A toilet flapper is one of those things that you don’t care about before it starts messing with your toilet. But as soon as it happens, you’ll start researching this little tool and learn all toilet flapper types.
Flappers come in many forms and sizes, but the most common options include rubber flappers, seat disks, and tank balls. In each case, the toilet flapper is critical to the functioning of your bathroom throne.
Perhaps it sounds simple, but there’s a lot to learn about flappers, how they work, and when it’s time to replace them. Keep reading to find out!
How Does a Toilet Flapper Work?
A toilet flapper stays at the bottom of the toilet tank, sealing the outlet pipe. It’s a little round part that usually comes in three colors — red, black, or blue — so you can see it as soon as you open the tank lid.
You will find it next to the overflow pipe.
Toilet flappers close and seal the water inside a toilet tank. Flappers keep the water in the tank between flushes and control the amount of water your toilet uses per flush. Here’s how they work:
- When you activate the flush handle, it lifts its long arm inside the tank
- The arm holds the flapper chain, so it picks it up while flushing
- The chain lifts the flapper, letting the water go down the outlet pipe
- As the water drains, the flapper falls with the chain and the handle arm
- When the flush process is over, the flapper returns to the original position to seal the tank
Popular Toilet Flapper Types
Although simple, flappers vary in terms of shape, material, and performance. We recognize five main types of toilet flappers.
Rubber flappers are by far the most popular worldwide. That’s because they are flexible enough to seal the pipes while remaining extremely durable. They are round and made of a single rubber piece.
A small hinge connects flappers to the overflow pipe while the chain holds it to the flush lever. A rubber flapper has a small hole in the middle that fills with water as you flush, so it falls after a few seconds due to its weight.
The flushing mechanism is straightforward, but that’s exactly what makes rubber flappers so reliable and durable.
Adjustable Flappers With a Floater
The second toilet flapper type represents an alternative to the first model. It’s the same rubber flapper with addition — a floater that sits somewhere down the flapper chain. Why is that so?
The purpose of the floater is to control the flushing, allowing more or less water to exit the toilet tank. If you position the floater high, it will reduce water consumption. If you place it near the flapper, more water will flow down the outlet pipe.
Rubber Flappers With a Control Dial
Another version of the rubber flapper comes with a control dial. In this case, the same rubber item has a manual controller determining the length of the flapper chain. In other words, it allows you to set and control water consumption.
The system is simple — flappers with a control dial usually have a controller with nine degrees. Water consumption increases as you move the dial from one to nine, helping you set the exact gallons-per-flush level you prefer.
Seat Disk Flappers
After discussing the most popular types of toilet flappers, it is time to mention a couple of older models. The first is a seat disk flapper, AKA a large disk connecting to the water reservoir. It works like this:
- You press a flush handle, and it launches a lever mechanism that lifts the disk
- Seat disks go up to let the water flow into the bowl
- Meanwhile, the reservoir empties
- When the reservoir becomes light enough, it can’t stop the disk from falling
- Seat disk flappers close and allow reservoirs to refill
The flush system with seat disk flappers is relatively simple, but it’s still more complicated than rubber flappers. It also breaks easier, so most manufacturers don’t make it anymore.
Tank Ball Flappers
Tank ball flappers are plastic ballcocks that open and close the outlet drain of the tank. Unlike rubber flappers, the tank ball flapper can work with both the chain and the metal rod when controlling the flush mechanism.
When you flush the toilet, the tank ball goes up and opens the outlet drain near the overflow pipe. The plastic tank ball starts filling with water until it becomes heavy enough to go down and close the pipe.
The tank ball flapper is another toilet flapper type that loses popularity because modern competitors function better and last longer.
How Do You Measure a Toilet Flapper Size?
You should measure the dimensions of a flapper before buying a new item for your toilet tank. The same goes for all models — a tank ball flapper, a seat disk flapper, and a rubber flapper.
This is important because there is no universal or best toilet flapper. All it matters is to purchase a reliable toilet flapper that fits the dimensions of your tank. Today, most flappers range from two to four inches in diameter.
But how do you measure it? You can do it with a ruler.
Close the water supply, flush the toilet, and remove the tank lid to open the fixture. You’ll find the flapper below the overflow pipe, so you can snap it off the flush valve base and take it out.
Now you can check the inside drain diameter of your current flapper. Put it against the ruler and see whether it shows two, three, or four inches. That’s how you determine the size of all types of toilet flappers.
Why Do Toilet Flappers Fail?
All types of toilet flappers are fairly isolated in the tank, so why do they eventually damage and fail? The truth is that several factors influence the performance of a toilet flapper.
Strong Cleaning Chemicals
Commercial cleaners, detergents, and disinfectants are the main agents that damage flappers. Toilet flappers are resistant to some chemicals, but most harm rubber and metal components inside the tank.
Hard Water Deposits
Hard water is high in calcium and magnesium, which are highly corrosive and prone to forming sediments. Mineral deposits that accumulate on the flapper can slow it down over time, compromising its performance.
Mold and Bacteria
Mold and bacteria enjoy toilet tanks as their natural habitat, so they end up piling up on toilet flappers as well. When debris folds and deposits become too large, they prevent the flapper from opening and closing adequately.
Wear and Tear
Finally, toilet flappers fail from time to time because they can’t stand up to regular wear and tear. This is especially true for older models that rarely perform well over a long period, but newer flappers can’t last forever either.
How Can You Tell That the Flapper Is Damaged?
Another important question is how to identify a damaged toilet flapper. It’s a key issue because you don’t want to bother replacing it unless broken. Here are a few signs that you need to think about new toilet flapper types:
Your Toilet Keeps Running
One of the clear signs of a broken flapper is that your toilet keeps running. If you don’t flush the toilet, but it still lets the water flow into the toilet bowl, the flapper is not working.
It can’t create a seal that stops draining, so you’ll need to replace it.
A weak flush can indicate a faulty flapper. It means that your flapper closes too fast, not allowing enough water to exit the toilet tank. For this reason, the toilet struggles to clean the waste and remove debris from the bowl.
It’s Covered With Sediments
You can also find sediment deposits on the flapper during the regular toilet tank inspection. Mineral deposits disable flappers, so your toilet might randomly flush for a few seconds.
Pro Tip: Test The Toilet With Food Coloring
If you are not sure whether your flapper is working, you can test it with food dye. Pour some food coloring in the toilet tank, but don’t flush the toilet for 15 or 20 minutes. If you notice unusual colors in the toilet bowl, you’ll know that the flapper is damaged.
The Bottom Line
There are many types of toilet flappers, but they all come down to five categories:
- Rubber flappers
- Seat disk flappers
- Tank ballcocks
- Rubber flappers with floaters
- Rubber flappers with control dial
If you’re searching for a new flapper, we recommend buying one of the rubber models because they are flexible and durable. That’s all you can hope for from a little toilet part, so don’t experiment with older toilet flapper types.
How do I know which toilet flapper to install?
You can open the tank lid and check the current flapper in it. If it worked well for years, you could buy and install the same model. If you’re not happy with the way the old flapper worked, go for a proven model like rubber flapper with a floater.
Why do some toilet flappers have floats?
Some toilet flappers have floats because it enables users to control the amount of water that drains while flushing. If you want a full-flush mode, you can adjust the float to make a more powerful toilet.
You can do the opposite by lifting the floater — it will help you reduce water consumption with each flush.