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Toilets

Toilet buying guide

Last updated: June 2015

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Getting started

Getting started

A toilet is a toilet, right? Well, no. Options include different heights, bowl shapes, styles, and flushing technologies. The best toilets also save water while still delivering worry-free performance. No need to flush twice to get the job done. No need to pay top dollar either. Among single- and dual-flush models, many of our top overall scorers were priced about midway in the group.

Flushing out the best performers

More water sometimes--but not always--means better flushing. To simulate a bathroom's worst nightmare, we made do with a measured mix of baby wipes, sponges, plastic balls, and water-filled latex sleeves to see whether a toilet would clog. Our tests revealed major differences in flushing ability, even across models of the same brand.

We also test for how well the flush cleans the toilet bowl and moves waste down the drain line. Top performers leave the bowl pristine, and they also carry waste far down your drain pipe reducing the likelihood of clogs. Subscribers can check our Ratings for specifics.

Water-saving technology

Toilets are flushing away about 30 percent of all residential water in U.S. homes, so it's not surprising that water conservation remains a major issue. A 1995 U.S. Department of Energy standard limits new toilets to 1.6 gallons per flush. All the toilets we tested met that standard, and the majority of the tested models met the stiffer California standard, which limits toilets sold in that state to 1.28 gallons per flush. The high-efficiency models that satisfy the California standard carry a WaterSense label.

Dual-flush technology is another water-saving option. Two buttons on the tank let you choose a partial flush for liquid waste or a full flush for solid waste. Some WaterSense models combine high efficiency with dual flush.

Sitting high

"Comfort height" toilets, which sit about 17 to 19 inches high, or about two or three inches higher than usual have become the most common choice. The added height makes getting on and off easier.

Types

Most toilets fall into two basic types: gravity feed and pressure assist. Gravity feed toilets dominate the market. We didn't include vacuum-assisted toilets in our latest tests because they're so noisy, and because they've practically disappeared from the marketplace. Here are the two types of toilets to consider.

Gravity-feed toilets


As their name implies, these toilets rely on gravity. Water drops from the tank into the bowl to move waste down the drain. They can work with as little as 10 psi of household water pressure.

Pros:

Gravity-feed toilets flush more quietly than pressure-assisted models. Many we tested worked every bit as well as the best pressure-assisted models, and with far less fanfare--an advantage in close quarters.

Cons:

Models that perform comparably to pressure-assist units typically cost as much, while lower-priced models may not be up to the job.

Pressure-assisted toilets


These make up about 10 percent of all toilet purchases. As water displaces air within the sealed tank, it creates pressure that thrusts waste forcefully out through the bowl. A pressure-assisted toilet is an especially good choice for large families. But it does have a noisier flush, which can be a privacy problem. Before buying this type, be sure that your home has at least 25 pounds per square inch of water pressure, the minimum required for a pressure-assisted toilet to work properly. You can check with a $10 gauge that connects to an outdoor spigot.

Pros:

The pressure-assisted toilets dispatched our simulated solid waste with few clogs.

Cons:

These toilets are noisy; the loudest ones emitted an emphatic whoosh. They can be expensive.

Features


After you decide on the basic design you want to install, these are some important toilet features to consider when you shop.

WaterSense certification

High-efficiency toilets bearing a WaterSense label use 1.28 gallons or less per flush, as compared with 1.6 gallons for most conventional toilets. The best WaterSense toilets we tested flushed just about as well as the 1.6-gallon models.

Dual-flush technology


These let you select a partial flush for liquid waste and a full flush for solid waste. The best models effectively flushed solid waste in their full-flush mode and left no trace of liquid waste in partial-flush mode.

Bowl height

Unlike standard bowls, whose rim stands about 14 or 15 inches above the floor, most "comfort height" toilets are 17 to 19 inches high. Some people find them more comfortable to use.

Bowl shape


A round bowl takes up less room than an elongated one. But an elongated bowl allows more seating room and more comfort for some users. Compact elongated bowls, offered by some manufacturers, offer an elongated bowl shape that fits in the space of a round-bowl toilet.

Concealed or skirted trapways

Trapways, those visible bends on the back sides of the toilet behind the bowl are often hard to clean. Toilets with concealed trapways feature a smooth surface where the trapway would be. Skirted trapways have a clean line from the front to the back of toilet. Both make cleaning the toilet easier and offer a sleeker appearance.

Two-piece design

About four out of five toilets sold are two-piece models, with a separate tank that bolts onto the bowl. These tend to cost less than a one-piece design. But they can be harder to keep clean because the seam between the tank and bowl can trap grime.

Touchless flushing

Using sensors, touchless technology lets you flush your toilet with the wave of a hand. It's available on some toilets or you can buy a retrofit kit, though the retrofit can't be used on some of toilets.

Flush mechanism


Conventional rubber flappers have become less common. Most toilets now have some sort of plastic flush tower, which theoretically should last longer.

Flush valve


Gravity toilets use a flush valve to discharge water from the tank into the bowl. Models with a beefy 3- ,3 1/2, even4-inch wide valve delivered more thrust in our tests than did those with a 2- to 2 1/2-inch valve. Ask to see the manufacturer's specifications for the flush valve.

Rough-in dimensions

The clearance to the back wall needed to connect to the water line varies from model to model. Check the manufacturer's specifications, and measure carefully if space is tight.

Noise level

Consider the bathroom's location. If it's near a kitchen or other living area, or if your home is small, you'll probably appreciate a relatively quiet toilet that doesn't broadcast every flush. Noise levels of the gravity-feed models we tested ranged from good to excellent; those for the pressure-assisted models were fair or poor.

Color

More and more models are available in exotic hues such as glacier blue and peach bisque, but 85 percent of buyers still pick white. Choose color with caution. As with avocado green and harvest gold, some colors may soon go out of fashion and can make your bathroom look dated.

Water supply lines

Replace rigid chrome-plated copper lines with braided, flexible stainless steel. In addition to easing future repairs, these lines help minimize leaks. If you don't already have one, install a water shut-off valve.

   

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