How does a toilet flush?

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Some people feel embarrassed to talk about going to the toilet but all animals, including humans, wee and poo – it’s a very normal and natural part of being a living creature. Our cat, FishFingers, buries his poos and wees in the garden, whilst the humans in our family do their ‘business’ in the toilet and flush it away.

But have you ever wondered how a toilet works? Where does the water come from to flush the wee and poo away? And where does it all go?

Flush toilets (like the one in the picture) use water to get rid of wee and poo and toilet paper. They usually have a plastic or wooden seat fixed on top of a container (called a ‘bowl’) with some water in it. The bowl is there to catch the wee, poo and toilet paper; the seat is there to make it more comfortable to sit on.

When you flush the toilet, you press a button or push or pull a lever to make water come out of a special tank. This tank is called the ‘cistern’ (rhymes with ‘sister’) and it is raised up above and slightly behind the bowl. The cistern contains water and has a valve called a ‘flapper’ at the bottom, which opens when you work the flush. Opening the flapper lets all the water out of the cistern and into the toilet bowl.

At the back of the bowl, is a large pipe with a special S-shaped bend in it. The force of the water from the cistern pushes most of the water, wee, poo and paper in the bowl into this pipe, around the S-bend and down the drain into the sewage system to be cleaned.

Once the flushing has finished, the flapper closes and the cistern is re-filled with water ready to be used the next time someone goes to the toilet.

To find out more about how flush toilets work, or you might like to watch this short video. And here’s a brief history of toilets from as far back as 5,000 years ago!

If you’re interested in toilet habits, you might be interested to read my answer to what is poo?. Or you could check out “Everybody Poos” by Taro Gomi, which is one of my family’s favourite books: ‘all living things eat, so… everybody poos’!

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