Most people harbor one of two misconceptions about toilets:

  1. They are all made the same, so it is smart to buy the least expensive one
  2. There are cheap toilets and name brand toilets, if you buy any name brand toilet it will work better than the cheap ones

Both of these perspectives are NOT TRUE — all toilets are not made the same.

How they are designed and manufactured has a huge effect on how well they flush. Water prices keep going up and building codes are requiring lower and lower flush rates on toilets. Here in California, the current code for toilets is down to only 1.28 gallons per flush.

Like most of the newer politically motivated building codes, this one is poorly written, confusing, and misleading to consumers. Confusing and misleading because they are not told by the code that there is a wide range of functionality available among toilets that meet the code’s standard, so they are lead to believe that all toilets that meet the code are functionally the same. However, a toilet that only uses 1.28 gallons per flush does not save any water if a person needs to flush it two or three times to get rid of the debris.

There are many 1.28 gallon flush toilets that can easily remove the debris in one flush and many others that require multiple flushes to remove the same amount of material, all while using the same amount of water per flush.

There is one company that established the protocol and original test criteria and acts as a repository of all the government testing of toilets to verify they meet the current Water Sense standards. Currently, that standard requires the aforementioned 1.28 gallons per flush and the ability to consistently flush a minimum of 350 grams of debris, to be classified as Water Sense rated.

Here is the clarification that consumers and professionals need to know before making a purchase: the protocol and test procedures do not stop at 350 grams, they test toilets in their ability to flush waste material all the way up to 1000 grams of debris per flush.

And when you look at their data which is published about twice a year, there are many toilets, both cheap and expensive, that will move 1000 grams of debris per flush.

Yet, the minimum standard is only 350 grams, and there are many that meet that minimum standard as well, in both cheap and expensive toilets. The only way to assure a consumer or a professional to know what toilet to buy is to include a label on all toilets that states the following information: That specific toilets flush rating in both gallons and Grams of waste, per flush. So a potential Label would look something like this:

Example 1: for a 350 gram flush toilet

This Toilet’s Water Sense Specs: This toilet was tested to consistently use only 1.28 gallons of water to remove 350 grams of debris out of a possible 1000 grams during testing. ***Note: There are numerous other toilets available that do remove 1000 grams of debris in one 1.28 gallon flush.

Example 2: for a 1000 gram flush toilet

This Toilet’s Water Sense Specs: This toilet was tested to consistently use only 1.28 gallons of water to remove 1000 grams of debris out of a possible 1000 grams during testing. It exceeds the government standard of 350 Gms/Flush

A label like this is not required by this code to be added to the packaging of toilets, which is a shame because it would eliminate a lot of the confusion and frustration for consumers. As a professional who knows this, I have had many clients tell me they did not want to get building permits because they didn’t want to have to buy a new toilet that does not work well. I then have to convince them that there are WaterSense certified toilets that work well and are very much worth getting because they will save them money over time in water costs.

That label is a must if the government really wants to do the job right instead of just passing laws that make themselves feel like they are doing what is politically correct.

Value on the part of the consumer only becomes apparent when the consumer has quantifiable data to justify a purchase, not just a government mandate like the current law requires.

Because there are so many toilets today that do consistently move 1000 grams of debris per flush, I am fairly certain that the only reason the standard is set at a low 350 grams is because of manufacturers’ intervention in the code process, which is a big concern of mine with many current codes, and moving into the future.  With that in mind, I have to ask this question:

With so many toilets available today that do move 1000 grams of debris, why is the current WaterSense threshold of 350 grams still in use? Over a decade ago when the code was first enacted 1000 gram flush was rare, now it is not.

In lieu of these changes to the code, it is up to consumers or the professionals who guide them to know this information is public knowledge and free for the asking:

These tests are published on average twice a year on every toilet sold in the United States. I give all my bath clients a copy of their latest test results before they go out shopping for their new toilet and recommend they only consider toilets with 1000 rating, the highest attainable rating in their tests.

Truth: There are both name brand toilets and cheap toilets that have this 1000 rating. You just need to read the published test results to find out which ones.

Here is another little known fact you should know about toilet manufacturing:

Most toilets look great on the outside, but for most manufacturers, that smooth shiny nice looking glazing stops just past the turn at the bottom of the toilet bowl and the remainder of the water pathway is rough, porous, unglazed clay.

Think about that. Imagine how much waste sticks to that rough porous surface and remains coating that pathway. Not an appealing thought, and a good reason some toilets don’t flush as well as they could or be as easy to keep clean after installation. Remember, the water sitting in the toilet bowl is touching that rough area that can’t be seen, so it could harbor more bacteria than a toilet that has a fully glazed pathway that is less likely to have debris stuck to it.

If you are like me and you know this fact, I would look for toilets that do glaze their entire water pathway. That is easy since the two most popular manufactures of toilets both offer that option, and that option is available on both low-priced and expensive toilets in their lines.

Kohler is the only manufacturer I know who glazes the entire pathway on the majority of their toilets. Toto has an add-on feature they call SanaGloss glaze, which is just paying extra for them to glaze the entire pathway.

I do not mean this to be an advertisement for one brand over another, but some brands have very avid devotes—Toto in particular—that are blind about product strengths and weaknesses. Over a decade ago when this water testing first started, many of my clients that were Toto devotees where shocked to find that most of the Toto product line, at that time, had very poor flush efficiency ratings of 600 or lower. They only had a few toilets that attained the 1000 rating, most that did had the SanaGloss feature. Toto is a good company and has responded to the challenge and now has many toilets that have the 1000 rating.

I only told that story to emphasize that you need to follow the chart to make sure you buy a toilet that flushes well.  Do not trust salespeople or brand names! Find the look you want in a toilet that flushes well, at the best price.

One last story to convey, that makes an important point about buying a new toilet:

A few years ago I remodeled a master bath for an elderly Japanese client, a relative of numerous other clients I had already worked with. Her relatives all insisted she needed to buy an ADA toilet, because they had and it was so much easier to use. That is a toilet that has a taller bowl so, in theory, it is easier to sit down and get up off the toilet.

Two months after we were done with the project she called me and asked if I could please come back and remove that toilet and install another. She told me the problem was that ADA toilet was too high for her. She was short, but the real issue is we are all built differently. Her legs from the knee down to her feet are unusually short, even for someone her size. Shorter than the height of the toilet seat off the floor, so when she sat down, her feet did not touch the floor. This caused two issues, her legs would get numb from lack of circulation as it was cut off by the back of her legs on the toilet seat, and she felt very unstable on the toilet without her feet on the floor as it was difficult for her to safely get off the toilet. Her husband really liked the toilet, but it was just a bad fit for her.

So, make sure before you buy a toilet to sit on one of the same size as the one you are considering to make sure it fits you.

Here are important links to MaP Testing