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A plunger, force cup, plumber's friend, or plumber's helper[1][2] is a tool used to clear blockages in drains and pipes. It consists of a rubber suction cup with an attached stick (shaft), usually made of wood or plastic. A different bellows-like design also exists, usually constructed of plastic.


For the common plunger, the cup is pushed down against the drain opening, either pressing hard into the drain to force air in, or pushing down until the rubber cup is flattened and then pulling out, creating a vacuum that attracts material. The intent is to loosen or break up a blockage caused by excessive material in the drain.

Shape and function[edit]

The cup of a kitchen plunger looks like a rubber ball cut in half with a flared edge, while the toilet plunger's cup looks more like a distorted ball, tapered on one half, with a large hole on the bottom.

A plunger is much more effective with water in the pipe because water does not compress and will thus transmit more of the applied force than will air.[3] When a plunger is ineffective, it is supplemented by a chemical drain cleaner (in the case of sinks and tubs) or a plumber's snake (for stubborn clogs or clogs of the main line or toilet).[4]


The plunger was invented in 1874[5] by New York confectioner[6] John Hawley, with the flattened rim added in 1876.[7] The invention is referred to in the patent as a vent-clearer, and was marketed as a force cup.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Meaning of plunger | Infoplease". Retrieved 2017-12-11.
  2. ^ Company, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing. "The American Heritage Dictionary entry: plunger". Retrieved 2017-12-11.
  3. ^ Henkenius, Merle (2006). Ultimate Guide to Plumbing. Creative Homeowner Press. p. 216. ISBN 1580113117.
  4. ^ Lou Manfredini (2004). Lou Manfredini's House Smarts. Random House. p. 28. ISBN 0345449894.
  5. ^ US patent US158937A, John S. Hawley, "Improvement in vent-clearers for wash-bowls", issued 1875-01-19 
  6. ^ Biographical history of Westchester County, New York. 1. Lewis Publishing Company. 1899. p. 39.
  7. ^ US patent US186206A, John S. Hawley, "Improvement in vent-clearers for wash-bowls", issued 1877-01-16 
  8. ^ "Improved Elastic Force Cup". Scientific American. Vol. 32 no. 21. New York. 1875-05-21. p. 329.

External links[edit]

  • The dictionary definition of plunger at Wiktionary
  • Media related to Plungers at Wikimedia Commons