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The simple but ingenious mechanics of the flush toilet have barely changed since Thomas Crapper first invented the "water closet" in the nineteenth century. The toilet, though not the most glamourous of home fixtures, plays a very important role in waste management and hygiene. Unless it did its job carrying away waste and keeping smelly sewer gasses from invading our living space, we'd all be in deep doo-doo. So how does this baby work? Most toilets come in two pieces: a tank, which is attached to a bowl (the part that is attached to the floor.) There are also one piece toilets. The toilet is ready for action when the tank and bowl are both partially filled with water. In side the bowl there is an s-shaped passage, or trap, that stays filled with water, forming a barrier against sewer gas. To set the flushing in motion, you turn or push the handle or trip lever on the tank, which lifts a stopper between the tank and bowl. The water in the tank whooshes into the bowl, sending all waste down the waste pipe into the main drain, into the sewer line, where it becomes the city's responsibility. The water flowing into the bowl also cleans the bowl. The toilet fills itself with water automatically. In a standard two-piece toilet, as the water flows out during the flushing stage, a float ball drops. This activates a water valve, known as a ball cock, which lets water into the tank. The rising water in the tank raises the float to the proper level, switching off the ball cock. The toilet is once again ready to do its duty.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|