Toilets 101: Everything You Need to Know to Become the Expert of Your Throne

In America, when referring to the term “toilet,” we usually imagine a bathroom fixture mounted on a seat, to be used in a sitting position. This western toilet utilizes a non-mechanical system of water, syphoning and gravity to draw waste down into a sewage drain pipe or septic tank. However, it’s not necessarily the same version of what’s found in various other countries. For now, we’ll focus on the make-up of toilets here at home.

Toilet System Components

To understand how a flushing toilet works, you must look at the four components that make up the overall system:

Toilet Structure – Your toilet is generally made from porcelain, a porous ceramic structure, which houses three basic parts: the tank, the bowl and the trap beyond the bowl. The toilet is then positioned over a hole in the floor, where a flange and wax ring are affixed to prevent leakage.

Flushing System – When the handle of the toilet is pulled, a flapper inside the bottom of the water-filled tank is pulled or unplugged. This opening draws from the full tank of water, flushing it quickly and directly into the bowl. 

Siphon System – A siphon is built into the structure of the back of your toilet, which has the same purpose as the trap, described above. Along with trapping sewer gases, it provides the suction that forces the waste and water from the bowl and through the trap. The edge of the siphon tube acts as an overflow outlet which prevents the water level in the bowl from raising and overflowing onto the floor. When a large amount of liquid is quickly added to the bowl at once, the siphon tube fills and provides suction that draws the liquid into the tube. It then leaves the bowl and pulls what’s in it downward and into the sewage drain.  Flushing the toilet provides the necessary amount of water and speed to initiate this process.

Refill System – Once the toilet tank has emptied, the flapper resets into the hole, plugging the bottom again. A float or ball is attached to a water valve mechanism. As the water level falls, the float moves down, triggering the valve, which turns the water on and fills the tank once more. The valve shuts off the water supply when the tank has filled to the appropriate level, causing the ball to reposition, and preventing the tank from overflowing. Some mechanisms make sure the tank doesn’t fill too quickly by sending a portion of the incoming water down to the overflow in the bowl. This assures that the flapper and float will remain in the correct positions and reset the tank properly, preventing leaks and run-on water.

Troubleshooting and Prevention

Flushing toilets may be the humblest of fixtures but they do provide a clean and healthy service. It’s generally easy to troubleshoot problems with the toilet once you understand how they work. Common issues a homeowner finds include:

Run-on toilet – After a flush, your tank water can silently keep running, adding hundreds of dollars to a water bill. Usually, this happens because the flapper has failed to effectively reset into the hole. Jiggling the handle can often reposition the flapper, thus plugging the bottom hole, allowing the water to fill, the float to raise, and the water shut off to be triggered.

Clogged toilet – This usually indicates that excess toilet paper or another foreign object is lodged in the trap, preventing the siphon from gaining suction. Using a flange plunger may force the culprit down and allow the toilet to flush. If not, the clog may be deeper, requiring a plumber to come in with an auger to catch and pull out the stuck material.

Thrones are often under-appreciated until the unthinkable happens and the toilet floods your floor or becomes clogged and incapable of flushing. All life stops until this problem is solved. Now that you’ve passed Toilets 101 your day won’t come to a halt the next time your toilet doesn’t want to cooperate.

Have toilet problems you can’t solve yourself? Reach out to Home Angels to get that toilet flushing again.