Guide Gone with the flush

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About 40 percent of the world's people some 2. At the opposite end of the scale, in Japan, people have amazing electronic toilets that do everything from opening and closing the lid automatically to playing music while you use them. Most of the world's toilets are more modest than this, but they're still pretty ingenious "machines. Photo: Like most new toilets, this low-flush model is designed to save water ; the two buttons on top let you choose whether to flush with a large or a small amount.

Help! My Jewelry! Recovering A Ring Flushed Down The Toilet | Terry's Plumbing

Exactly how much difference that will make to your water consumption varies from one household to another. An old-style flush toilet typically uses 13 liters 3. If you save 7 liters 1. You'll save more or less depending on how many people there are in your household. At first sight, toilets seem quite simple: you have a waste pipe going through the floor and a tank of water up above called a cistern waiting to flush into it when someone pushes a button or pulls a lever or a chain.

Most flush toilets are purely mechanical : pull the chain and the cistern empties through the force of gravity, washing the bowl clean for use again. They are literally mechanical because they flush and refill using levers inside—and levers are examples of what scientists call simple machines. Photo: Lift the cistern on a toilet and this is what you'll find inside. The cistern upper tank of water drains through a valve in the center through the force of gravity.

The valve and flushing mechanism in the middle is called the siphon. The blue, balloon-like object on the left is a plastic float that drops when the water level falls. This tilts the white plastic lever, opening a ball valve sometimes called a ball cock and allows the cistern to refill. As the water rises, the float rises with it, tilting the lever and slowly shutting off the ball valve. There's a little bit more to toilets than this. When you flush, the cistern has to refill automatically from a kind of faucet on the side and the refilling operation has to last just long enough to fill the tank without making it overflow.

The "hole in the ground" is more sophisticated than it looks as well. You may have noticed that toilets always have a little water in the bottom of them; even when you flush them, they never empty completely. Some water is always trapped in a big curved pipe at the base of the toilet known as the S-bend or S-trap.

This little bit of water effectively seals off the sewage pipe beneath it, stopping germs and bad smells from coming up into your bathroom. The S-bend also means that the pipe running out from the toilet bowl curves upward , before curving back down again. That means when water flows into the bowl from the cistern, and drains out through that pipe, it has enough momentum to produce a siphon sucking effect, which properly empties the bowl. Flush toilets come in many shapes and sizes, but one thing they all have in common is a relatively large and ugly outlet for the waste, sometimes known as a soil pipe.

These pipes are so large and wide that they limit the places where normal toilets can be fitted. If you need a bathroom in the middle of a building where it's impossible to route a large soil pipe, what can you do? Most toilets also work through the gravity-siphon effect, but what if you need to put one in a basement and the drain you want flush into is up above it?

One solution to problems like this is to fit a macerating toilet sometimes called an upflush toilet , which is a bit like a cross between a conventional toilet and a waste disposal unit. The waste passes into a kind of blender that mashes it up into a liquid, before pumping it up through a thin pipe connected, eventually, to the large, main soil pipe.

The big advantage of toilets like this is that you can fit them almost anywhere in a building where there's both water for the flush and electricity to power the macerator and pump. Unfortunately, they're often bigger and bulkier than conventional flush toilets, noisier and less discreet, and since they have more moving parts less reliable. Although they're more expensive than normal toilets, they can still work out cheaper than replumbing your house for a conventional toilet. According to Saniflo, one of the leading manufacturers, a typical macerating toilet can pump waste an impressive distance: with an upward rise of 5m 16ft , a horizontal distance of 20m 66ft ; or with an upward rise of 1m 3.

That's more than enough for most homes and many commercial buildings. Artwork: How a macerating toilet works. The toilet itself is much like any other, but it has a macerating and pumping unit red behind and underneath its cistern. The electrically powered pump black sucks waste in from the toilet's large soil pipe substituting for the suction effect of a normal toilet , chops it into a liquid, and then pumps it out through a small pipe on top.

This type of macerator is separate from the main toilet unit and can be placed in a different room; it's effectively an adapter that makes a conventional toilet work with a small-bore small diameter waste outlet pipe. Although it's popularly believed that flush toilets were invented by an English plumber called Thomas Crapper c. Archaeological evidence shows that primitive toilets using river water to flush wash away waste are over years old and date back to something like BCE.

The two inventors who have the best claim to our modern toilet-flushing system were born hundreds of years before Crapper. Among his many other achievements, prolific Arabic inventor and engineer Al-Jazari developed a flushing hand-washing device in , while English writer and courtier Sir John Harington — described a method for flushing a toilet in in his article A New Discourse of a Stale Subject, Called the Metamorphosis of Ajax. Search through the invention records at the US Patent and Trademark Office and you'll find literally hundreds that relate to toilets and their flushing mechanisms.

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I've chosen two examples from to give you a flavor of what you can find. Their simple innovation was to make the pipe that fills the toilet basin squirt sideways over a bar of soap, thus disinfecting the basin and stopping any smell. Unlike with an S-bend closet, there is no water trap to stop odors.

Instead, the flush mechanism raises and lowers a ball-shaped valve that seals the waste pipe. A rising and falling float I've colored it green in the artwork operates a valve mechanism colored yellow to refill the basin in the usual way. You can explore lots more similar inventions with a search for "water closet" on Google Patents it just gave me 13, results!


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Artwork: Two examples of 19th-century improvements in water closets toilets by American inventors. Photo: A typical vacuum toilet on a train. Toilets like this are designed to use minimal amounts of water but tend to be more mechanically complex and therefore less reliable than ordinary flush toilets.

One of the biggest drawbacks of conventional flush toilets is the sheer amount of clean water they squander. Even the leanest, greenest, most efficient toilets waste several liters over one US gallon of water per flush, which poses a real problem for vehicles like trains, planes, and long-distance buses: do you really want to carry a giant, heavy tank of water just for flushing the toilet?

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That's why mobile public toilets typically now flush with air instead of water; they're the toilet equivalents of vacuum cleaners: vacuum toilets , in other words. Vacuum toilets might sound like a strange idea until you remember that a conventional toilet flushes not just by washing the waste down but by sucking it away with the siphon effect. A vacuum toilet does exactly the same, but the sucking is created by low air pressure instead of the dragging power of draining water. How does a vacuum toilet work? There's a sliding valve in the floor of the toilet bowl sealing it off completely from the rest of the mechanism.

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Do You Really Save Money By Not Always Flushing?

When you flush the toilet, a small amount of water rinses out and partly fills the bowl typically no more than about 0. Meanwhile, out of sight, behind the wall, a small, plastic, intermediate tank has the air rapidly pumped out of it to create, in effect, a vacuum.

The valve under the toilet bowl slides open, creating a huge difference in air pressure between the room and the intermediate tank. This sucks the waste from the toilet into the tank and the sliding valve closes again. Air is now blown into the intermediate tank, flushing its contents into a much larger waste tank that can be emptied periodically for example, when a train arrives at a station or a plane lands on the ground.


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Animation: How a vacuum toilet works simplified. Shipping to: United States. No additional import charges at delivery! This item will be shipped through the Global Shipping Program and includes international tracking.

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