You pull the lever, hear the swoosh, watch the whirlpool, and everything disappears. It starts to fill, you close the lid, wash your hands, the noise comes to an abrupt stop, and it’s ready to go again just like magic. Only it’s not magic. There are parts coming together like a fine-tuned symphony orchestra, making it all work.
There are several different types of toilets and flushing assemblies, but for now we’re going to focus our attention on the good old toilet tanks that we grew up with.
Let’s Here Some Music Maestro
It starts with the handle. The handles themselves, aside from styles, are pretty much the same. They mount on the front or the side, and attach to a metal or plastic strip that reaches towards the middle of the inside of the tank. Here, typically a chain dangles from it. Sometimes as in figure 2 below, there is a rod that does the same job and will have similar adjustments to those we’ll discuss with the chain. The chain or rod hangs down and attaches to the flapper. If your toilet handle ever pulls too freely and the toilet won’t flush, the chain or rod has probably become detached. The flapper mounts to the flush valve seat, which is part of the mechanism that mates the toilet tank assembly to the toilet bowl assembly. If your toilet runs constantly and seems to flush a little on its own intermittently, you should try wiping the flapper down with a rag or replacing it. Like cheddar cheese crackers, there are dozens of styles, colors, and brands of flappers to choose from, but when you get down to it they’re all basically the same. You’ll want to adjust the length of chain from the handle assembly to ensure the flapper opens wide enough and long enough to give the toilet a good flush, but not so long as to get caught under the flapper when it slams shut. If the water runs constantly and your toilet won’t fill, this is the most likely cause.
Now when your father—or more likely your grandfather—fixed the toilet, there was a float about the size of softball attached to the fill valve like the assembly in figure 2. Although these assemblies are becoming harder to find, this style still exists. When the float ball reaches a predetermined fill point, the fill valve shuts off and waits for the next flush. The upside is you can replace parts as they wear out or break without replacing the whole unit. The downside is it’s not always as easy as you would think to replace those parts. Oftentimes, the fastening mechanisms become corroded and seized up. Most of the newer toilets have the float cup assemblies similar to the one in figure 3. Like the old ball, when the float cup reaches a predetermined level, the fill valve shuts off. With either style you can lower the level of the shut off to save water and money, or raise the level if you’re not getting enough water for a good flush. If you were to call a plumber because your old toilet is not flushing or filling properly, he’d most likely rip out the old float ball assembly and install a new style float cup assembly. That would save him time, you money, and make life easier for both of you.
Now For The Encore
As you can see in figure 4, the water rushes into the toilet in two directions; water flows around the rim and rushes down into the bowl in a counter clockwise direction through several small holes. It also goes straight down into the bottom of the toilet on the back side. This causes the water in the bowl, and the water coming down from the top, to swirl around in the bowl forming a vortex. There, gravity and the swirling action of the vortex force the water through the trap and down the drain.
Oh, by the way, anyone that compares a flushing toilet to a fine-tuned symphony orchestra needs to get a life. I think I’ll go play some tennis now.