Recently I was made aware that our church had a pretty large water bill. So I formed an unofficial task force and we took it upon ourselves to analyze the needs of every toilet in the place. Not only did I learn a great deal about the status of the toilets there (all 22 of them) - but I was able to teach my task force a little bit about the parts of a commode.
Our methodology for finding leaks was simple. You CAN go to your local home center and get a package of leak detector for a couple of bucks - we chose the el cheapo route: unsweetened red koolaid powder. Some folks use actual food coloring...but that has been known to stain! You put a little bit of the powder in the tank (that's the back of the toilet...the part where you stack magazines and an extra roll of paper) and then take a 5 minute break. When you go back to look at the bowl of the toilet (that's the part that you sit above...you know) look for color. If there is color (this is why we use cherry koolaid, not lemonade...) then you've got a leak. The most common cause is a leaky flapper/flush valve.
You want to know what often deforms flappers (making them leak)? Toilet cleaning products like the pretty blue tablets you drop in there to make your friends think you run a super-clean bathroom! Seriously! Skip those things and just clean the commode once in awhile. The blue water is only useful in helping small children understand that yellow and blue make green. But I digress...
A broad understanding of the parts of a toilet:
The bowl - the place where the waste goes before the flushing.
The tank - I believe we have established that this is the area that you put your extra washcloths and perhaps a book of matches... The water in the tank goes into the bowl during the flushing.
Now the parts inside the tank:
The fill valve - connected to the water supply, this is the device that makes the tank fill back up after flushing. If you look at the wall of your house under the tank...you see the valve? The thing that that hose is attached to - that's the fill valve.
The flush valve/flapper - the way this looks completely depends on the type of tank innards you've got. But if is connected to the handle and lifts when you flush...that's the flush valve. Sometimes it isn't a flapper, but a ball! They don't warp very often but they can get mis-aligned.
The overflow tube - a tube that is about 1" in diameter. The water level in the tank needs to be below the top of that tube! Otherwise water is trickling into the bowl all the time.
Other than that - in my toilet tank there is a brick. Saves a little water because there is less water volume in the tank. Still plenty to get the job done!
If you want more details about the various parts and their functions - visit the website H2ouse.org.
Mostly I just wanted to remind people that toilets need a little TLC from time to time - if you HEAR your toilet run off and on...you're already losing $$ because you're wasting water. A single commode can waste 30 to 500 gallons per DAY!! And sometimes even more. So - move the stuff on the tank and take a look inside. You may find it more interesting than you think!