How much water does a toilet tank hold? That depends on the age and type of toilet you have. If your toilet was made before 1982, it could use as much as 5 to 7 gallons of water per flush. From 1982 to 1993, many toilets were made to use 3.5 gallons per flush. Federal guidelines require newer toilets to use less water, with 1.6 gallons being the maximum legal amount per flush. But water-efficient toilets can use even less at 1.28 gallons or less per flush. How much water the particular toilet uses for a full flush determines how much water should be inside the tank between flushes.
Look for Clues
Your toilet may have markings that show the amount of water it takes per flush. Newer toilets have markings that show the amount of water per flush on the bowl near the hinges for the toilet seat. Looking for a date stamp on the toilet can give you an idea of how much water it uses based on the age. Look for the stamp on the inside of the tank lid or along the back inside of the tank. Pre-1982 toilets likely hold 5 to 7 gallons, toilets between then and 1993 likely hold 3.5 gallons, and new toilets hold 1.6 gallons or less.
Find Toilet Water Level Line
Remove the lid from the toilet water tank and look around the tank's interior walls for a line that is often labeled "Water Line." Look for it either on the side or back interior wall. This line marks the height at which the water should settle when the tank stops filling up. If the water is below this level, one flush may not remove all of the bowl contents, and you end up wasting water by flushing multiple times.
Follow the Overflow Tube
If you are unable to locate a water line inside the tank, the tank may have never had one. Even on models where the tanks are manufactured with water line marks, some tanks slip through without one. If you can't find a water line mark, the correct height for the water is about 1 inch below the top of the hollow overflow tube located around the middle of the tank. The water level cannot be above this tube, or it will constantly overflow down into the bowl.
Adjusting the Water
If you notice your toilet tank not filling enough or filling too much, you can raise or lower the amount of water inside the tank by adjusting the fill valve. The fill valve is the vertical valve on the left-hand side inside the tank. It allows a certain amount of water to refill the tank after every flush. Follow the particular design of your fill valve to adjust the water level. The specific adjustment will vary, from turning an adjustment screw on some models to moving a clip on others. Flush the toilet after you adjust the fill valve and make sure the water cuts off when it reaches the desired height.
Alternative Adjustment Methods
If you choose to leave your fill valve on the same setting and not adjust it, there are products and methods you can use to change the toilet water level inside the tank. Owners of older toilets whose tanks hold and use more water per flush sometimes choose to do this instead of installing newer toilets. Some homeowners place a brick inside the tank to displace a certain amount of water. If you do this, put the brick in a plastic bag first or you risk pieces of the brick breaking off and clogging the toilet's rim holes. Another method involves filling a plastic bag with water and placing it in the tank. When you flush the toilet, this amount of water stays put.
Even though the exact amount of water in the tank might vary depending on the toilet, you can tell how much should be in the tank with a visual inspection. Make adjustments as necessary to conserve how much water you use while still getting a good flush.
Christopher John has been a freelance journalist since 2003. He has written for regional newspapers such as "The Metro Forum" and the "West Tennessee Examiner." John has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Memphis State University.