toilet to make it drain. Doing so will cause overflow, which in the case of a toilet clog, can make the situation go from bad to worse in a hurry.

Begin by closing the water supply valve behind the toilet and removing enough water in the bowl to get it about half-full (if it’s too empty, add water to bring it to this level). Then, extend the flange and place the ring directly into the drain opening. Thrust for twenty seconds, beginning slowly and gradually picking up the pace, stopping after these periods to check the clog. If it still isn’t fixed, try using a drain snake; if it still isn’t fixed past that, consider hiring a plumber to make sure there isn’t a bigger issue.

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