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Toilets

Toilet buying guide

Last updated: May 2014

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Getting started

When shopping for a toilet, don't assume that a high price tag assures top performance. Among single- and dual-flush models, 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 latax sleeves to see whether a toilet would clog. And to simulate liquid waste, we used a dark-blue dye. Our tests revealed major differences in flushing ability, even across models of the same brand.

In our most recent toilet tests, all models scored excellent on liquid waste removal, a first. This was a change from previous tests when some some dual-flush models did a fine job of flushing solid waste in the full-flush mode but were mediocre in removing liquid waste in the partial flush mode. 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. About a third 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

A toilet rim that is about two or three inches higher than usual is yet another rapidly growing trend that is now approaching half the market. The added ground clearance of a "comfort height" toilet makes getting on and off easier--especially for aging baby boomers, who have helped to boost sales of those toilets. But the added comfort is likely to appeal to younger buyers too.

Types

Most toilets fall into two basic types: pressure assisted or gravity feed. We didn't include vacuum-assisted toilets in our latest tests because most performed relatively poorly in the past, and because they've practically disappeared from the marketplace. Here are the two types of toilets to consider.

Pressure-assisted toilets


These make up about half 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 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 the fewest clogs.

Cons:

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

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. A few 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.

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 toilet 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, and it tends to soil less and allow fewer odors to escape.

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.

Flush mechanism


Conventional rubber flappers are disappearing. 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- to 3 1/2-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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