A macerating toilet, also known as an upflush toilet, lets you put a bathroom almost anywhere. Unlike standard gravity-flush toilets, they can be installed below or far from your main plumbing stack, giving a lot more options for placement.
Due to their higher cost and maintenance requirements, though, they’re not always the right choice. Before you decide to install one, get to know where these toilets work best.
How Macerating Toilets Work
On the outside, a macerating toilet looks just like a traditional toilet. Push the lever on the tank, and the waste is flushed away with water. The difference is in what happens to that waste once it’s flushed down. A traditional gravity-flush toilet uses the force of gravity to flush waste through a hole in the floor and into the plumbing system. A macerating toilet flushes waste out the back into an electric macerator and pump tank.
The macerator is a small unit placed on the floor directly behind the tank or connected to a pipe and hidden behind the wall. When you flush the toilet, the macerator turns on automatically and uses a rotating blade to grind up the waste and mix it with water, forming a slurry. The waste is then pumped up PVC piping to your existing main plumbing stack. Depending on the power of the pump, that could be up to 15 feet upward and 150 feet away horizontally. From there, the waste goes to the sewer or septic tank.
French company Société Française d’Assainissement (Group SFA) developed the macerator for plumbing use in 1950. The toilets were meant to fit small spaces and make it easier to install bathrooms below pre-existing lateral lines. The technology arrived in Canada in the 1980s, then started catching on in the United States in the 1990s.
When to Choose a Macerating Toilet
Macerating toilets are only recommended for situations where installing a traditional gravity-flush toilet isn’t possible or practical. In fact, not all local plumbing codes allow for these toilets. They’re also not ideal as primary toilets because frequent use causes excess wear on the pump.
While you don’t need existing pipes to install one, you do need a water supply and a plumbing stack. For installation, small-diameter PVC or copper pipes are sufficient. The pump requires a power source, but battery-operated models are available.
A macerating toilet is a good choice when you want a bathroom below or far from your pre-existing lateral lines, or where the water pressure is low. That could be on the ground floor of your home, in the basement, or in an outbuilding such as a garage or workshop. These toilets also work well for remote cabins without standard plumbing. Many upflush toilets let you connect a sink or shower, too.
Pros: Flexibility and Convenience
In addition to the more flexible plumbing requirements, upflush toilets are also well suited to small spaces. They only need two pipes and can be installed with a few small tools. If you have some experience working with plumbing, you can install one yourself in around 4 hours with little planning.
The job requires close attention to detail, though, because small errors can cause big, messy problems. Read the instructions carefully and follow them exactly. Choosing the right pipe sizes and installing them at the correct angles is critical.
These toilets are just as easy to remove and reinstall in another location without damaging either the toilet or the bathroom. They’ll work well in a temporary bathroom for long-term guests or for someone with limited mobility who can’t easily reach the upstairs bathroom. They’re handy if you’re planning extensive home remodeling and won’t be able to use your main bathroom for a while.
Macerating toilets are as durable as standard toilets, usually working for around 10 to 15 years before any parts need replacing. They’re also easy on the environment. While some models use the standard 1.6 gallons per flush (GPF), most upflush toilets use around 1.28 GPF, with some using as little as 0.8 GPF. The slurry they create breaks down quickly.
Cons: Upfront Cost and Maintenance
The upfront cost of a macerating toilet is almost always higher than for a standard gravity-flush model, and depending on the brand, the cost could be almost twice as high. Even so, installing one is cheaper than modifying existing plumbing to accommodate a standard toilet.
The pump can’t run without electricity, so if you’re in an area with frequent power outages, you might find an upflush toilet too unreliable. A battery-operated model can solve this problem.
Due to the action of the grinder and pump, macerating toilets are a little noisier than standard toilets. Most pumps run between 35 and 45 dB(A), around the same noise level as the hum of a modern refrigerator. The maceration process produces some odor, but most systems are enclosed and vented well enough that you won’t notice it.
Maintenance for these toilets is a little more involved than for standard models, and they’re more likely to clog. You’ll need to flush regularly and monitor the pump to make sure it doesn’t run dry, which could cause it to burn out. Keep an eye on the pump’s overall performance because the impeller is prone to wear with age, leaving you with a slow-running toilet.
Some common toilet cleaners, especially those containing corrosive chemicals such as bleach or hydrochloric acid, can damage the toilet’s rubber components. Cleaning products that foam up can cause the macerator pump to run too long, leading to damage. Avoid using soap with a thick lather in any connected sink or shower. Vinegar works for cleaning the bowl, but if you have hard water, use a specially formulated descaler to prevent limescale buildup in the pump.
When installing a standard toilet isn’t possible, a macerating toilet gives you a more flexible alternative. You’ll pay more upfront and spend a little more time on maintenance, but you can enjoy the convenience of having a bathroom exactly where you want it.