How Does the Toilet Work?

It’s the one fixture in your home that you probably take for granted, but it rarely fails you. Invented in 1596, according to the Smithsonian Institution, it wasn’t until the mid-1800’s that the bathroom throne started appearing regularly. Today, many homes come with multiple bathrooms, each equipped with a standard flush toilet. Find out more about this simple plumbing fixture and how it functions.

The Basic Components of a Flush Toilet

There are different style toilets on the market these days, but they have the same core mechanisms. The toilet consists of a bowl, a tank that contains a reservoir of water – usually just under two gallons – and a tube, or outlet, to connect the two. The handle that you push to start the process of flushing controls the flush valve, which is essentially just a stopper at the bottom of the reserve tank. This valve keeps the 2 gallons of water in place until you flush the toilet.

At the bottom of the bowl sits a “U” shaped tube that connects the toilet to a sewer system. This tube serves as a siphon to force the waste material and water down and out of the bowl. When you push the handle, the flush valve chain pulls the valve in the reserve tank open; the water from the reserve tank rushes into the bowl causing the tube to fill, which alters the air pressure to create a siphon. As the water moves through the tube, air fills it and the pressure changes again to allow fresh water into the bowl.

In the meantime, the flush valve closes and fresh water enters the tank reservoir from a supply line hooked to the toilet. Once the reserve tank refills, the whole process starts over again. Newer toilets use about 1.6 gallons of water per flush.

Common Toilet Issues

The mechanisms behind a toilet are not that complicated, so homeowners can handle many of the problems that come up. One of the most common issues is slow flushing. This may be a sign the toilet is stopped up and you need a plunger.

If the slow flush comes with a gurgling noise, then the water is not running freely. Locate the vent on your roof and clear out any debris that might be causing the problem.

If you push on the handle and nothing happens or the toilet continues to run after your flush, there is a problem with the flush valve or chain. Chances are they need replacing.

If you notice water from the toilet is backing up into other drains, try to break through the blockage yourself with a plunger, but if that doesn’t work, give the plumber a call.

The truth is your toilet is simple enough that you might be able to fix a problem but complex enough that you shouldn’t hesitate to call for help if you need it.


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