Toilet Buying Guide: Toilet Types and Flush Systems

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Who knew there were so many variations? Get to know what's available in toilet technology and design before you buy.

Maybe your toilet broke, or it’s hopelessly stained, or doesn’t fit with your new bathroom décor. Whatever the reason, you’ve decided to swap it out for a new one.

If you’re replacing your toilet to conserve water, good for you. But choosing a new one may not be the slam dunk you expect.

Toilets may seem like simple contraptions, but they’re elegant in their simplicity. Modern ones feature innovations that improve considerably on the traditional gravity-flush mechanism, and the technology you choose for your bathroom matters. As for looks, modern toilets have sleeker, more compact shapes to fit most bathroom décor schemes.

Here are nine types of toilets you’ll encounter when you shop.

Types of Toilets

When considering how well a toilet will fit with your bathroom décor and serve the needs of those using it, it’s what’s on the outside that counts. A toilet can take many forms.

Two-Piece

Two Piece Toiletvia homedepot.com

The bowl and tank are usually separated in the traditional gravity-flush toilet. This simplifies installation because each section weighs less than the entire toilet, but the junction between them usually needs regular cleaning. Plus, the tank can leak if it isn’t properly attached or the bolt washers wear out over time.

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One-Piece

One Piece Toiletvia homedepot.com

A one-piece toilet comes with the tank and bowl melded into a unit that needs no assembly. It may be more difficult to lift and install, but it needs less cleaning and looks more modern.

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Freestanding

Freestanding Toiletvia wayfair.com

To some degree, all toilets except wall-mounted models are freestanding. The ones that earn the freestanding toilet designation can be placed anywhere in the bathroom with plumbing, not necessarily against a wall.

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Bidet

Bidet Toiletvia amazon.com

A bidet toilet usually sits next to the real one and is used just for cleaning. This type is becoming a rarity because bidet-style toilet seats, also known as washlets, offer the same functionality. They’re also less expensive and easier to install.

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Corner

Corner Toiletvia wayfair.com

Solve your space problem by installing a corner toilet with a tank shaped to fit in a wall corner. Corner toilets typically come in two pieces.

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High-Tank

High Tank Toiletvia signaturehardware.com

Remove the tank from a standard two-piece gravity-feed toilet, mount it high on the wall over the bowl and connect the two with a long pipe, and you have a space-saving high-tank toilet. These were common in the 19th and early 20th century. If you want to hearken back to the days of the water closet, this may be for you.

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Wall-Mounted

Wall Mount Toiletvia wayfair.com

You find wall-mounted toilets more often in commercial or institutional settings than residential ones, but they can be real space savers. All the plumbing is hidden behind the wall, leaving only the bowl and a push button flush control visible. Cleaning under them is easy, too.

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Smart

Smart Toiletvia amazon.com

Do you fancy preheated water for cleaning, a drying feature, automatic flushing and even a nightlight to guide you in the dark? All these features and more, including a self-closing lid for the forgetful, are available with a remote-controlled smart toilet.

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ADA Compliant

Ada Compliant Toiletvia homedepot.com

The Americans with Disabilities Act mandates features to make toilets easier for the elderly and disabled to use. The most important are an elongated bowl with a minimum height of 17 to 19 inches. ADA toilets usually have touchless flush mechanisms or easy-to-use lever-style flush handles.

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Types of Toilet Flush Systems

The traditional gravity-flush toilet is still the most common, but alternative flushing mechanisms offer advantages to this timeworn technology. When water isn’t available and you need a toilet that doesn’t flush at all, there are better options than an outhouse!

Gravity-Flush

Gravity Flushvia lowes.com

Almost everyone has seen one of these. A rubber flapper lifts off a siphon hole in the bottom of the tank when you flush, allowing all the water in the tank to drain quickly enough to create suction in the waste pipe that clears the bowl.

Some manufacturers have replaced the flapper with a canister that seals around the siphon hole. Canister toilets typically flush more quickly and completely than those using flappers.

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Pressure-Assist

Pressure Assist Flushvia amazon.com

A pressure-assist toilet, sometimes called a power-assist toilet, has a tank just like a gravity-flush one. But instead of water, it contains a pressure tank filled with compressed air and water.

When you flush, the compressed air pushes out the water with more force than can be developed by gravity. It makes for a cleaner flush that uses less water. Pressure-assist toilets depend on water pressure to recharge, so they don’t work well in homes with low water pressure.

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Dual-Flush

Dual Flush systemvia homedepot.com

A toilet with a dual-flush mechanism uses a canister to control a gravity-flush system. A dual-flush toilet features two flush buttons on the top of the tank. Press one button, and the canister lifts far enough to allow a partial flush. Push the other button and the canister lifts all the way for a normal flush.

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Touchless Flush

Touchless Flush system for toiletvia amazon.com

In a touchless flush system, an electric motor operates the flush mechanism, which can be gravity-feed or pressure assist. A motion sensor activates the motor when you wave your hand in front of it.

Touchless flush kits allow you to turn any toilet into a touchless flush toilet. Smart toilets that operate by remote control are also touchless.

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Upflush

Upflush for toiletvia amazon.com

When you install a toilet anywhere below the sewer line, you can’t depend on gravity to dispose of waste. Enter the upflush toilet, which grinds waste with an electric macerator and pumps it through a one-inch pipe to the sewer. You most commonly find these macerating toilets in basements.

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Composting

Composting Toiletvia amazon.com

When water isn’t available, you can still answer nature’s call by installing a composting toilet. They’ve been around for years. Despite the problems with earlier ones, modern composting toilets are sanitary and easy to clean.

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Chris Deziel
Chris Deziel has been active in the building trades for more than 30 years. He helped build a small city in the Oregon desert from the ground up and helped establish two landscaping companies. He has worked as a carpenter, plumber and furniture refinisher. Deziel has been writing DIY articles since 2010 and has worked as an online consultant, most recently with Home Depot's Pro Referral service. His work has been published on Landlordology, Apartments.com and Hunker. Deziel has also published science content and is an avid musician.