Based on appearance, it’s easy to think that all toilets are pretty much the same. But a peek under their lids reveals important differences, and recent innovations, that make shopping for this fixture something of a sleuthing exercise. To learn more about the latest toilet technology, options, and upgrades, read on. It will make the hunt for your next bathroom fixture much easier.
Factor in efficiency when deciding the best toilet to buy
The drive to innovate started in 1994, when the 1.6-gallons-per-flush (gpf) mandate went into effect, replacing the 3.5 to 5 gpf that had been the norm. The pressure to save water hasn’t let up. Now there are high-efficiency (HET) and ultra-high-efficiency (UHET) toilets that use a mere 1.28 and 0.8 gpf, respectively. Yet, contrary to what you might expect, flushing efficacy has also gotten better; independent tests show that some UHETs can evacuate up to 800 grams (1.75 pounds) of solids with every flush.
Water usage statistics
To learn more about the latest toilet technology, options, and upgrades, read on. It will make the hunt for your next bathroom fixture much easier.
Siphonic or washdown?
A siphonic toilet (shown in the labeled illustration above) has a larger water spot, but its long, narrow trapway can clog. Washdown toilets rarely back up; their short trapways are 4 inches in diameter, nearly twice the size of siphonics’. That said, washdowns have smaller water spots, so “skid marks” are more of an issue.
One piece or two?
A two-piece toilet has a separate tank and bowl, so it’s easier to install than a heavier one-piece with an integral tank and bowl. One-piece toilets have lower profiles—good for smaller bathrooms—and no tank gasket to leak.
Round bowl or elongated?
Round bowls project 25 to 28 inches, saving precious floor space, but elongated bowls, which can project 31 inches, are more comfortable for many.
Gravity-fed or pressure-assist?
Most toilets rely on gravity to flush, but if clogging is a problem, a toilet with a pressure-assist unit may be the solution. It can empty a 1.6-gallon tank with the force of a 51⁄2-gallon flush. These units use no electricity, but they’re noisy and work only in toilets designed for them.
High seat or low?
The typical height is 16 inches, but the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates 17 to 19 inches as easier for older or less-able folks.
Types of Toilets
An appealing profile is important, as is the toilet’s flushing technology.
The elongated bowl on this gravity-fed toilet has no siphon jet; all water exits the tank through the rim for a thorough cleaning. Shown: Stinson, starting at $306 at Sterling Plumbing.
Vacuum-assist technology sucks air up the trapway, for the flushing performance of a pressure-assist toilet that’s as quiet as a gravity-fed one. Shown: Stealth, $350 from Niagara Conservation.
Mounting a tank near the ceiling, in the Victorian fashion, increases the force of the flush. Shown: High Tank Pull Chain Water Closet, starting at $1,060; Signature Hardware
This round-front model is virtually impossible to clog, thanks to a trapway that’s a full 4 inches in diameter. Shown: Sydney Smart Back Outlet, $489; Caroma
The Latest Must-Have Features
It takes less water to get rid of liquid waste than solids. That’s why some toilets let you select the appropriate flush, typically 0.8 gpf for liquids and 1.6 gpf for solids. Simple. The hard part is remembering to use it.
Fully Glazed Trapway
A slick surface minimizes the chances of a clog.
Like the Energy Star program for appliances, the EPA’s WaterSense certification makes it easy to find fixtures that use at least 20 percent less water than the 1.6 gallons currently mandated.
High MaP test score
Maximum performance (MaP) testing conducted by independent agencies determines how much solid waste a toilet can handle. A rating of 350 to 600 grams for a 1.6-gallon flush is good, although some toilets can handle up to 1,000 grams (2.2 pounds!) using only 1.28 gpf. To find a toilet’s MaP score, go to MaP Testing.
Mirror-smooth glazes loaded with antimicrobial ions (typically silver) actively kill 99 percent of the germs that try to grow on them. The toilet basically cleans itself.
The Proper Fit
Don’t forget to give a toilet the space it needs so that you’re comfortable now and remain so as you grow older.
Where’s the Tank?
Wall-mount toilets save space and ease cleanup. These Euro-style models hang from a sturdy steel or wood frame hidden in the wall, leaving an unobstructed, easy-to-clean floor underneath. The tank is also hidden; the only sign of its location is a small panel that activates the flush and provides access for tank maintenance.
The downside? Their prices start around $400, existing floor drains have to be relocated, and fewer plumbers are familiar with their installation. Geberit
At the high end, look for these new bells and whistles.
No Toilet Paper Needed
The Washlet lid automatically rises as you approach. When you’re done, a bidet head emerges and sprays you clean, a fan air-dries you, and another deodorizes before the lid shuts. Toilets start at $1,900, or $599 for just the seat; Toto
No Holes in Rim
Rim jets are hard to keep clean and prone to clogging. Toilets without them, like the VorMax, shoot water in a whirlpool around the bowl, scouring away debris twice as effectively as the jets. Starting at $298; American Standard
When a flapper opens, it gets in the way of water exiting the tank. Canister-style flush valves like the AquaPiston lift the seal straight up, allowing water to flush with maximum force. Starting at $309; Kohler
Scrubbing a toilet is nobody’s favorite activity, but with the ActiClean it’s as simple as pressing a button on the tank lid where the reservoir with the cleaning solution sits out of sight. Starting at $695; American Standard
Retrofit the One You’ve Got
Don’t want to shop for a new toilet? Enjoy the latest cool technology without replacing your old toilet. Just make sure your model is compatible with any add-on.
Pro2ProTip: “If you want a bathroom in the basement, get a macerator toilet, like the ones made by Saniflo. After each flush, an electric-powered grinder processes and pumps waste up and out to the drain. Here’s the best part: There’s no digging. The unit sits right on the slab, either under the toilet or behind it.” —Richard Trethewey, TOH plumbing expert
Who knows what evil germs lurk on the flush lever? They're not an issue if your toilet is equipped with the Touchless flush kit. Just wave your hand over the in-tank sensor. $67; Kohler
Flapperless dual flush
Improve the performance of even high-efficiency toilets by swapping out the flapper for a canister-style flush valve like the Duo Flush. It has a 1.1-gallon flush for liquids and a full flush for solids. $30; Fluidmaster
Before a clogged or broken toilet dumps gallons of water, a FloodStop automatically shuts off the water supply when it detects a leak. $154; On Site Pro
Upgrade Your Toilet Seat
These days, the choices go well beyond cushioning or closing gently.
A motion-activated LED night-light like the Illumibowl gently guides the way. This battery-powered device, which sticks to the side of the bowl, lets you select from, or cycle through, eight different colors. $13; Amazon.
Eliminate foul odors and airborne germs at their source. One system, the Jon-E-Vac, has a fan that sucks air from under the seat, filters it through activated charcoal, then blows it back into the room. $200; Jon-E-Vac
Heaven is a warm seat on a cold night. The UL-listed LumaWarm has three temperature settings, along with a soft-close lid and a night-light. $159; Brondell