The Folly of Low-Flush Toilets

Flush Facts

Recent advancements have allowed toilets to use 1.28 gallons per flush or less while still providing equal or superior performance. This is 20 percent less water than the current federal standard of 1.6 gallons per flush. The WaterSense label is used on toilets that are independently certified to meet rigorous criteria for both performance and efficiency. Only water–saving toilets that complete the certification process can earn the WaterSense label.

— WaterSense – an EPA Partnership Program

The current drought in California – and the west – is sure to spawn calls by our government to conserve water. I expect that this year we won’t be able to wash our cars and water our lawns anymore. I was curious about the general usage of water in our homes and found this chart on the EPA website:

water-use-pie-chartThis makes sense to me. The toilet is definitely the largest user of water in our homes – inside. This is not considering irrigation of our yards, which is a huge contributor to residential water usage in the west.

Of course this will motivate people to install more efficient toilets. After all, according to the quote above, you can flush a toilet with 1.28 gallons of water, or you can choose to use an old, conventional toilet which can use six gallons or more.

In our house, we have one toilet in the guest bathroom downstairs and another one in the master bathroom upstairs.

Warning – toilet humor coming up – read at your own risk

The toilet downstairs is a conventional one, which has an air-pressure flusher. This literally shoots water into the toilet and sounds like a jet engine when it goes off. It scares unexpecting flushers the first time they use it, and it announces throughout the house to everyone: the downstairs toilet just flushed!

I don’t know how much water it uses, but I’d guess about three gallons. Here is the important point: I have never once seen this toilet clog up. Not one time.

The upstairs one is a classic water saver. Upon flushing, a much smaller amount of water gurgles down. This toilet clogs up just about every time. We would never permit a guest alone with this toilet, since it would embarrass the guest. For our own use, it’s acceptable, as long as we handle it right. I have come up with a routine that is fairly safe:

Normal Transaction

Pre Flush – before using the toilet, since I can never tell if it’s “kind of” clogged already, I do a preflush. If the preflush succeeds, all is clear and it’s safe to proceed to the next step. If not, go to Recovery Transaction.

Post Business Flush – after conducting business, it’s safe to flush before the use of paper, since the odds of successful flushing goes way up when including this step.

Paper Flush – this is a fairly benign operation, in most cases, depending on judicious use of paper. Generally, a “folder” might be more successful than a “cruncher,” but overall there should be no surprises.

Good Measure Flush – after the paper flush, I am sometimes not sure if there isn’t a clog in the making, so a good measure flush, especially after a larger deposit, may be advisable.

Recovery Transaction

Of course, if any of the Normal Transaction flushes fail, which happens about 50% of the time, expert use of the plunger and copious further flushing, administered only when water levels are safe, will usually clear up the situation. There is no description for the various additional flushes required to administer recovery, and it is a process, perhaps an art, we have learned over the years. Needless to say, a Recovery Transaction usually adds countless additional flushes to the four Normal Transaction flushes.


We have a water saving toilet, and I am convinced that is uses way, way more water than our conventional jet-engine toilet just to accomplish the basic task a toilet is built for. How about yours? Are you ready to run to Home Depot now?

Edit March 1, 2021 – Fixing Leaking Faucets

A reader of this post forwarded to me an article on fixing leaking faucets. Here is that article, and it will definitely be useful.

2 thoughts on “The Folly of Low-Flush Toilets

  1. You’re bringing to mind all those great water-saving slogans from the 70s:

    “If it’s yellow let it mellow; if it’s brown flush it down.”

    “Shortage of water when we have a group:
    Don’t flush the toilet unless you go poop.”

    “Save water! Shower with a friend!”


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