Build Your Own Toilet
You know you're curious....
Here you will find step-by-step instructions on how to build a small scale toilet drain from easy to access materials.
Our toilet was designed in-house by Central San and is part of our classroom education programs.
We have used these models successfully in classrooms with students as young as four. Our classroom and event ready model will act (and sound) just like your real toilet at home.
We hope our design will provide insights for your students into how a drain works, spark questions about the design of our indoor plumbing systems, and help them consider how the things we flush down the toilet might affect our pipes and our sewer system.
Tools & Supplies
Clear Tubing: 3/8th inch diameter. 5 feet in length. **This diameter was chosen very specifically, more on that in the Flushables: The Not Cool Kind section below**
Tank: I use a 5 gallon bucket (available at your local hardware store). Alternatively you can use a an empty 2-liter bottle
Roll of Velcro: available at local hardware & art supply stores. **Zip ties or tape will also work. I just like Velcro because its more forgiving and it gives you more flexibility as you are building your toilet.**
Scissors, Tape Measure, and a Sharpie.
PVC Pipe Cutter: about $15 dollars at your local hardware store
PVC Pipe: 1/2 inch diameter. 4.5 feet in total:
- 12″ x one piece
- 9″ x one piece
- 6″ x four pieces
- 4.5″ x two pieces
PVC Brackets:1/2 inch diameter.
- “L” shaped bracket x four pieces
- ”T” shaped bracket x four pieces
STEP 1: Measuring and Cutting your PVC pipe
Measure and Mark your PVC pipe. Using your tape measure and a sharpie, measure out the appropriate lengths of PVC pipe you will cut (see lengths) above. Use the sharpie to mark the PVC pipe where you will cut it.
I also find it helpful to write the length of the segment on the pipe itself. That makes is easier to organize all the pieces later.
Cut your PVC pipe. Take your PVC cutter and cut your pipe at the markings. To use the cutter, open the handles so the blade opens wide. Each time you squeeze the handle, the blade will close slowly in a ratcheting motion.
Place the PVC pipe inside the jaws of the cutter, making sure the blade lines up with your sharpie mark. Take your time and WATCH YOUR FINGERS during this part. Squeeze the handles until the blade makes contact with the pipe and keep squeezing again and again until the PVC gets cut in two pieces. Voila!
Its OK if the cut isn’t perfectly clean or if its a little slanted. All the ends of the pipe pieces will be hidden inside of brackets.
STEP 2: Making your Toilet Base
Connect your short PVC pieces together using brackets. Gather all of your short PVC pieces together along with all of the “L” brackets and two of the “T” brackets.
Attach two of the 6″ pieces together with a ”T” shaped bracket. Repeat this process with the other two 6″ pieces.
Next, attach the four ”L” Shaped brackets to each of the ends. Make sure the L brackets are laying on their side, facing each other.
Take one of your, 4.5 inch PVC pieces. Attach an “L” bracket to each end. Repeat this process with your other 4.5 inch PVC piece.
When you are done, you should have a completed toilet base. You should be able to look down and see the opening of the “T” bracket in this position.
Note: The length of these pieces is designed so it can sit on top of a 5-gallon bucket. This is a great design for shorter individuals (4 & 5 year-olds).
***If you would like a table-top model, cut you 6-inch pieces in half, to make them into 3-inch pieces. That size base will fit nicely onto a cafeteria tray or in an aluminum foil roasting pan. Either can be helpful to catch spills.***
STEP 3: Finishing your Toilet Frame
Attach your long PVC Pieces to your Base. Take your 12″ PVC pipe and your 9″ PVC piece and place them in your base. It doesn’t matter which piece goes where, just that both pieces are standing upright at this point. (You may need to rotate your “T” bracket on your base to accomplish this).
Attach a “T” shaped bracket to the end of your 9″ PVC piece. This piece should look like a giant letter “T” at this point.
Attach a “T” shaped bracket to the end of your 12″ PVC piece. It should look like the letter “I” at this point.
You now have your completed toilet frame! Hooray!
STEP 4: Making you Toilet Drain
Place your Funnel Inside your Clear Piping: SLOWLY, and with a back and forth twisting motion, try to wedge your funnel into one end of the clear pipe.
This make take a moment. The clear pipe is flexible, you just may need to work it a little with the funnel before it creates a seal.
Try not to force the funnel. You might accidentally hit your other hand that is holding the pipe. Ouch!
Once you get the funnel into the pipe, you never have to take it back out again.
And if it falls out, it should be much easier to get it back into your pipe the second time.
STEP 5: Attaching your Toilet Drain to your Frame
Cut your Velcro & Attach your Toilet to the Frame: Take your scissors and cut five strips of Velcro, about 6 inches long each.
Start by attaching the funnel portion to the top of your 12″ PVC piece. I find that two Velcro strips at the top is very helpful for stability.
Now you will work your way downward in the same path water will flow. Use another Velcro strip to guide and secure the clear pipe to the frame near the base.
Guide the clear pipe to the opposite side of the frame. Use another Velcro strip to secure the pipe to the 9″ standing PVC piece. This should create a nice “U” shape at the bottom.
Using your last piece of Velcro, attach the rest of the clear pipe to the other side of the frame, across the flat part of the “T” bracket.
The Velcro should be easy to slide up and down to make sure your pipe is secure.You can also slide the clear pipe back and forth until it feels taught.
The clear pipe should be facing down towards the ground at this point. This is where your toilet will drain into your bucket (or 2-liter bottle).
Take It For a Spin!
Fill a cup of with clean water and slowly pour it into your funnel.
Watch and Listen closely to what happens to the water as it moves inside of your pipe.
What do you notice as the water is moving through your toilet?
What do you notice about the water that is sitting in your tank after you flush?
What else do you notice?
Flushables: The Cool Kind
Pee – 1 drop of yellow food coloring for 8 oz of water.
Poop – I find BBQ sauce works best. A squeeze bottle is helpful.
Puke – This one is gross, but effective. 1 part mustard, 1 part relish, mix.
Toilet Paper – Tiny little torn squares of toilet paper. Make sure they are tiny, otherwise they can get caught in your pipe and cause a mixed message about what is supposed to go down the drain.
Your toilet can also be used as a model of your Kitchen or Bathroom sink and drain. If you go that route…..
Kitchen Food Waste – I use a variety of food packets from a restaurant supply store.
Bathroom Sink Waste - I use hotel sized bottles of shampoo, toothpaste, soap, mouthwash,etc.
Flushables: The Not Cool Kind
One of our big communication messages is that Your Toilet is Not a Trash Can. Only Pee, Poop, (Puke) and Toilet Paper are supposed to go down the drain. Anything else has the potential to cause real problems in our system.
The clear pipe is a particularly effective teaching tool that allows the user to see and experience the consequences of flushing something they are not supposed to. The design of the toilet is such that things that are not supposed to go down the drain will get reliably stuck.
All of the items below work well in a 3/8″ diameter tubing. I tried lots of different sizes and found that as the diameter got wider, the tube got less flexible and stopped working as well. 3/8″ seems to be the sweet spot where things can fit down the drain, but the tubing can still bend and turn while holding its shape.
Wipes – Paper towel pieces, the bigger and more absorbent, the better
Pills – White or blue tic tacs
Fish – Mini sweedish fish. Keep them in water for a particularly fishy feel!
Teddy Bears – Mini gummy bears
Cereal – Cheerios or TJ’s O’s
Soil – Just some dirt
F.O.G. - Fats, Oils, and Grease. Pats of butter or other oily foods work great (in that they get stuck reliably)
I would avoid Grit and Debris (sand, small ball bearings, etc) because those will cause problems in your real drain when you eventually dump out your wastewater bucket.
Tools for Fixing Clogs
Plunger – I use a small 10ml syringe. As long as the nozzle makes a good seal with your pipe, anything that can push air down the pipe will work.
Snake - I use thick gauge, coated copper wire. You can buy a spool and cut it to your desired length and bend it however you choose.
Toilet Repair - The nice thing about the Velcro strips is that they allow the user to easily take their toilet apart and do a full toilet repair, just like a real plumber. Hopefully students will learn just how difficult and time consuming that process is.
Fish – For those particularly hard to clean clogs. A tent pole or dowel that is longer than the pipe itself (5 feet) can be used to push anything that wont come out with the other tools.
Cleaning & Storing your Toilet
To clean out the drain: Make a mixture of baking soda and vinegar, run through a few times until the tubing is clear. Hot water can also be used to flush clogs out of your drain.
You can detach your toilet drain from the frame and hang it straight so the pipe can drain. Store everything in a dry place for use over and over again!