The Fascinating Technology Behind Toilets

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If the refill valve malfunctions and continues to run, the overflow tube in the toilet prevents flooding.
2008 HowStuffWorks

It doesn’t matter what you call it – toilet, commode, john, loo, or porcelain throne – every household has at least one. Despite the negative connotations associated with it, the toilet is a technological marvel and a fascinating water-handling system.

Public restrooms, germs, cleaning, and what we do with them are all notions that make us view toilets with disdain. However, we should look at them as neat solutions to a problem. Toilets are indeed amazing things worth appreciating.


1. How does a toilet flush?

A toilet flushes when the handle is pressed, which lifts the flapper valve on the bottom of the tank. Water from the tank then rushes into the bowl through the flushing rim. This creates a siphon, which pulls the waste and water out of the bowl and down the drainpipe.

2. How does the tank refill after a flush?

After a flush, the tank refills with water through the fill valve. This valve is connected to the water supply line and opens when the float ball inside the tank drops, signaling that the tank needs more water. The valve then allows water to flow into the tank until the float ball rises and shuts off the valve.

3. What is the role of the flapper valve?

The flapper valve is located at the bottom of the tank and controls the flow of water into the bowl. When the handle is pressed, the flapper valve lifts up, allowing water to rush into the bowl and create the siphon that flushes the waste and water down the drainpipe. Once the water level in the tank drops, the flapper valve falls back into place, sealing the tank and stopping the flow of water into the bowl.

4. How does a toilet prevent backflow?

A toilet prevents backflow by having a one-way valve called a check valve in the fill valve. This valve only allows water to flow into the tank and not back into the water supply line. Additionally, the trap in the bowl of the toilet is designed to hold water and prevent sewer gases from entering the bathroom.

5. How does a dual-flush toilet work?

A dual-flush toilet has two buttons on top of the tank, one for a full flush and one for a half flush. The full flush button releases the maximum amount of water from the tank into the bowl, while the half flush button releases a smaller amount of water. This allows the user to choose the appropriate amount of water for each flush, saving water and money on their water bill.

6. What is a pressure-assisted toilet?

A pressure-assisted toilet uses a pressurized tank inside the main tank to force water out of the bowl and down the drainpipe. This creates a more powerful flush than a gravity-fed toilet and is useful in situations where a standard toilet may not be powerful enough to handle high levels of waste.

7. How do you fix a running toilet?

To fix a running toilet, first, check the flapper valve to make sure it is sealing the tank properly. If it is not, adjust the chain or replace the flapper valve. Next, check the fill valve and float ball to make sure they are working properly and adjust or replace if necessary. If these solutions do not work, it may be necessary to call a plumber to diagnose and fix the problem.

8. How often should a toilet be cleaned?

A toilet should be cleaned at least once a week to prevent the buildup of bacteria and germs. Use a toilet bowl cleaner and scrub the bowl with a brush to remove any stains or residue. It is also important to regularly clean the outside of the toilet, including the seat, lid, and tank, to prevent the spread of germs.

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