Helpful Tips for Choosing a Toilet

Follow these guidelines to pick a toilet that’ll fit your bathroom perfectly.

By Ande Waggener


Although essential to a functioning bathroom, toilets rarely the bathroom element you get excited about choosing. It’s true that picking out tile and sink types and bathroom furniture is much more fun, but getting your toilet right is imperative if you also want your bathroom right.


If you’re updating a bathroom and looking for the best tips for choosing a new toilet, you’ve come to the right place. When you’re picking a toilet, follow the four guidelines of this toilet buying guide and you’ll be sure to select a toilet that's just right for your bathroom.


1. Get the Fit Right

Toilets aren’t one-size-fits-all. They have to match what’s called the “rough-in.” This is the foundational aspect of buying the right toilet.


Around the hole in your bathroom floor into which your toilet drains, there is a flange with bolts that affix the toilet to the floor. The rough-in is the measurement of the distance from the wall to the bolts. The usual distance of the rough-in is 12 inches, and most toilets can fit to a distance of anywhere from 11 to 13 inches. Some toilets, however, require a 10- or a 14-inch rough-in.


If you’re designing your bathroom in new construction, be sure you pick a toilet before you have the hole and flange installed. Then you can match the rough-in to the toilet instead of the other way around. But if you have an existing hole in your floor, you’ll have to put in the flange, measure from it, and work with that number.




2. Get the Flush Right

When it comes to flushing your toilet, you have two considerations: the flush process itself and the mechanism by which you activate the toilet flush.


The Flushing Process

Before you move on to choosing a toilet that looks good, you want to keep the toilet’s function in mind. A toilet that doesn’t flush properly and clogs up easily is going to be a pain in the behind. To be sure your pretty new toilet won’t have this problem, shop for toilets that have been tested for flushing performance. One way to do this is with MaP, an organization that maintains an online database of toilet performance, which is searchable by manufacturer and model, by features, and by performance ratings. The database also notes whether the toilets meet EPA and other certification standards. You can also check flushing performance ratings in review publications like “Consumer Reports.”


When you compare flushing performance, you’ll find that most toilet flushing systems fall in to one of two categories, gravity flush or pressure flush. 


Traditional toilets are gravity flush toilets. The water in the tank is higher than that in the bowl, so when you flush the toilet, gravity pulls the water down. Because gravity is the force behind the flush, the power of the flush depends on your home’s water pressure. You can get more thrust in the flush with a wider flush valve, but the improvement may not be as profound as you’d like.


Pressure flush toilets, as the name suggests, uses pressure to force waste out of the toilet and into the pipes. These toilets have three advantages over gravity-assisted flush toilets: they use less water; they clean the bowl better; and they result in fewer clogs. For a pressure flush toilet to function properly, however, your home must have water pressure of at least 25 pounds per square inch. (If you don’t know your water pressure, you can measure it by getting an inexpensive gauge that attaches to an outdoor faucet.) Besides this water pressure limitation, pressure flush toilets also have disadvantages of more noise and the potential for more toilet break-downs.




Flushing Mechanisms

The process of flushing your toilet starts with how you activate the flush. Typically, toilets have a lever-handle to press. Many more choices, however, are available. You can choose push-button flush toilets, pull-chain toilets, and even touchless flush toilets. Push-button flush toilets are a bit of a modern step-up from levers. Pull-chain flush toilets are a step back in time, and they’re usually included on high-level tank toilets.


True luxury, however, is the touchless flush toilet. These toilets have a hidden sensor. You simply put your hand over the area where the sensor is located, and you don’t even have to touch the toilet to flush it. Clearly, this is a healthy choice.


In addition to the way you flush the toilet, you can also choose between single-flush and dual-flush toilets. Single-flush toilets are the common toilets where activating the flushing mechanism results one toilet flush. Dual-flush toilets are an option that gives a choice of how you want your toilet to flush. A “light” flush will release .8 gallons of water and a “full” flush will release 1.6 gallons. You choose which to use based on what’s in the toilet bowl. These toilets can save a lot of water, but some people complain that the .8 gallon flush doesn’t clean the bowl thoroughly.




3. Get the Look and Feel Right

Although the right toilet mechanisms are essential, if a toilet doesn’t look good in your bathroom and doesn’t feel comfortable while you’re using it, you won’t care how well it flushes. So you need to know your bathroom design style and your personal physical needs before you pick your toilet.


Once you have that in mind, you’ll need to make four toilet design choices: tank or no-tank, one- or two-piece, wall-hung or floor-mounted, and visible or concealed trapways. All of these toilet features contribute to whether a toilet looks traditional or modern. Generally, tank toilets, two-piece toilets, floor-mounted toilets, and visible trapways are better suited to traditional or retro bathrooms.




Tank-less toilets, one-piece toilets, wall-hung toilets, and toilets with concealed trapways will be more at home in contemporary bathrooms.




To meet your physical needs, consider the toilet’s bowl shape and seat height. Round bowls and standard toilet height will work for most adults, and elongated bowls and comfort height toilets will be better for large or tall people or people with special needs




4. Get the Right Extras

Modern toilets can come with a dizzying array of extras. You can get lighted bowls, built-in air-fresheners, built-in white noise machines, and self-washing bowls. The most commonly chosen extras, however, are a bidet feature (with or without adjustable water temperatures), a slow close toilet seat, and a heated seat. What you choose depends on how much you spend. If you have a big budget, you might as well go for all the comfort you can get. You can also choose, in addition to the toilet itself, to add a separate bidet to your bathroom.




As you can see from the above guidelines, even though toilet buying may not seem like as much fun as shopping for other bathroom components, it should involve thought and research. Be sure you take the plenty of time to choose your toilet. 


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