Replacing a leaking toilet flapper can save you money

A leaking valve that controls how much water flows from the toilet tank to the bowl can waste gallons of water between flushes.

As of June 21, 2022, nearly a third of the US is experiencing severe drought conditions or worse. Many state and local governments have responded to the drought in recent years by urging residents to reduce water use.

In a TikTok with nearly a million views, one mom said her family saved up to $50 a month by replacing all of her home’s toilet flaps — the device that lets water into the toilet bowl when you flush. She said that because her new valve closes quickly, she uses less water and saves money.


Can a new toilet flap save you money by using less water per flush?



That's wrong.

No, a new toilet flap won’t save you money by using less water per flush; However, if your current toilet flap is leaking, replacing it will save you money.


The toilet flap is the valve that seals the opening between the tank and bowl of the toilet. It’s a small disk, usually made of a combination of plastic and rubber. When flushing the toilet, the water in the tank tumbles down into the bowl and the flap opens. Once a certain amount of water has entered the bowl, the flap closes again to refill the tank.

It’s possible a person could save $50 a month by replacing the valve in one or more toilets in their home, says Stephanie Blazek, executive director of North Carolina’s Plumbing Heating Cooling Contractors. But she said a person would only see those savings if they had a leak in their old valve.

“Often people have toilets where they have a leak around the baffle, and so they consistently use water,” Blazek said. She explained that you can check for a leak by putting food coloring in the toilet’s tank, waiting 20 minutes, and then checking for paint in the toilet bowl.

“If you see the color, it means you have some kind of leak in the flapper and are therefore constantly losing water,” Blazek continued. “If you don’t see it, I wouldn’t bother changing the flapper. I don’t think it would make that much of a difference.”

According to a New York City Department of Environmental Protection brochure, a small leak can waste 30 gallons of water a day and cost 40 cents a day, while a medium-sized leak can waste 250 gallons of water and cost $3.30 a day. That’s $12 to $99 over a 30-day period. The brochure says the flap is the most likely cause of a toilet leak.

“A lot of people have a leak and don’t even know it — they’re waiting for the toilet to start running,” Blazek said. “You keep hearing this running toilet and it’s annoying, so you change it. But you could have a leak long before that.”

The reason a leak in the toilet flap can become so expensive is because of how the toilet flushing mechanism works. Korky Toilet Repair, a company that sells toilet parts, says another part in the toilet tank, the fill valve, brings water into the tank after the toilet has been flushed and stays on until the tank is refilled. Each time water leaks from the tank, the valve turns on to refill the tank to the correct level.

So if there is a leak in the flap that allows water to escape from the tank while the toilet is not in use, the fill valve will ensure that water constantly flows into the tank to replace the leaking water.

Each toilet is designed to flush with a specific amount of water, says the Santa Cruz Water Authority. Toilets built before 1982 use five to seven gallons to flush. Toilets built between 1982 and 1993 typically use 3.5 gallons for flushing. Toilets built after 1994 use 1.6 liters or less of water to flush.

The Santa Cruz Water Authority says all toilets should have a marker somewhere, often near the seat hinge, that indicates how much water they use per flush. A newer toilet will have a label that says 1.6 gpf (gallons per flush) or 6.0 lpf (liters per flush).

This is one of the reasons why replacing the flapper probably won’t make much of a difference unless there’s a problem with your current one. Most flaps are designed to close the moment the tank has dispensed the appropriate amount of water to flush that particular toilet.

While there are adjustable toilet flaps that give you some control over how long the flap stays open and how much water a single flush uses, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to reduce your per-flush water usage with them.

According to Fluidmaster, which makes toilet parts, adjustable flaps don’t close automatically based on the amount of water remaining in the tank, but instead close independently through a different mechanism. They are intended for toilets that use 1.28 and 1.6 gallon flush volumes per flush and should not be used in toilets manufactured before 1994. That’s because modern toilets are designed to stop flushing before all the water leaves the tank.

However, because toilets are designed for specific flush volumes, there’s a chance your toilet won’t flush properly if you set an adjustable flap to close earlier and allow less water into the bowl than it normally would. Reducing the time the flap stays open can result in a weak or incomplete flush, Fluidmaster says, requiring you to hold the handle down longer.

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