American Toilets: An Information Dump for Brits


Scottish actress Bethany Woodruff stars in the Poo-Pourri commercial. (YouTube)

These days, when a Brit in the U.S. says “loo” no one bats an eyelid although Americans might not be so au fait with bog, khazi or lavvy. Brits are familiar with Americanisms like can and john, although the charmingly named comfort station might cause a wry smile. It’s not just the names that are different when it comes to toilets however. When Americans say toilet, they are referring to the actual object; for a Brit it can also mean the room in which the toilet is situated. Saying someone is stuck in the loo conjures up a whole new visual in the U.S.

Since low-flush toilets became mandatory here in 1994, most bathrooms now house a plunger as well as a toilet. Loos that used to boast up to seven gallons per flush are now limited to 1.6 gallons and are the bane of homeowners’ lives. Gravity cannot do with less than two gallons, what it did with triple the amount and thus we have much backing up, flooding and well, it’s not pretty. Ironically, although they were meant to conserve water, they often require two, three and four flushes to ahem, do the job. When visiting someone’s house in the U.S., do yourself a solid and make sure there’s a plunger around before assuming the position.

Low-flushers have also triggered the return of single-ply toilet paper, since the softer, cushier stuff needs a bucket of water to send it down the S bend. Single-ply toilet paper? Surely a giant step backwards? And, ironically, less water has given rise to pressure-assisted flush toilets (often called high performance toilets), usually requiring horsepower in the form of electricity. They are also a lot noisier. This one has the added distinction of being called the Purist Hatbox!

Such was the dissatisfaction with these new, no-flush low-flush toilets that a Black Market in regular toilets began. Those fortunate enough to live near the Canadian border found a steady stream of desperate home-owners, ready to risk the fines associated with smuggling contraband cans south of the border.

Despite conservation awareness here, you don’t see many dual-flush toilets, although they are available even at stores like Home Depot. They’re the ones with two buttons (or a two button actuator, don’t you know) giving you a choice of flushes; one for number ones and the other for number twos, or solid waste, as it’s known in the industry. Apparently buttons on the top of the tank confuse some people, so Kohler kindly offers “a two-toned trip lever located on the side of the tank, just like a traditional toilet, so flushing is intuitive.” Who knew it was intuitive? Half the time, in public loos, it’s a tiny black button on the wall, on the top or just to the side, which is barely visible let alone intuitive.

Although I haven’t seen many dual flushers around in the U.S. the market is ready to go, as it were, and copy writers are having a field day. Toto, the company that “leaves nothing to chance when it comes to design” gives us the Neorest 550, which may look like it’s about to hatch but “is a truly remarkable combination of ecology and luxury.” All for a mere $3,000 plus, by the way. American Standard goes one better with this video, demonstrating how its H2Option takes care of golf balls, chicken nuggets, hot dogs and 2lbs of cat litter. (Don’t try this at home.)

The award however, surely goes to Kohler, for its brilliantly named two-piece, dual flusher – the Persuade.

Presumably no more sitting around for twenty minutes?

See More:
10 Things the Brits Don’t Realize are Offensive to Americans
Gizmodo Gadget Testers Butt Heads in Transatlantic Toilet Flush-Off
Antiques Roadshow’ Struggles to Find a Value For Beatles Toilet Paper
Smutty New YouTube Sensation Bethany Woodruff is Scottish-born


Toni Hargis

Toni Summers Hargis is a British author who has lived in the USA since 1990. Toni blogs as Expat Mum and is the author of Rules, Britannia - An Insider's Guide to Life in the United Kingdom and The Stress-Free Guide to Studying in the States; A Step-by-Step Plan for International Students. She has made frequent appearances on radio and TV discussing US/UK matters.
View all posts by Toni Hargis.
  • John H Harris

    A note on the TP that you failed to mention is that the rolls tend to be a bit wider on this side of the Atlantic. Also, the “actuator”, when on the front or side, is on the *other* side than it is over here. Another one of those “mirror universe moments” from my visit to southern Wales back in ’07.

  • Almost American

    We just bought a dual-flush mechanism for our toilets – but unless you know that’s what they are they won’t save any water. You push the handle down for more water, and up for less. Who on earth thinks to pull the handle up?

    • Toni Hargis

      Oh dear. Perhaps a sign on the wall? A nice little rhyming ditty?

      • Joe Sewell

        Too many people are stuck with the habit of slapping the handle down (or, even worse in public restrooms, kicking the handle with one’s foot!). I’ve never believed those things will catch on.

        • Toni Hargis

          I was once told (can’t remember by whom) that using the foot is better – you won’t catch germs. Hope the shoe is clean though.

          • Joe Sewell

            I discovered the same reasoning later, but still didn’t understand. After all, just the flush throws out tons of bacteria from the bowl, and the sole of the shoe would leave more germs for the next one who chooses to be less abusive to the equipment.

    • Iota Manhattan

      I would never think to pull the handle up, so not me, in answer to your question.

  • Martha Turner

    Don’t knock Kohler. They’re the only bathroom appliance company that pays artists. They have an “artist in residence” program.

    • Toni Hargis

      Every fixture in my house in Kohler. Love it.

    • Iota Manhattan

      That’s fabulous!

  • nappyvalleygirl

    There’s an ad on UK tv at the moment for a bed company that invites you to drop into their “comfort station”. Makes me laugh every time..

  • Toni Hargis

    OK, this may be a very dumb question, but don’t you need something to dry yourself with? Do you have to have a towel right next to the loo? (And individual towels, for god’s sake please.) And doesn’t it use up even more water?

    • MontanaRed

      Found this on the referenced web site (had to look HARD for it, too!):

      “With the sprayer you will be clean and you can pat yourself dry with minimum toilet paper or a small towel.”


      • Toni Hargis

        Argghhhhh! Runs for the hills. We’ll look like the Charmin’ Bears with toilet paper stuck to the cheeks.

  • Jim Cofer

    Where do you live that people HAVE to put plungers by the toilet, or use 1-ply toilet paper? Is this one of those stupid California things?

    • joe from california

      No. It just sounds like she uses broken toilets.

    • Aurelas

      I’d say a northwest Florida thing too. I thought it was normal for people to have plungers next to the toilet…lol now I feel silly!

  • Alexandra Weitershausen

    If you have to plunge your toilet so often that you need to keep the plunger right by commode (and I’m guilty of using far more than the “recommended” amount of toilet tissue), then I have to question your dietary habits. I’ve had no problems with my low-flow toilet.
    I do like the toilets in IKEA. They’re very clearly marked that you press the lever one way for liquid waste and the other way for solid waste (and get more water for the solid waste option). That seems like an obvious solution to any problems arising from low-flow toilets.

    • Toni Hargis

      If you’d met my kids…..

      • Alexandra Weitershausen

        LOL! Yeah, kids are a whole different scenario. On the other hand, I’m just waiting for the day my cat figures out that the little lever flushes the toilet…

    • tdavis00

      British dietary habits produce monstrous stools, which is why British toilets need so much more water to flush. And Brits used to add sandpaper that passed for TP to the mix!

  • JustPlainJill

    Yeah…must be a Cali thing…we don’t have that problem in Iowa, great flush, NO single ply paper and absolutely no plunger by the toilet. I read so many things on here that are not exactly true.

  • Aurelas

    Comfort Station? LOL That has to be the most ridiculous euphemism I have ever heard.

  • Pat

    Wondering where this person lives, and what they eat. I don’t have any of these issues. And I always use (2 ply) toilet paper that is largely made from post-consumer recycled materials. Can’t understand the American love affair with toilet paper that’s thicker than my bath towels.