How Does a Toilet Work? Vancouver Plumbing Contractor

How Does A Toilet WorkIs there anything worse than a toilet that ‘craps’ out? A rudimentary understanding of the wonder this often overlooked item can save a party, a really great date or just keep poo water where it belongs! Should you find yourself in a jam that you absolutely cannot resolve, Vancouver Pluming is on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year to serve your plumbing emergency needs. The function of a toilet is based on simple hydraulics; but with so many moving parts, it isn’t uncommon for constant running water in your toilet to keep you up at night. With proper use and care, clogging should not be an expected issue – although, even the best maintained toilet can still stop up!

History of the Water Closet

The first flush mechanism (for washing hands) was introduced in 1206 by Arab inventor Al-Jazari which was the forerunner to Sir John Harrington’s personal design of the first flush toilet in 1596. Through a series of patents and over a period of nearly 300 years, Thomas Crapper is often erroneously credited with the invention of the modern toilet. The fact of the matter is, that Crapper did popularize the ‘siphon system’ in the 1880’s. Much to my dismay, Crapper’s last name is purely coincidental…

Toilet Construction

Most modern toilets in North America are made of vitreous china, although other materials are available; stainless steel and high impact plastic. The most common residential toilet has a tank and a bowl. The tank houses all the mechanics of the toilet:

  • Flush Valve
  • Flapper
  • Float – Ball or Concentric
  • Refill Tube
  • Overflow Tube
  • Flush Valve Seat
  • Chain
  • Water Supply Line

How the Toilet Works

Once the toilet is plumbed and ready for use, the tank and bowl are both partially filled with water. Water remains in the trap formed by the bend between the tank and bowl forming a natural blockage of sewer gas.

After use, when the toilet is flushed, the flush valve raises the flapper, allowing the water stored in the tank to rush into the bowl. Cold water refills the tank after flushing via the water supply line. The water flow into the tank is activated by a float valve (ball float, concentric float, pressure switch) that closes once the tank is filled.

Types of Flushing Mechanisms

There are essentially 3-types of residential flushing mechanisms popular in North America:

Minimum Flow

Conserving water by keeping the tank partially filled after ever flush, the minimum flow mechanism does not require a float valve. The fill valve is opened when the water pressure in the tank decreases. The flush water is pressurized either through compressed air at the tank or by using the house main water pressure. The water level is very easy to adjust with a minimum flow mechanism.

Standard Ball Float
as the industry standard for many years, the conventional ball float flush mechanism’s flush handle lifts the trip lever; in turn, the flapper/seat valve is lifted off the bottom of the tank, allowing the water from the tank to flow into the bowl. The float ball, which controls the water level inside the tank, drops as the water level decreases, kicking the fill valve open. As the water level raises in the tank, the float ball eventually lifts and closes the intake valve.


Flapper with Pressure Activated Ball Cock
A variation on the conventional ball float mechanism, the pressure activated ball cock mechanism also lifts the flapper off the valve seat to allow the water from the tank to rush into the bowl. As the pressure on the pressure activated ball cock drops, the fill valve opens. Once the water level is satisfied, the pressure on the ball cock closes the fill valve.

Regardless of what type of flushing mechanism your toilets have, every part is susceptible to wear and tear. By visually inspecting inside the tank on a regular basis, you can avoid catastrophic potty disasters. Should you find yourself in a dire situation, however, Vancouver Plumbing will repair any toilet disaster.