Toilet WorksDo you remember the first time you heard the toilet continue to run and run after flushing? How long did it take you to figure out how to stop it? How does a toilet work anyway? For those who have never figured it out, here’s a tutorial.

Toilets, an amazing solution to a never ending need. 

The indoor toilet is a marvel of engineering designed to solve the problem of safely removing human waste. It developed along with the modern water/sewer treatment systems to take away waste and not allow methane gases to build up inside the home. The modern toilet consists of two parts the bowl and the refill water tank. Three systems work together to empty the bowl and refill the water tank: the bowl siphon, the flush mechanism and the refill mechanism.

The bowl, although it contains no moving parts, has a mechanism molded into its design called a bowl siphon. Behind the bowl and connected to the sewer pipe below is a curved pipe (siphon tube) that maintains a continuous water level. When extra water enters the bowl it spills over the edge of the siphon tube and drains away. When you pour a larger amount of water into the bowl, the siphon tube is filled, almost all the water is sucked out of the bowl down the sewer pipe. Once the bowl is empty, air enters the siphon tube and stops the siphoning process.

The tank holds enough water that can activate the siphon when dumped quickly into the bowl. Most tanks can dump their contents in about three seconds. To make this happen, pull down on the handle attached to the tank. The handle is connected to a chain which connects to a flush valve. The chain lifts the flush valve out of the way revealing a 2-3” diameter hole. Uncovering this hole allows the water to enter the rim of the bowl and activate the siphon jet at the bottom of the bowl. It releases most of the water directly into the siphon tube and all the water and waste in the bowl is sucked out. Once the tank has emptied, the flush valve reinstates itself in the bottom of the tank, covering the drain hole and the tank can be refilled. 

The refill mechanism has a valve that turns the water on and off. Once the tank has emptied, a part of this mechanism, the filler float, falls activating the filler valve sending water in two directions. Some of the water goes down the refill tube and starts refilling the tank. The rest goes through the bowl refill tube and down the overflow tube into the bowl. As the water level in the tank rises, the float rises far enough to turn off the valve. The bowl slowly refills until the level reaches the top of the siphon tube. [1]

Since proper toilet function is a daily requirement, most homeowners handle toilet repairs themselves. Most repairs are easy to do. You will need a few tools: toilet plunger, pliers, screwdriver and a wrench. 

Clearing a clogged toilet is usually accomplished with the use of a plunger or a toilet auger. If the plug is deep inside the drain pipes, a “snake” auger may be required. If you don’t own one, call a plumber. There are two common types of blockage: clogs that don’t allow waste to leave the bowl or clogs that back up into other fixtures.

If a clog simply prevents the waste and water from going down the drain, don’t continue to flush it or you may get an overflow. Stop the water inflow by lifting up the float ball in the tank or turning off the stop valve located near the wall at the base of the toilet. Try plunging it with a toilet plunger. Place the plunger’s head over the center of the toilet drain hole. Rapidly push the plunger’s handle up and down forcing air and water into the pipe. This creates suction and frees the clog. If waste water drains, you’ve managed to break up the clog. Pour some water from a bucket into the toilet to flush it. If the plunger doesn’t work, use a toilet auger. Most of these are about three feet long. Work the end into the drain hole, turning the handle clockwise until the cable won’t go any further. Push it repeatedly to dislodge the clog. Be careful working the auger back and forth so as not to scratch or break the porcelain. If you break up the clog, plunge it again and follow with water to wash it away. 

If your plumbing system has a clog that backs up sewage into other fixtures when the toilet is flushed, you should attempt to snake out the main drainpipes with a long “snake” auger. This is more easily performed through a vent pipe located on your roof. If the back up is this bad, call the plumber. [2]

Stop a continually running toilet from wasting so much water. Most of the time a running toilet is caused by a failure of one part or another of the components inside the water holding tank. Leaks into the toilet bowl can result from a poorly fitting or defective flapper or tank ball that covers the hole in the bottom of the tank, or it can be caused by water leaking into the overflow tube. First try reseating the flapper by jiggling the flush handle. If this doesn’t fix the problem, you must adjust the float mechanism so it cuts off sooner. Simply bend the float arm down slightly so the flat ball reaches it’s shut-off level sooner as the water rises in the tank. If this doesn’t work, it’s time to replace the entire assembly. Follow the instructions that come with the assembly kit. Remember to shut off the water at the stop valve and flush the toilet to empty the tank before attempting any tank repairs. [2]

If you find water pooling at the base of your toilet following a flush, you may have a failed wax ring between the toilet’s base and the waste pipe beneath. If you find water without flushing, the leak may be from a leaking water supply connection or from condensation. To determine sweating, place newspaper on the floor below the tank and watch for drips on the paper. If this is the problem, add a lining of foam rubber or polystyrene inside the tank. To determine if the tank is leaking, add a few drops of food coloring in the tank water, wait about an hour, If you check the bolts connecting the tank to the bowl and you find color there, replace the bolts. If the color is on the floor by the bolts connecting the bowl to the floor, the wax ring is leaking. You will need to disconnect the toilet from the floor and replace the wax ring beneath the bowl. Look for cracks in the tank or bowl. If either has cracks, replace the entire toilet and don’t forget to buy a new wax ring, too. [2]




      Image source:

Billie Nicholson, Editor
March 2019

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