The toilet is one of those things we often take for granted until something goes wrong. As you start looking for solutions and replacement products to repair your toilet, it may be a good time to know how toilets work along with their history. It will give you a whole new appreciation of the importance of having a working toilet and the wonders of human engineering that went into it.

The toilet’s humble beginnings

‘Toilet’ is a word that comes from the French ‘toilette’, which means ‘cloth’ or ‘wrapper.’ Toilette originally referred to cloths that were used as clothes wrappers, and then to denote cloth covers for dressing tables in the 17th century, as well as to refer to the process of dressing and washing oneself. By the 19th century, the word toilette was used to mean a dressing room. In the US in the early 20th century, it was used to denote a room with washing facilities (a lavatory).

Some 4,500 years ago, communities in the Indus Valley (now known as Pakistan), Mesopotamia, and Scotland relied on pipes to carry their waste outdoors from within the buildings. Egyptian toilets had a keyhole shape for more comfort, and the Romans built sewer systems designed to carry waste into the rivers and streams.

The first flush

The flushing process we know today helps carry down the waste into a septic tank and the sewage system. Products like the HydroRight Dual Flush Valve and Lever Handle from Danco have certainly revolutionized the process with its dual flush mechanism: quick flush to reduce the volume of water for paper and liquids, and full-flush to utilize the regular amount of water to flush down solids.

But the toilet wasn’t always this refined. Flushing was first done some 4,000 years ago on the island of Crete, specifically in Knossos. Back then, rainwater was captured with rooftop pans and it was used to wash away human waste through pipes.

Flushing was virtually a foreign concept in the Middle Ages. During this time, toilets were designed as garderobes—closets that came with seats hanging over the moat of the castle—so waste slid down the castle walls in hopes that they would wash away. Imagine trying to invade a castle with waste on its walls!

You may have heard the word ‘loo’ from the British. Its origin is the French guardez l’eau, which means ‘watch out for the water’. The term ‘loo’ came to be in Medieval Europe when people typically threw their chamber pots’ contents out of their windows onto the streets. Before doing that, they would yell, “Guardez l’eau!” out of courtesy to passersby or at least to the people they liked. That became shortened to ‘gardy-loo’, and eventually, to ‘loo’.

The modern concept of flushing was invented in Britain

Thanks to Sir John Harington, the first flushing toilet came to be. Back then, it was known as the Ajax, based on ‘jakes,’ an old slang for toilet. He installed one in his Kelston manor. His design consisted of a flush valve to release the water from the tank to empty the bowl. Queen Elizabeth I also received one at Richmond Palace, but rumor has it that she found it to be too noisy and refused to use it.

The Ajax did not become popular in England, but the French adopted it and called it ‘Angrez’. If you have ever wondered why Americans refer to the toilet as ‘john,’ that’s because it’s a direct reference to Sir John Harington himself.

Flushing during the Victorian era

George Jennings was a sanitation engineer from England and he is credited for the invention of the first public flush toilets. The Great Exhibition of 1851 in London showcased the ‘Retiring Rooms’. His Pedestal Vase earned the Gold Medal award at the International Health Exhibition in 1884 for flushing.

Thank goodness for the modern toilet!

These days, you do not have to worry about letting your waste just fall down a moat, as innovation and technology have made the modern flush possible.

Today, we have innovative products like Danco’s Water-Saving Toilet Repair Kit with a Dual Flush Valve if you want to save water and money while boosting the efficiency of your toilet. Danco also offers a wide range of toilet handle replacements, so you can flush more effectively. Their handles can replace the ones from major brands like Eljer, American Standard, and Mansfield.