The toilet is known by many names – the commode, the john, the head, the loo, the can… the list goes on. But how exactly does this porcelain throne work? In this blog, we’ll dive into the history of the toilet and its inner workings, along with some DIY recommendations.
History of the Toilet
The idea of a flushable toilet first came to Sir John Harrington in 1596. The godson of Queen Elizabeth I, Harrington installed a working model for her at her palace. Of course, it took several centuries—and the Industrial Revolution—for the flush toilet to catch on. In the late 19th century, a London plumber named Thomas Crapper manufactured the first widely successful flush toilets. Of course, his last name is just one more nickname for this wonderful device!
Now that you’ve got some historical context, let's look at how a toilet works and the parts of a toilet (want more? Check out the website Toiletology). We’ll also share with you a video recommendation for DIY toilet repair.
How a Toilet Works
Most toilets work through a combination of gravity and siphoning. Water fills the toilet bowl about halfway, and additional water remains in the tank. When you push the handle down, the flapper in the tank lifts which allows water from the tank to flood into the bowl. The water pressure then pushes the contents of the bowl out of the toilet through the drain.
Following the flush, the flapper falls back into place, and clean water from your water supply line fills the tank back up to a predetermined point. This causes the water flow to stop until your next flush.
Parts of a Toilet
Now, let’s get familiar with the parts of a toilet. Knowing what’s on the inside of a toilet will help you should you decide to tackle some DIY toilet repairs in the wake of toilet plumbing problems.
- Fill Tube: The fill tube (or refill tube) connects the fill valve and overflow tube. As the fill valve is signaling for the tank to refill, a little bit of this incoming water flows from the fill valve, into the fill tube, and then into the overflow tube, which dumps clean water into the bowl.
- Fill Valve: This controls the flow of fresh water into the tank of your toilet. It is usually mounted on the left side of the toilet tank, with a tailpiece that extends through the bottom of the tank where it attaches to a supply tube that runs to the shut-off valve. It also controls the water level in the toilet tank. There are two types:
- Float Fill Valve: Also called a bobber, ball cock, or fill valve, these valves have a floating “ball” in the tank that rises with the water level and shuts off water flow when the tank is full. They are connected to the fill valve by a float arm.
- Floatless Fill Valve: These fill valves use a diaphragm pressure-sensing mechanism rather than any kind of float device to control the inlet valve. These valves are attached to the bottom of the tank, operating underwater.
- Flapper: The seal between the tank and the bowl that lifts when you flush, allowing clean tank water to fill the bowl.
- Float Adjustment Screw: This controls the float level. Turn it clockwise to lower the water level, and counterclockwise to raise it.
- Handle/Handle Arm: An arm inside the tank that is connected to the exterior handle and the flapper. When the handle is depressed, the arm lifts the flapper on the inside.
- Overflow Tube: This vertical fixture ensures excess water from the tank does not overflow. It goes into action if the fill valve malfunctions or breaks.
- Tank/Tank Bolts: The water-storing tank that sits on the back of the toilet above the bowl. It is connected to the bowl by tank bolts.
How to Replace Toilet Tank Insides
Fixing a toilet may seem like a daunting task, but it’s actually a fairly simple DIY project. That’s because, unlike more modern appliances in our home, the toilet is not a very complex piece of equipment!
When a toilet has trouble, rarely do you have to replace the entire toilet (though if you do, check out our toilet installation guide). Often, you simply need to replace toilet tank parts. You can purchase the toilet tank parts separately, or you can find them packaged together in repair kits.
If your toilet is running constantly, or if it’s refusing to flush (and not because of a clogged drain), we recommend this video by plumber Roger Wakefield. He’ll walk you through how to replace the insides of a toilet. View the video.
Having Toilet Trouble and Need an Expert Plumber?
Not up to the DIY toilet challenge? Or, do you have another issue with your toilet? It’s not always easy to determine whether you need to replace or simply repair your toilet. Contact Express Sewer & Drain in Sacramento for all your residential and commercial plumbing needs.