Royal Flush

You'll Never Jiggle the Handle Again!

A good flush is a necessity in a toilet.  Too little pressure and “stuff” gets left behind, and I hate “swirlies”.

A recent bathroom boon by fixtures maker TOTO, however, is super-charged, blasting away debris with an almost jet engine-like expulsion of effluvia, banishing the remnants of your last burrito into the gulag of the sewers, quickly and with little water wasted. Once is enough for this baddest of the bowls! 

It’s my favorite throne, one you’ll probably enjoy resting your protruding buttocks on as well, not for the ride so much as for “the after-party”!

But first, we gotta take a little side trip [insert cheesy time-travel special effects graphic here . . . ]

Goin' Back in Time(124485)Credit: Vic Dillinger, 2011
Commodious Maximus
Humanity’s earliest bathrooms, of course, were the great outdoors (or indoors if there were saber-tooth tigers and vicious giant sloths lurking outside the cave entrance).  Regardless, for the majority of the history of the hominid, indoor “relief” (except either from spite, accident, or laziness) was not a part of daily life.

While urine is considered “nasty” by most people, feces are definitely considered nastier (unless you’re big on coprophagy—look it up, this piece is about toilets, not what goes in ’em).  As humans moved indoors and became more civilized—and stopped flinging feces at each other as their monkey-like ancestors did—disposal of human bodily waste was of concern.

Ancient civilizations did much to improve upon this most debilitating and demanding of functions.  [C’mon, you pretty much gotta stop everything else you’re doing—except reading—when Nature calls.  Unless of course you wear adult diapers: then, you can keep on truckin’ while you fill your pants.]   Some societies managed to compartmentalize (or at least “concentrate”) their “relief efforts”. 

The earliest known indoor toilets (with sewage-disposal systems) were on Scotland’s Orkney Islands about 2800 BCE.  Pretty amazing that it was the Scots who maybe had the first indoor johns (or “Macs” I guess they would have called them way back then). So, Scottish rebel William Wallace (on whom the great movie Braveheart is based) maybe could have mulled over his country’s independence from England while sitting on another kind of throne, hmmmmm?

Anyway, the Egyptians had indoor toilets (emptied by hand) around the same time, and there were outdoor privies set up in the Indus Valley as well.  By 2700 BCE, the Valley people had indoor plumbing using earthenware water pipes.  The Egyptians, not to be out done by any lousy Indus Valley upstarts, added metal water pipes to their indoor works about 250 years later.  The Greeks had indoor showers in the 4th Century BCE. 

More to the point of keeping the “activity” to central locations, the ancient Greeks and the ancient Romans had set up throughout their main cities and villages many multi-hole, stone construction public urinals and crapatoria.  [I just made that word up.  “Crapatoria” (plural for “crapatorium”): places where defecation and/or urination occurs.  Sounds like a real Latin word, doesn’t it? Well, it is now!]Crapatoria from Days of YoreThese public facilities, though, were just that: public.  Watch the Starz original series Spartacus and you’ll see what I mean.  It appears that in ancient Rome people were not as squeamish about “laying cable” in front of others as they are today (I know I hate using public bathrooms when some other putz is in there unloading his burritos).  As a Roman citizen (and the preferred method was to hop on top of the surface of the stonework, and hover over the hole on one’s haunches) it was expected and apparently not noteworthy that not only would you be squatting over your own hole, other good citizens would be doing the same right next to you.  Also, any schmendrick in the street passing by could watch the action. 

Taking one giant wipe for mankind, however, were the Chinese: they had toilet paper by 589 CE.  [Oh, and to show what rubes and scumbags we were, none of this stuff—public latrines, indoor plumbing, etc., showed up in the US until about 150 years ago.  Some places still had outhouses as late as well into the 20th Century!  As for toilet paper: toilet paper?  Think again.  Think “random objects” as wiping aids, such as stones or pieces of cloth.  Think “hands”, too!]In Western Europe, the advances of the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans had apparently been forgotten and nastiness prevailed.  Chamber pots (“slop” pots) had been introduced, and many times the creator of the mess disposed of his/her chamber pot “fillings” by tossing the contents out a nearby window.  This is no joke: passersby in London streets during the bad old days were always in danger of getting doused with someone else’s slop pot crud.  The phrase “Head’s up!” developed from the practice, yelled out a window to warn people on the street to beware of the flying feces.  [Many tossers were not so courteous and merely flung the pot’s contents with nary a thought on whom the stuff would land.]

Slum privy Washington, DC (1935)Credit: Carl Mydans, 1935
See and (Hopefully) Smell No Evil
The general public was none too cautious or caring about where it did its business either.  Though the ancient Romans had public lavatories, carved from stone and readily available (though anyone could watch you pinch a loaf) humans later felt a need to relieve themselves literally anywhere they felt like it. 

The beautiful—and pleasantly perfumed—orange groves on the palace grounds at pre-French Revolution Versailles had a more utilitarian purpose when they were planted.  They were not placed for their botanical ornamental value.  People in the Royal retinue and others wandering over the grounds (not to mention the flying contents of chamber pots) made the area stink so badly that something had to be done.  The groves were planted and maintained to mask the nearly overwhelming stench of ordure.Heavily enamel-decorated antique porcelain chamber pot

Attempting to keep privy activities private meant taking the mess indoors.  The lowly chamber pot evolved into an early form of the indoor toilet (or “stool”) with the addition of chairs with holes cut through them, dumping the human waste into the waiting pot below.  And though the wealthy could afford more finely crafted porcelain receptacles (works of art, really; some of the enamel design work on these pieces transcends the object’s intent) and elaborate chairs (approaching the grandiosity of thrones), someone still had to take the mud away after it had been deposited.

And that meant coming up with a system for not only taking the material out of the receptacle, it meant getting it out of the house without having to handle anything.  And thus, necessity gave us the earliest versions of what we know today as the siphon-flush/gravity toilet.

No Crapper
The Thomas Crapper lie is one repeated on the Web and popularly believed by the Idiocracy (whenever its members get together). 
For those not familiar with this myth, in short it says that a British plumber with the hapless name of Thomas Crapper invented the flush toilet, his name became synonymous with the object—“The Crapper”—and that his name is also the basis for the word “crap”.

Thomas CrapperAlmost that entire story is crap.  While there was a sanitary engineer and plumbing fixtures manufacturer named Thomas Crapper (1836-1910; that’s him on the left), he did not invent the flush toilet. 

He did invent some refinements to the device, such as a ballcock mechanism.  His firm, “Thomas Crapper & Co.”, also made manhole covers bearing the company name.  These, apparently, are still in place in many parts of London and are great tourist attractions for the morons who think they’re seeing something of the man who invented the flush toilet.  Plus, the juvenile enjoys seeing the word “crapper” in public places. [These are the same kind of people who probably thought MTV’s Beavis and Butt-Head was uproariously funny.]

Finally, the word “crap”, as we use it as a euphemism for feces, is from Middle English, and it meant then what it does now—merde!

The source of the Crapper lie was a guy who wrote a book that was part parody, part truth, called Flushed with Pride: The Story of Thomas Crapper.  Written in 1969, this goof became treated as Gospel by the ignorant.  Nope, Crapper did not invent the flush toilet, but he did make many improvements to it and held several patents related to his refinements.

Having now flushed the Thomas Crapper myth from your mind, know that the real inventor of the modern toilet is Alexander Cummings (1733-1814).  He was a Scottish watchmaker, and he is generally credited with inventing the first flush mechanism in 1775 (over 50 years before Crapper was even born).  Two other plumbers (Joseph Bramah and Thomas Twyford) further developed the technology with improvements (such as the float/valve system).

Water seeks its own level, meaning it wants to equalize its height when released from stasis in a standing column.  For it to effectively “flush” away anything, it needs to act upon the pool of refuse with some force. 

This force was supplied by gravity—early toilets used a small cistern tank several feet above the toilet bowl.  Pulling a chain (hence the term “yanking your chain”) released the water stored in the tank, and the force of the water falling through a narrow pipe (it’s physics at work here, I don’t have time to explain how a pipe’s smaller cross-section can increase pressure) flushed away your leavings.  This also created a partial siphon/vacuüm in the lower part of the bowl.  Nature abhors a vacuüm, so it wants to remedy that.  Your burnt offerings are gone as a result.

Better tank design along with different materials and bowl shapes allowed the water to do its job from a lower height, and the tank was lowered to its now-familiar place behind the squatter’s back (again, this is physics, and I don’t have the time here to get into it).  

The crux is simply that for decades the standard valve-flush toilet was the norm and it was quite effective.  However, as we moved into the realm of being more energy and resources conservation minded, this was no longer viable.  Many toilet tanks held several gallons of water and used it all with every flush, even if you just went wee-wee.

Big, Bad John
Legislation in many states in recent years required toilets to be of the “low water consumption” variety.  This meant the tanks, by law, could only hold a certain amount of water.  In Massachusetts (in 1987), for example, that volume was set at no greater than 1.6 gallons (quite a difference from the normal 3-6 gallons used on older toilets; manufacturers were given a two-year period to comply with the new law). 

However, these newer low-flush models did not always “catch and release” everything you left behind.  This meant sometimes, dependent upon load capacity, you might have to flush a couple or three times to get rid of the swirling bits (the “swirlies”) floating around, taunting you with their tenacity . . . .

Owners of newly constructed homes have experienced this in recent years in the US (along with their low-flow shower heads, etc.).  For the newer home owner this smaller volume meant the water didn’t always drop from the tank with sufficient force, leaving “stuff” behind with only a single flush.  This made the toilet of low water consumption self-defeating. 

If it took three flushes to do the job, where was the conservation of water?  

“We’re Not in Kansas Anymore”
In 1912, a Japanese company began researching designs for what are called sanitary ceramics (toilet bowls, sinks, etc.).  In 1917, this effort led to the formation of TOTO TOKI.  The company shortened its name later to TOTO (just like the dog from The Wizard of Oz).
Not in Kansas . . .The company made China ware and other things, but it worked diligently to create the best commode on the market.  With the problem of the low-flush dilemma in the forefront, TOTO stepped up their game in both bowl design and how the mechanism could be more forceful with a small amount of water.

This is serious and amazing stuff.  These toilets use a little over 1-¼ gallons per flush.  However, this is not an obstacle to the Trans-Atlantic cable you just laid in the bowl.  Precise placement of the outflow holes under the rim and alterations in the neck beneath the bowl yield a mighty powerful flush. 

And that is why this thing caught my attention.  I had an “opportunity” to experience a TOTO toilet first-hand.  While it rides about the same as any other name-brand commode (no better or worse on the hindquarters) it is in the flush that you will stare, slack-jawed, in amazement.  This thing, with one pull of the handle, fires up like a retro rocket, forcing water down the throat of the bowl from the front while releasing water from under the rim in key spots to clear away everything above the water line (for those “explosive” situations).  And it does it in one flush. 

TOTO Double-Cyclone®Credit:

Oh, and TOTO doesn’t call its johns “toilets”, by the way.  No, they are “flush systems”, no less. 

The particular model I put through its paces is one in what the company designates its “E-Max®” series.  It has other designs as well.  The “Double-Cyclone®” and the “Dual-Max®” are as fascinating to watch as the one I fell in love with. 

The Double-Cyclone® flushes from two nozzles (in a vertical opening) on the side of the bowl near the rim.  The water pattern runs counter-clockwise sweeping away everything in its path as the name implies.  Better still is the ultra-“green” Dual-Max®.  This one has the ability to let you decide to flush with only 0.9 gallons (for when the missus tinkles and the bigger guns aren’t needed) or with the mightier (but still low-water consuming) flush of roughly a gallon or so.

Doody Now For the Future
TOTO’s website is fascinating.  They do video demos of the “flush systems” using various foods (such as large-chunked fruits to simulate the land mines some people leave behind) to applesauce (to simulate a runnier, but viscous material.  Let’s call it…ummmm…diarrhea, howzat?)

The Japanese company has a US presence with its manufacturing facility in Augusta, Georgia.  So, many of the US toilets – excuse me, “flush systems”—are made right here in ’Merka.  And I’m not telling anyone to go out and buy one of these, but you really would be amazed to see them in action.  I made this little movie myself just to show you how cool this is.

However, there is one thing about TOTO’s commitment to innovation that is a bit disturbing.  They have gone above and beyond the call of “doody” and have created this monstrosity that frankly I find a little frightening (I call it “Robo Crapper”).

I don’t know what all this stuff does with the buttons and consoles (looks like the captain’s chair of Enterprise), but I’m kind of scared of it.

Robo Crapper

It makes me think we are on the brink of something here, something akin to Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.   

Regardless, check out the TOTO toilets and tell me if I’m wrong about how awesome they are!


TOTO toilets (the whole product line!)

(I have test driven them!)

TOTO toliets Vic Dillinger 2013-06-14 4.5 0 5

Let the TOTO Cyclone whirl it all away!

And here's some bathroom reading for ya (by me!)

Trucker Man
Amazon Price: Buy Now
(price as of Feb 4, 2016)