Toilet styles have come a long way in the past decade, with the clunky water gluttons of old increasingly being replaced by elegantly designed, low-profile models that offer enhanced performance and significant water savings. Today’s stylish models combine hygiene with touch-free functionality and easy-to-clean designs. Comfort, technology, and safety features also abound.

With so many styles, options, and features, how do you choose?

What to consider before choosing a toilet

Replacing an existing toilet or remodeling a bathroom? There are several things to consider before buying a new toilet.
  • How big is your bathroom? 
  • How tall do you want your toilet to be? 
  • Do you care about bowl (and seat) shape? 
  • Do you need a pressure-assist model?
  • Would you like a high-efficiency toilet? 
  • Have you compared flush ratings? 
  • How much are you willing to spend? 

Toilet styles

Depending on what you're looking for, there are several types of toilets and three predominant styles to consider:

Two-piece toilets: Long considered the standard in American bathrooms, two-piece toilets have a separate bowl and tank. Generally viewed as being more efficient, they’re also less expensive to repair since individual parts can be ordered rather than having to replace the whole unit. That said, the two pieces can make for a more labor-intensive cleaning process.

One-piece toilets: One-piece toilets offer a stylish alternative to the two-piece option. They feature an integrated bowl, tank, trapway, and usually a seat. This style is typically easier to install than a two-piece design, while also facilitating easy cleaning.

Wall-hung toilets: Wall-hung toilets have gained popularity in recent years because of their low-profile appearance and space-saving properties. Not only do they save physical space in small bathrooms or powder rooms, they also add visual lightness to the room since the area beneath the toilet opens up the space aesthetically. A disadvantage of wall-hung models is that if there’s a plumbing problem that’s not diagnosed quickly, repairs can be expensive. Fortunately, new technology can help find leaks at the source, sending an alert before things get out of control. 

Toilet height & shape

Standard-height toilets (14”-15” from floor to rim) are fine for the average user, but a taller user may do better with a comfort-height model (usually 17”- 19”). Consumers with knee or back problems and older users who don’t bend as easily will find that raised toilets are a great option, as the elevated height limits the distance they need to lower themselves to sit on them. 

Another consideration is shape of the bowl. This determination takes both the amount of available space and the users’ needs into consideration. An elongated (oval) model is more spacious and provides greater comfort, while a round-front bowl takes up less space and generally works better for a smaller bathroom. A compact, elongated bowl offers a good compromise, providing a round footprint with the extra seat space of an elongated bowl.

READ: Shower Head Buying Guide: What to Look for in a New Shower Head

Flushing mechanisms

Flushing technology has evolved dramatically in recent years, offering a host of options to choose from, including touchless flushing and energy-saving dual-flush systems. Here are some of the available choices:

Single-flush: The traditional single-flush toilet has one flushing mechanism that’s used for both solid and liquid waste. Though easy on the budget, they are not considered environmentally friendly due to the large amount of water they use (typically 1.6 gallons per flush).

Dual-flush: Offers a “half flush” option for liquid waste (0.8 gallons per flush) and a more powerful full flush (1.6 gallons per flush) for solid waste. Popular in areas where water shortages are common, these tend to cost more than single-flush toilets but the greater expense is quickly compensated by lower water bills.

Double cyclone: Combines the power of a full-flush toilet with greater water efficiency. They use gravity to suck water down from the toilet tank into two nozzles and then use centrifugal force to push it into and around the bowl for enhanced cleaning.

Pressure-assist: Designed to provide a very powerful flush, these use pressurized air to drive water into the tank. Pressure-assist toilets are well-suited to households with bathrooms that see a lot of traffic. While effective, they are noisier than other options, which is something to consider when the bathroom is located near a bedroom or common area.

Tower-style/Canister Flush: These allow water to flow from the tank to the bowl from a 360-degree angle, creating a stronger flush.

Flushing systems

Toilet flush systems are fairly simple, and a bit ingenious: The force of rushing water pushes the waste out into a septic or sewer system. The two most common systems are siphonic and washdown.

Siphonic: These systems typically have a long, narrow "P"- or "S"-shaped trapway, with one end located in the bowl and the other connected to the drainpipe. When a siphonic toilet is flushed, the flush valve opens to let tank water flow through into the bowl. The water in the bowl usually rises, then flows quickly into the trapway. As it moves through the trapway, air is displaced and a vacuum is formed, creating a siphon. When the siphon is strong enough, waste gets sucked out with the water. 

Siphonic toilets tend to have a large water surface area, high water level in bowl, and a longer bowl shape. They use less water, have a powerful and quiet flush and result in cleaner bowls, but they’re also prone to clogging due to their long and narrow trapways. 

Washdown: Washdown toilets work by relying on the pressure of water flowing from the tank to remove waste. Clogs are far less likely in a washdown toilet because the trapway diameter is nearly twice that of a siphonic toilet, and much shorter. The water level also sits much lower, and most models come with a dual flushing system: one option for liquid waste, another for solid. 

READ: 8 Types of Tile to Consider for Your New Home

Toilet flush rating

Another consideration when shopping for a new toilet is whether a model has passed a flush test. Flush tests measure how much solid waste a toilet can handle. They are conducted by independent agencies, but the conventional wisdom holds that a rating of 350-to-600 grams for a 1.6-gallon flush is good (though some toilets can handle much more using less water!) To find a toilet’s MaP score, go to MaP Testing.
Water usage in the U.S. 

New toilet smart features

The technology age has impacted everything, including the toilet. But are bells and whistles on a toilet really worth the investment? It depends on your priorities.

For convenience, nothing beats toilet seats that open and close when their sensors detect someone approaching or leaving. If you’re tired of fighting about who left the seat up or down, this is a great feature, though it’s not perfect: Automated seats can be enticing to young children left unsupervised, and the family dog may view it as a self-service water bowl!

Hands-free flushing, another smart-toilet feature, not only adds convenience but also enhances hygiene, a valuable benefit. 

Smart toilets also feature better flushing technology, which generally equates to cleaner bowls and significant water savings. They are great for both the environment and for your wallet.

Of course, like most high-tech products, smart toilets can be more expensive to repair, and the newest models may require a plumber with specialized knowledge. Remote controls are easily misplaced, so the convenience factor can quickly become inconvenient.

Another feature common to smart toilets is bidet functionality. While bidets are standard in Europe, Americans haven’t fully embraced the concept. Proponents love the sanitary benefits of a warm water rinse and integrated air dryer, as well as the environmental aspect of minimizing toilet paper use.

Finally, many smart toilets offer odor-neutralizing fans, which make the bathroom a more pleasant environment for everyone. Just be sure that when you’re choosing, you take the time to see your favorite model in action and measure the noise quotient, as some are much louder than others.

Start designing your dream bathroom—and your dream home.

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