Water Saving Tips for Your Toilet

Question: My husband and I are about to embark on a few budget-minded water- and energy-conserving home improvement projects around our home. First stop? The bathroom. Ultimately, we’re interested in replacing our antiquated toilets that use 3.5 gallons or more per flush with low-flow 1.28 gpf or dual-flush models but financially that’s not in the cards at the moment. Do you have any recommendations for temporary, DIY-friendly (we’d rather not resort to calling a plumber) ways to make our commodes more conservative while we save up for the real deal?

How low can I go?

— Sandy, Flushing, N.Y.

Hey Sandy,

Great question since I can think of about a million and one things that I’d rather spend my hard-earned money on than a shiny new porcelain throne. However, I’m glad to hear that down the line you do plan on replacing your older, water-guzzling toilets with high-efficiency models given that standard toilets are the numero uno source of household water use in the home no matter what numero you’re flushing down.

Since you’re on the lookout for a cheap and easy temporary solution, my first recommendation is a modern update on the old brick-in-the-tank trick. Although putting a plastic soda bottle in the toilet tank may seem too MacGyver meets Martha Stewart-y it can help you save in the ballpark of 10-plus gallons of water per day. All you need to do is get your hands on an old 1-liter plastic soda or water bottle, take the labels off, fill it partially with sand, marbles, or pebbles to weigh it down, and then fill the rest with water. Place the bottle in your toilet tank away from any moving parts and it will effectively displace water in the tank. The water savings from the bottle-in-the-tank trick won’t be as significant as actually replacing your toilets but since you seem to have some true dinosaurs in your house, every little action you can make will indeed help.

If you’d rather invest a few bucks in a device that does a similar job, try the Toilet Tummy. Although it has the same name as the sensation that I experience after eating cheap Mexican food, this device is easy to install and maintenance-free. Just fill the Toilet Tummy — it’s a plastic bag that looks like a hot water bottle, essentially — with water and hang from the inside of your toilet tank. If you use one, you’ll save around 80 ounces of water per flush. Or try two for double the results. The Toilet Tank Bank is also a similar, water-displacing option.

Since the toilets in your home are aged and prone to leaking, take a look around the tanks to see if the flappers — the rubber doodads that keep water sealed in the tank — are in good condition. I recommend performing a dye test to see if they’re up to snuff. Although flappers are designed to last for years, wear and tear and the use of chemical cleaning products can shorten their life and render them less effective. Replacement flappers are cheap and swapping in an old one for a new one is a relatively easy process. Toiletflapper.org (yes, that is a real website) has details on how to do so.

There are other actions you can take, Sandy, to make your commode more conservative without expensive conversions or full replacements, the most basic being abiding by the “mellow yellow” rule. I’d proceed with caution on this one … an erstwhile roommate of mine traumatized me for life by taking this phrase to the extreme. However, for a quick fix that doesn’t involve a plumber, a ton of cash, or any kind of mellowing, I’d start with the steps I described above. And when you do get around to replacing your toilets, keep an eye out for EPA-sponsored WaterSense label that guarantees that the model in question uses 20 percent less water than current federal standards. Think of WaterSense as the Energy Star of johns. Happy flushing.

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By Matt Hickman, MNN

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Kate M.
.28 days ago

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Ruth R.
Ruth R.2 years ago

Saving water is a start. -- and we need to take the next steps.
Thank you for posting the article on care2.
Composting toilets need to go mainstream, and turn out only clean (free of the harmful kind of -- germ and parisite and bacteria) to be put on only certian trees -- like for growing trees for paper or for lumber -- organica and sustainable tree farms.

Heidi R.
Past Member 3 years ago

I remember having visitors from the USA who just couldn't understand why we had 2 flushing modes on the toilet. I hope Americans are becoming more aware now. With articles such as this it will really help.

Anne H.
Anne H.3 years ago

It is a very easy DIY to convert regular flush to dual flush. I did the kind that can also be adjusted to use less water ( www.fluidmaster.com and www.gomjsi.com) combination but you can find what works for you plus we practice "yellow mellow" method. These kits are now available at most hardware stores and YouTube has installation videos. Some companies will even talk you through the process.

Aleksandra W.
Past Member 3 years ago

curious how it turns out when goverment takes action what somebody mentioned

Engele van Zyl
Engele van Zyl3 years ago

Interesting water saving tips, will try some of them.

Fred Krohn
Fred Krohn4 years ago

Using tank displacement devices to reduce water flushed, and other 'local measures' to moderate the thirst of the toilet flush cycle, are all fine and dandy; just keep government out of it! That whole 'short flush toilet mandate' episode has soured me to any and all attempts by government to restrict toilet choices, and I fully support everyone who has by=passed idiotic government micromanagement scams. I also fully support efforts to reduce superfluous use of water on an individual basis; toilets that allow added water use to send 'logs' down while letting liquids flush down on minimal water are fine. The alternatives to flush toilets (or flush squat loos in some Oriental countries) are quite unsuitable and were known to be responsible for spreading illnesses in undeveloped nations and back before the Civil War. While the flush loo may seem to waste between one and four gallons of water every flush, sending assorted waste to a sewage treatment plant or septic tank where the waste is filtered and the water cleaned before being returned to nature beats leaving the load on the ground to give someone diarrhea.

Fixing leaky 'flapper' valves and fill valves is simple and can often include upgrades such as 'reverse seated' fill valves and multistage adjustable flapper valves. That idea with wrapping lead roof flashing around the overflow 'snorkel' pipe is only good on tanks where the flapper valve is a 'tilt snorkel' vice a fixed snorkel with a flap at the bottom.

Michele Wilkinson

Thank you

Ali G.
Ali G.4 years ago

If you want to absolutely minimise the amount of water per flush, get some lead strips used for flashing on rooves etc., and cut a small strip of a suitable size (length and weight) to go around the bottom of the 'plunger tube' inside your cistern. The length needs to be sufficient to go around this tube enough times, so that it will be held on (and won't get dislodged and go down the gurgler). When you get the weight right, the flushing will stop the instant you take your finger off the flush button. So you just hold the button down / in for a longer or shorter time, depending on what / how much you need to flush away. We've been using this system now for about three years, with no problems - except in the beginning we used fishing sinkers, which worked well until they got dislodged / the wire rusted through, and they DID go down the gurgler. This, our Mark 3 version, has lasted about a year and a half, and shows no signs of corrosion / unraveling.
We've done the brick, and the bottle, and a yoghurt tub. This a far-and-away the best to date, and yes, we live in Aus., where dual-flush has been the desired standard for over 10 years, but we couldn't justify the cost of replacing the loo pan and cistern "just" to achieve reduced water usage.

K s Goh
KS Goh4 years ago

Thanks for the article.