Before you went to the “restroom” or the “bathroom,” you went to the “water closet.” That is what the “WC” means on certain toilets or rooms that contain one.
In the past, the terms for each room were specific instead of being generic. Someone when to the “bathroom” to take a bath because that’s where the tub happened to be. You would go to the “restroom” to rest or get ready for your day, so there may have been a sink, a mirror, or other necessities.
Then you went to the water closet, the “WC,” to use the toilet.
Why Were the Old Bathrooms Called Water Closets?
Although there isn’t one “accepted” version of why water closets were given their name, there is one common version that is often told. In the late 19th century, when indoor plumbing began being installed in homes, people had to make room for the fixtures that were going to be used. One common place to install a toilet was a remodeled clothing closet.
Since it was the one place in the home that had indoor water, it was called the “water closet.”
For modern building codes, the WC designation is also important to know.
Urinals Are Not Classified as Water Closets
In the United States, toilets are still referred to as water closets. This differentiates the fixture from other bathroom items that can be installed, such as a urinal, that are approved to dispose of human waste.
It is important to note that the reference is to the toilet only for the building code. A “water closet” would be installed in a “bathroom,” even if there is no tub installed in that room.
In certain countries, such as Germany, the toilet is sometimes kept in a separate room from the rest of the bathroom or restroom. Some homes in the United States have adopted this design as well. This is technically a “water closet” as well because the toilet is kept in a separate area, but still contained within the bathroom itself.
WC is still used frequently today, but as a synonym for a toilet instead of a specific location or designation. If it is found on the toilet itself, then this designation is usually intended to meet a building code requirement.
It’s a fact of life. You can do everything right and it will still clog on occasion. That’s why there are several product options available today to help you unclog that toilet right away.
Before adding a product to the toilet, try to unclog it with pressure or by impacting the clog with a tool. Owning a plunger and a toilet auger can be very helpful and will remove most clogs without needing an additive.
If you don’t have access to those tools right now or they don’t seem to be working, here are some additional options to consider.
The Best Products for Unclogging a Toilet
If your toilet is not backing up, try using 1 gallon of hot, but not boiling, water. Pour it down the bowl and let it sit for about 10 minutes. Then attempt another flush.
If that doesn’t seem to be working, here are the best alternative products to use.
1. Pressure Pump
These tools are like a half-plunger, half-auger. You place the end of the pump over the toilet opening like a plunger. Then air pressure is forced through the trap of the toilet, dislodging the clog.
2. Chemical Products
Many people use products like Drano® in their toilets, but it is important to see what the product is rated to do. Only Drano’s Max Build-Up Remover is rated to work on unclogging toilets. Several brands make at least one product that may work.
3. Enzyme Products
Many toilet clogs are caused by a combination of toilet paper and waste that has managed to dry and build-up over time. Enzymes can break down these components to unclog the toilet. As an added bonus, there is no threat to the drainage pipe or the environment when using this type of product.
4. Wire Hanger
A wire hanger can mimic a toilet auger in an emergency. Wrap the end of the hanger with a rag to prevent it from damaging the toilet. Then work it through the toilet trap to dislodge the clog. This option can get most shallow clogs.
Several products are available to unclog a toilet. Even a combination of vinegar and baking soda may work. Choose the option that works best for your needs so you can have a clean flush every time.
Toilets may have improved our lives in many ways from a sanitation standpoint, but no technology is perfect. Over time, the components of a toilet can begin to wear out. That is when a toilet usually begins to leak.
A leaking toilet can waste a surprising amount of water. Just one leaking toilet, if the leak remains undetected, can waste up to 6,500 gallons of water in a single month. That comes out to about 80,000 gallons of water per year – from one toilet.
The most common cause of a leaking toilet is a flapper problem. The flapper rises when the lever or button is pushed to activate the flushing mechanism of the toilet. If it becomes warped or stuck, then it will leak water into the toilet bowl. This is often called a “running toilet.”
Common Reasons Why Toilets Leak
If the flapper looks to be in good shape and doesn’t seem to be the cause of the toilet leak, here are some of the other common reasons that may be the cause of the problem.
1. Supply Line
A supply line that has failed can cause a leak at two points: at the connection to the plumbing system or at the toilet tank. The joints of the supply line tend to wear out in 5-10 years and require replacement.
2. Broken Components
Toilets receive a lot of abuse over time. They get banged into. Stuff hits the bowl and the tank. If the impact is severe enough, a crack may form in the ceramic. Water is patient and will eventually find the crack and seep through it.
3. Loose Connection
Sometimes, nothing is broken with the toilet, but it is still leaking. A loose connection can easily cause a leak. Arms and legs can bump things when using the toilet, which can cause a supply line to slip loose – and that’s just one example. A good habit to get into is to check your connections about once per month to ensure they are nice and tight.
4. Fill Valve Fault
The fill valve can wear out over time, just like the connections and flapper. If the toilet is more than 10 years old and the toilet doesn’t seem to be shutting off, this could be the culprit.
If you’re unsure of where the toilet leak is occurring, place a few drops of food coloring into the toilet. Watch where the dye goes. It will follow the path of the leak so you can know what needs to be fixed.
Most household toilets have two primary structural components to them: the bowl and the cistern. The toilet cistern is the upper portion of the toilet that holds water for when it needs to be flushed. Most people refer to the toilet cistern as the “tank.”
On a modern toilet, the cistern is mounted above the toilet bowl and close-coupled to it. In the past, the tank was sometimes placed higher above the toilet and connected to the bowl by a pipe. Sometimes, the cistern was placed next to the toilet, but still above the bowl, so it could be disguised by decorations or cabinetry.
What to Expect from a Toilet Cistern
The cistern fills with water based on three elements: a supply line, a fill valve, and a float mechanism. The supply line is connected to the base of the cistern, allowing water from the pipes in the walls to fill the tank to an appropriate level.
The fill valve allows water from the supply line to enter the tank for storage when it is open. When the fill valve is closed, then water remains at the ready to enter the tank, but is prevented from doing so until the valve opens once again.
As for the float mechanism, it registers the level of water that is inside the tank. Based on its position, it will allow the fill valve to open or close. This allows water to enter the tank whenever levels become too low.
How the Toilet Cistern Operates
The cistern passes water through to the toilet bowl, either by gravity or an air pressure assist, to create a flush. The flush is initiated by the user in some way. For homeowners, a lever or a button is what typically activates the mechanism. Commercial and industrial toilets sometimes offer a motion sensor so a hands-free experience can be had by the user.
Once the toilet flushes, the float mechanism inside the cistern lowers. This tells the fill valve that water needs to be added to the tank. The valve opens, taking water from the supply line that has been waiting. This allows the cistern to refill.
Some models offer a half-tank flush, which is a low-water flush for liquid waste.
By understanding how the toilet cistern works, it becomes easier to maintain the modern toilet. Technologies may have evolved, but the principle of a good flush has remained the same.
The best toilet flushing systems today conserve water without changing the power of the flush. There are several different technologies employed, depending upon the toilet’s manufacturer, that make this happen.
Two common systems are gravity flushing and pressure assist flushing. In the former, a large volume of water is dumped into the toilet bowl as quickly as possible. This allows the toilet to flush while cleaning the bowl. In the latter system, air pressure combines with the water flushing to create a powerful flushing stream.
That works for older toilets. Here’s how you can improve your flushing systems with an older toilet that is already installed.
When One Flush Doesn’t Get the Job Done
If one flush isn’t cleaning your toilet bowl, then the first step must be to determine if the toilet is clogged. Pour one gallon of hot (not boiling) water down the toilet. If it doesn’t flush, then you have a clog. Use a snake or plunger to dislodge the clog.
Should you have a good flush, then you can improve your flushing system with these steps.
1. Check your tank level. You’ll need to make sure the water levels in the tank correspond with the water level line. If they are low, then adjust the float or repair the appropriate valve so the right level of water can be maintained.
2. Flush your flushing system. Water enters the toilet bowl through holes located underneath the rim of the toilet. These can get clogged with debris or scale on occasion. Use a pin or hanger to clean out tough scale, being careful not to scratch the ceramic surface.
3. Use some bleach. If the toilet still won’t flush, use one gallon of bleach and allow it to sit in the toilet for about 20 minutes. The bleach will work its way down the toilet, clearing out small blockages that may avoid toilet snakes and plungers. If you wish to avoid using bleach, try vinegar instead.
And If It Still Will Not Flush Right…
Even the best toilet flushing systems need a strong plumbing system to accommodate their features. If you’re struggling to maintain a good flush, there could be a pressure problem with your building’s pipes. Have them tested to determine if you have enough water pressure to support the toilet that has been installed.
You press the handle of the toilet like you always do. Instead of a rushing flush, however, this time the experience is different. Maybe the flush is weak. Maybe the toilet doesn’t flush at all. Or worse – maybe the toilet bowl begins to fill up with water, threatening to cover your bathroom in wastewater.
Knowing the reason why a toilet is not flushing properly can help you respond appropriately to the situation. Maybe you should be reaching for the plunger that is right next to your toilet. There might also be a more complicated issue that must be addressed.
Here is what to expect if your toilet is not flushing properly.
What Happens If My Toilet Doesn’t Flush at All?
If the flushing lever doesn’t initiate a flush, then there are two common issues which may be causing the problem. The tank may not have any water in it, which means the supply line may not be accessible to the toilet. Make sure the water is turned on, the valve is open, and the float is not blocked by something or stuck. Replace any item that is malfunctioning.
The chain on the flapper may also be broken, loose, or disconnected if you do not experience a flush. If you reconnect the chain or repair it so the flapper can operate once again, the issue should be resolved.
What Happens if My Toilet Bowl Doesn’t Empty?
If a toilet bowl doesn’t empty entirely during a flush, then this indicates that there is a blockage within the drain somewhere. Plunge the toilet or use an auger to remove blockages that may be in the way and attempt to flush once again.
In some homes, the water pressure may not be high enough to complete a flush. You may also have the chain which connects the flapper to the lever placed too low or the chain may be too long. If adjusting the chain length doesn’t solve the problem, your plumbing lines will likely need to be inspected.
What Happens if My Toilet Has a Weak Flush?
Toilets that flush weakly or without the same speed they once had are usually affected by scale, mineralization, or sediment. Hard water leaves deposits on the flush holes that are found underneath the rim of the toilet. You can use a mineralization removal cleaner to restore the toilet’s performance, though scrubbing the toilet with a scratch-free sponge can remove the scale as well.
If the scale is stubborn, try white vinegar or lemon juice to remove the product if you wish to avoid cleaning chemicals.
Debris can also get caught in the holes. A wire hanger can dislodge this debris in most instances.
For some toilets, a partial blockage in the trap or drain can also cause a weak flush to occur. Use a plunger or a toilet augur to remove the blockage for best results.
What Happens if My Toilet Is Always Running?
If the toilet is always running and that is interfering with how it flushes, then there is a good possibility that there is a leak somewhere. If the flapper isn’t properly positioned over the drain in the toilet tank, then this will cause water to fall into the toilet bowl. This causes the toilet to run, intermittently or continuously, depending upon the severity of the leak.
To restore the flush, the leak issue must be resolve. For older toilets, that means replacing the flapper. The gaskets which prevent water from leaking to the bowl from the tank wear out over time. Most flappers need to be replaced every 5 years. In some instances, an obstruction could be causing the leak, so removing the obstruction can fix the problem.
You will also want to ensure the float arm in the toilet rises and lowers properly. Replace any parts that appear to be worn out or damaged and this should restore the toilet to proper functionality.
There Are Design Issues Which Can Cause Improper Flushing
A downward slope is required for a drain to properly function within a structure. Pumps are required for homes that cannot have this structure applied for some reason. If a pump isn’t installed the toilet will not function properly. This issue should be seen immediately.
If the toilet was flushing normally, but now is not, then there could be an issue with the venting system. Vents are required for modern plumbing systems to create a neutral air pressure, allowing the water and waste to move properly. An obstruction of the vent on the roof could be reducing the effectiveness of each flush.
The symptoms of a poor flush can indicate what the problem happens to be. Thoroughly inspect your toilet and initiate a response that makes sense. If you continue to experience difficulties with your toilet, be sure to contact a professional plumber right away.
A toilet’s drain connects to either a septic system or a sewer system. Although many things could be theoretically flushed down the toilet, many of them should not be. Not only could they interfere with drainage or treatment, but they could clog the toilet or drain and create a costly repair.
Besides human waste, the only thing that should be flushed down a toilet is toilet paper. Even if an item says that it is flushable, it may not be the best idea to flush it down the toilet.
Here are some examples of what should not be flushed.
1. Paper Towel, Tissues, and Kleenex.
Although these items are paper products, they are designed to remain intact when wet. These items create clogs in drains because of the time it takes for them to break down.
Although unused drugs are encouraged to be flushed, not every community has a treatment program in place to handle all pharmaceuticals. Dispose of unused or unwanted drugs in a safe, responsible manner instead.
3. Cat litter.
Cat litter is designed to be absorbent. By placing it in water, the litter expands and can create clogs that are difficult to clear.
4. Baby Wipes.
Baby wipes or personal wipes should be thrown away instead of flushed. They are also designed to remain intact and rely on grinders in treatment facilities to break them down. Wipes should never be flushed when using a septic system.
5. Toxic Substances.
Chemicals, poisons, and hazardous waste should never be flushed down the toilet. When cleaning a toilet, try to use cleaners that are biodegradable and friendly to septic systems for the best results. Paint, stain, solvent, sealant, and thinners should never be flushed either.
6. Personal Care Products.
Products like sanitary napkins, tampons, applicators, and diapers should not be flushed either. Even if the item markets itself as being flushable, always assume that it is not flushable and throw it away instead.
When anything but human waste and toilet paper are flushed, the risk of creating a sewage blockage rises. These items can come together in larger pipes to create a large public-service problem as well.
For that reason, think before you flush. If it’s not toilet paper, throw it away.
The worst thing in the world is using a toilet that makes you feel uncomfortable.
Because comfort is a very personal thing, there isn’t one “right” way to shop for a toilet. Some households may be concerned with the shape or size of a toilet. Others may prefer a toilet that saves water with each flush.
Whatever the case may be for you, it is important to remember this one fact: the price of a toilet is not always a reflection of its quality.
How to Find the Right Toilet for Me
With hundreds of different toilets on the market, it is necessary to narrow down your choices to find the best toilet to meet your needs. Here are some of the ways you can do that.
When a specific toilet size is required: Measure the distance from your wall to the center of your toilet flange. It should be 12 inches, but it could be 10 inches or 14 inches. Make sure you get the correct rough-in when shopping for a new toilet. Then shop for the width and height that will make you most comfortable.
When there is a desire to save water: Toilets are responsible for 30% of the water use in the average home in the United States. Regulations require new toilets to use just 1.6 gallons of water per flush. Some toilets must meet a 1.28-gallon requirement. Higher levels of efficiency will equate to less water use over time.
When you want to save even more water: Dual-flush technology allows users to perform a half-tank flush for liquid waste. This can make a flush use less than 1 gallon of water.
When you have a large family: Most toilets are gravity-feed toilets. They use a flush valve that relies on the power of gravity to move waste down the drain. For larger families, a pressure-assisted toilet may be a better option. Water compresses air within a sealed tank to force more waste down the line to prevent most clogging issues. You’ll need 25 PSI of water pressure for this toilet type to work properly.
One More Feature to Consider for a New Toilet
Toilet bowls come in two different shapes: round and elongated. Round toilets fit into tighter spaces, but elongated toilets can provide a better user experience.
Knowing your space and what you need for comfort will help you find the best possible toilet. Keep these features in mind as you go shopping so you can find the right toilet for your space today.
The answer to that question depends on who you ask. One common answer offered is 50 years, offered by many home inspection agencies. Some experts advise that a toilet should last at least 100 years. The National Association of Home Builders believes that toilets can last indefinitely.
What we’re talking about here is the actual structure of the toilet: the bowl and the tank. Most toilets never make it to the age of 50 because the internal mechanisms of the toilet need to be replaced before then.
Fill valves, flappers, and supply lines may need to be replaced every 5 years to maintain proper functionality.
How to Increase the Lifespan of a Toilet?
Regularly cleaning a toilet with non-abrasive cleaning agents is one of the best ways to extend the life of a toilet. The porcelain surface of the toilet is very susceptible to scratching. Make sure your cleaning equipment gets thrown away whenever you see metal components that are no longer covered. Never use steel wool or caustic cleaners on the toilet.
You can also increase the lifespan of a toilet by not leaning against the tank or the bowl. The seal between the tank and bowl will prematurely degrade when unexpected pressure is placed upon it, which can lead to leaking and other toilet problems. Don’t stand on a toilet lid or sit on a toilet tank.
Some people use cleaning tablets in the toilet tank to remove scale, mold, and grime. This isn’t a good idea because the chemicals can weaken the internal components of the toilet so they prematurely fail.
What Are the Most Common Toilet Problems?
The most common issues for toilet owners are bad fill valves, wax seals, and flappers. These can all cause leaks around the toilet, which can then cause damage to the floor and other structures of the home.
If you’re unsure of how to make a toilet repair, a qualified plumber can help you extend the life expectancy of the unit. Make sure the plumber you choose is licensed, certified, and bonded for the repair work that needs to be completed.
Toilets may be able to last indefinitely, but they need some help to achieve that goal. With proactive maintenance, it can be done.
Out of the blue, the toilet begins to run and it doesn’t stop. You cannot find a reason for the toilet to be running. What could make a toilet just start to run for no reason?
A toilet that is running is providing symptomatic evidence that there is something wrong somewhere. There is always a reason for a running toilet. It just hasn’t been found yet. Here is what you’ll want to look for to solve the problem.
1. Dealing with the phantom flush.
If the toilet turns on and off by itself, like it has been flushed, then this is your problem. The cause is a slow leak between the toilet tank and bowl. You’ll want to drain the bowl, remove the water from the tank, and then clean the flapper seat. If the flapper is damaged or worn out, replace it.
2. Stopping the water trickle.
If the toilet sounds like it is hissing, then there is a supply line issue. You have water coming through the inlet valve. You’ll need to check the refill tube, the inlet valve assembly, and the float and float valve to ensure nothing is sticking or needs an adjustment.
3. Stuck with a weak flush.
Sometimes, a toilet begins to run because there is an obstruction in the flush holes underneath the rim of the toilet. This causes the bowl to empty too slowly, creating a weak flush. You will want to remove any debris, calcification, or scale from the flush holes to solve this problem.
In most situations, there will be an issue with the fill valve that must be resolved. The easiest way to stop a running toilet in this situation is to install a new fill valve. Turn off the water supply, flush your toilet, and then remove any remaining water from the tank. Then disconnect the supply line, unscrew the lock nut on the fill valve, and lift it out.
The new fill valve will come with specific installation instructions to follow. You can hand-tighten the lock nut, but make sure to turn it one more time with an appropriate tool. If your overflow pipe is higher than the critical level mark on the new fill valve, you’ll need to shorten the pipe to match. A simple hacksaw will usually get the job done.
Toilets always have a reason why they are running. Check the flapper and replace if necessary. Then follow the other steps to ensure you’re not wasting water because your toilet won’t stop running.