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How to Drain Water from a Toilet (and How to Shut Off the Water Supply)

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Save a packet on plumber’s fees and empty the toilet bowl yourself.

It is vital to know how to empty a toilet bowl, especially when your toilet malfunctions or you want to swap it for a new model. But how do you drain the system when there is water in the tank, bowl, and trap?

We run through how to drain a toilet bowl, including isolating the water supply before you start your project.

Draining a Toilet Bowl

Once you’ve isolated the water and flushed the tank several times, you will need to remove the water from the toilet bowl. Place the plunger flange (the rubber end) over the drain hole at the base of your bowl. Push the plunger up and down to create enough pressure to force the water down the drain.


What to Do Before Draining a Toilet

Before you start draining your toilet, you will need to switch off the water supply. This ensures the tank is stopped from refilling. You can do this in two ways: turn off the isolation tap behind your toilet or at the main shut-off valve outside the house.

To isolate the water using the valve behind the toilet, turn the knob clockwise until it feels tight. Some isolation valves have a screw mechanism that you turn using a flathead screwdriver.

To isolate the water from the main valve, lift the protective cover and turn it clockwise, and the water shuts off.

Safety Note

Toilet bowl water is filled with contaminants like fecal matter, so you should wear rubber gloves to protect your hands for safety reasons. You might want to wear a face mask to prevent inhalation of tiny water particles.

How to Empty a Toilet Bowl

Plumber fixing water hose on toilet cistern

So, the time has come to empty the water from your toilet bowl, but first, you will need to gather the right tools for the job.

What You’ll Need

  • Rubber gloves.
  • Face mask.
  • Bucket.
  • Sponge.
  • Plunger (optional).
  • Old towels.

1. Flush the Toilet

Flush the toilet and let the tank drain with the water supply cut off. You may have to do this several times until the water stops flowing. There will still be a small amount of water in the tank’s base, which can be sponged out.

2. Mop the Tank

Lift the tank’s lid and mop up the water with the sponge. Keep your bucket handy, and you may need to place old towels around the base of the toilet to catch drips.

If there is a blockage, you may need to use the plunger and force the mass down the sewer pipe.

3. Remove Water from the Bowl

The easiest way to remove the water from the toilet bowl is with a sponge. Dip the sponge in the water and squeeze it out over a bucket. You may have to do this several times before the water is completely gone.

Alternative Ways to Drain a Toilet Bowl

Using a sponge and bucket is the most common way to drain water from a toilet bowl. However, it involves putting your hand in toilet water, which is not ideal. It’s time to look at alternative methods.

Plunge the Water

Plunging the water from the bowl is an effective method, especially if the bowl is clogged. The motion of pushing up and down forces the water from the bowl and trap located behind the toilet.

Place the rubber end of the plunger over the drain hole, ensuring that it creates a seal, and press it up and down.The advantage of using a plunger is that you don’t get your hands wet, unlike the sponge method.

Siphoning Out the Water

You will need rubber gloves for this method because you will place one end of the hose into the toilet water. Block both ends of the hose with your thumbs and put one end in the toilet. The other goes into a bucket.

When you release your thumbs, water starts to drain. This method also works to drain a tank that won’t flush.

Top Tip

The bucket end of the hose needs to be lower than the water level for it to drain. You may need to use a plastic washing-up bowl with low sides instead of a bucket.

Bail Out the Water

If there is still a lot of water in the toilet bowl, you will need to bail it out using a small cup or jug. While it removes the water, it won’t fully empty the bowl. You will need a sponge to mop up the last few drops of water that you can’t scoop with the cup.

Wear rubber gloves because you have to reach inside to get the water out of the toilet bowl.

Vacuum the Water Out

Using a wet and dry vacuum cleaner like this Stanley model is convenient for removing toilet water without flushing. You can empty the toilet tank and bowl as long as the water is clean. You wouldn’t want contaminated toilet water polluting your wet and dry vac.

Also, make sure you remove the filter from the vacuum cleaner and place it in wet mode first. Keep an eye on the water reservoir because you don’t want it to overfill.

Place the nozzle hose into the water, switch it on and watch as the bowl empties.

How to Drain a Toilet Tank

What happens if your toilet fails to flush, but you still need to remove the water from the bowl? Emptying a toilet tank without flushing is a challenge, but it can be done. Here are some handy methods that will stand you in good stead.

What You’ll Need

  • Jug.
  • Bucket.
  • Hose.
  • Sponge.
  • Wet and dry vacuum cleaner.
  • Hand pump.

1. Shut Off the Water Supply

Locate the water isolation valve at the rear of the toilet. Turn the knob clockwise to shut off the water. Without an isolation valve, you will need to perform this task at the main shut-off valve outside your home.

2. Lift the Tank Lid

Place dry towels around the base of the toilet. Remove the tank lid and place it to one side.

Take Note

Lay a dry towel on the floor to the side of the toilet. This gives you a safe place to lay the tank lid.

3. Use the Hose

Put your thumbs over the ends of the hose to seal them. Place one end in the tank and the other in a bucket. Release your thumbs, and the water will flow into the bucket. Use a sponge to mop up the residue at the tank’s base.

4. Use a Jug

You will need a small jug to fit inside the tank and avoid the inner mechanisms, but large enough to scoop plenty of water. Once the tank is empty, bar the small pool of water at the base, and mop up the last bits with the sponge.

5. Hand Pump

You can purchase hand pumps online or from hardware stores. They are commonly known as bilge pumps because the marine community uses them to pump out water.

Insert the nozzle end of the pump into the water tank and the hose end into the bucket. Pump the handle up and down, and the water travels up the tube and siphons out through the hose.

6. Wet and Dry Vac

If you want a fast method for the removal of water from your tank, a wet and dry vac is the answer. Remove the filter, insert the hose nozzle into the water and switch it on. The only thing you need to watch is the water level in the vac reservoir.

The last thing you need is toilet water splashing everywhere.

Tips for Toilet Removal

Once you’ve drained the water from the toilet, you will need to swap it for a new one. So, what are the pro-level tips for removing a toilet? Let’s take a look.

Clean the Toilet

If you’re removing a toilet, devote some time to cleaning it. Close contact with fecal matter is not good for your health. It’s easy to get wrapped up in getting the project done and skipping this bit, but who wants to get that close to a dirty toilet?

Enlist Help

Toilets weigh 65 to 120 pounds, so lifting one out is like a gym workout. Getting help makes the task easier, speeds up the process, and saves you from back pain.

Lay Down Old Newspapers

You will need somewhere to stand the toilet when it’s free, and old newspaper stops your bathroom floor from getting contaminated.

Remove the Seat

Toilet seats aren’t heavy, but they do have a habit of slamming shut on your fingers when you lift the toilet. Unscrew the seat and place it to one side.

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Plug the Sewer Pipe

When you remove your old toilet, plug the drainage opening with an old rag to prevent sewer smells and gasses from escaping into your home. Just make sure you remove it when you install the new toilet.


How to Drain Water from a Toilet

Knowing how to get water out of a toilet bowl is pretty straightforward as long as you remember to switch off the water supply and drain the system. Once you’ve done that, it’s as easy as A-B-C.

So, the next time you need to remove your toilet, forget calling in the pros and get the job done yourself.

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About the Author

Mark Weir

Mark spent 24 years working in real estate, so he knows his way around a home. He also worked with contractors and experts, advising them on issues of planning, investments, and renovations. Mark is no stranger to hands-on experience, having renovated his own home and many properties for resale. He likes nothing better than seeing a project through to completion.