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A washroom ("bathroom", "restroom", "toilet", "comfort room", "toilet room", "washroom", "water closet", "W.C.", "public lavatory", "public convenience) is a public toilet — in contrast to a private usually residential toilet room, which may be a standalone water closet, or part of a bathroom. At a minimum, a washroom can be a single unit featuring a toilet and hand basin for hand washing. Washrooms can also be larger facilities, which may include bathing facilities or showers, changing rooms and baby facilities.

Washrooms may be stand alone buildings or installations, or be featured as part of buildings such as railway stations, schools, bar, restaurants, nightclubs or filling stations. Washrooms can also be found on some public transport vehicles, for use by passengers. Washrooms are usually fixed facilities, but can also refer to smaller public portable toilets, or larger public portable washrooms constructed as portable buildings.

Washrooms are commonly separated for gender into male and female facilities, although some can be unisex, particularly the smaller or single occupancy types. Both male and female washrooms may incorporate toilet cubicles, while many male washrooms also feature urinals. Increasingly washrooms incorporate accessible toilets and features to cater for people with disabilities.

Washrooms may be unattended or feature a janitor (possibly with a separate room), or attendant, provided by the local authority or the owner of the larger building. In many cultures it is customary to tip the attendant, while other washrooms may charge a small fee for entrance, sometimes through use of a coin operated turnstile. Some venues such as nightclubs may feature a grooming service provided by an attendant in the washroom.


In American English, usually the term washroom is used to denote a public, commercial, or industrial personal hygiene facility designed for high throughput, whereas a similar term "bathroom" is used to denote a smaller, often residential facility for lesser throughput (i.e., often for only one person at a time to use).The word originated in the United States and is currently the preferred term in Canada; "bathroom" or "restroom" are now more common (except in Chicagomarker, where "washroom" is still standard).

One reason some Americans prefer "restroom" over "bathroom" is that restrooms do not have bathtubs. The word "washroom" is used in the United States for a "laundry room" or utility room.

In Britain, Australia, Hong Kongmarker (as "toilets"), Singaporemarker (as "toilet") and New Zealand, the terms in use are "public toilet", "public lavatory" (becoming rare) and more informally, "public loo". In South Africa, toilet and restroom are commonly used. A "bathroom" is a room containing a bath, a "washroom" is a room where you can wash your hands, and a "restroom" is where you go to rest if you are tired; none of which would necessarily contain a toilet. Public toilets were traditionally signed as "Gentlemen" or "Ladies", and as the Gents or the Ladies, these terms remain in colloquial use.

In non-English speaking Europe, either the local translation of "toilet" (for example "Toilette" in French), or "WC" (abbreviation for "Water Closet") are common. In Germany, toilets in buildings such as hotels are often labelled with the room number "00".

In the rest of the world (usually Africa, Middle East, and Southeast Asia) the term "comfort room" is used.

Gender and public washrooms

Separation by sex is so characteristic of public toilets that pictograms of a man or a woman are used to indicate where the respective toilets are. These pictograms are sometimes enclosed within standard forms to reinforce this information, with a circle representing a women's toilet and a triangle representing a men's facility.

Sex-separated public washrooms are a source of difficulty for some people, such as those with children of a different sex, or men caring for babies when only the women's washroom has been fitted with a baby change.

Sign on the door to a special-needs washroom.
This washroom is designed to allow for the possibility that a caregiver of the opposite gender may assist the user.
Note also the raised 3d symbols and the use of braille on the sign.
A significant number of facilities have additional gender-neutral public washrooms, also referred to as Unisex bathrooms, to accommodate people with disabilities or elderly persons who may require assistance from a caregiver of the other gender.


Washrooms generally contain the following fixtures:

Modern washroom architecture

The architect Frank Lloyd Wright claimed to have "invented the hung wall for the w.c. (easier to clean under)" when he designed the Larkin Administration Building in Buffalo, New Yorkmarker in 1904.

Modern washrooms usually have the following features:
  • Doorless entry (labyrinth entrance) prevents the spread of disease that might otherwise occur when coming in contact with a door. Doorless entry provides visual privacy while simultaneously offering a measure of security by allowing the passage of sound. Doorless entry also helps deter vandalism; fewer audible clues to another person entering discourages some vandals. Doorless entry may also be achieved simply by keeping an existing door propped open, closed only when necessary.
  • Sensor-operated fixtures prevent the spread of disease by allowing patrons to circumvent the need to touch common surfaces. Sensor-operated fixtures also help conserve water by limiting the amount used per flush, and require less routine maintenance.

Service access and utilities passages

Glass brick is used to obscure a clear line of sight into washrooms.
Modern washrooms often have a service entrance, utilities passages, and the like, that run behind all the fixtures. Wall-mount toilets that bolt on from behind the wall have replaced floor-mount toilets. Sensors are installed in a separate room, behind the fixtures. Usually the separate room is just a narrow corridor, or narrow passageway. Each sensor views through a small window into each fixture. Sometimes the metal plates that house the sensor windows are bolted on from behind, to prevent tampering. Additionally, all of the electrical equipment is safely behind the walls, so that there is no danger of electric shock. However, a RCCB must be (and usually is) still used for all such electrical equipment.

Futuristic architecture is often achieved through a nice juxtaposition of industrial concrete, glass brick, some high-quality black marble, and stainless steel structural supports, where the glass brick also serves to separate the service passage from the main washroom. The use of sensor-operated sinks, toilets, urinals, and hand dryers, together with service-installed lighting often adds to the modern aesthetic and functionality.

Service lighting consisting of windows that run all the way around the outside of the washrooms uses electric lights behind the windows, to create the illusion of extensive natural light, even when the washrooms are underground or otherwise do not have access to natural light. The windows are sometimes made of glass brick, permanently cemented in place. Lighting installed in service tunnels that run around the outside of the washrooms provides optimum safety from electrical shock (keeping the lights outside the washrooms), hygiene (no cracks or openings), security (no way for vandals to access the light bulbs), and aesthetics (clean architectural lines that maintain a continuity of whatever aesthetic design is present, e.g., the raw industrial urban aesthetic that works well with glass brick).

Older toilets do not often have service ducts and often in old toilets that have been modernized, the toilet cistern might be hidden in a purpose-built 'box' tiled over. Often old toilets might still have high-level cisterns in the service ducts. On the outside, the toilet will be flushed by a handle (just like an ordinary low-level cistern toilet) although behind the wall this handle will activate a chain. Sometimes a long flushing trough will be used to ensure that the cistern can be refilled quickly after dual flushes. This trend of hiding cisterns and fittings behind the walls started in the late 1950s in the United Kingdom and by the 1960s it was unusual for toilet cisterns to be visible in public toilets. In some buildings such as schools however, a cistern can still be visible, although high-level cisterns had become old-fashioned by the 1970s and a lot of schools would now have low-level cisterns.

Types of washrooms

Private washroom

Washrooms inside a house are considered private, and are usually cleaner than any public washroom. An individual might feel more comfortable in his or her own bathroom. Private washrooms include a sink, flush toilet or squat toilet, and usually a shower or bath.

High-capacity washrooms

Washrooms in airports, stations, theaters, and stadiums are designed to handle a high-capacity of people. These washrooms are separated by sex, and have multiple facilities. Some high-capacity washrooms can be more modern and clean, while others will be dirty and outdated. Sometimes, an attendant will be present in these washrooms to ensure cleanliness and assist users.

Low-capacity washrooms

Restaurants and store washrooms are low-capacity washrooms. Due to the fact that there are fewer people in a restaurant than a stadium, these washrooms don't need as many accommodations. Most washrooms will be separated by sex, and some will be unisex. A smaller number of toilets will be in these restrooms. Generally speaking, a washroom at a more elegant restaurant would probably be more clean and comfortable than one at a fast food restaurant.

Toilet seats in washrooms

Outdoor facilities may be manufactured and delivered

In most washrooms in the US and Canada, toilet seats have a gap in the center. While this is to prevent male urination from spattering on the seat, these seats are seen in both male and female washrooms, as a seat with a gap is more stable in the lifted position - the flush is not in the way. In the United Kingdom and some areas of Europe, the seats tend to be a complete circle, without the gap.

Washroom toilet seats in washrooms may be either white or black, depending on when the washroom was built (or most recently remodeled) and the region in which they are located. In the United States, though black was common in the past, white is now more common in most states, and is required by law in some states. The toilet seats in airplane lavatories are usually grey or some other intermediate neutral color.

Multi-use facilities

Some washrooms also function, in part, as changerooms, owing to their gender-segregated nature. For example, in beach areas, a portion of each washroom is often equipped with benches so that persons can change into or out of their bathing suits. Some such washrooms also include showers and soap/shampoo dispensers. Many modern showers and soap/shampoo dispensers are sensor-operated, and time out when used excessively.


Many public washrooms around the world are generally dirty due to heavy traffic, and the lack of available housekeeping staff to keep up with the cleaning. Some private businesses prohibit non-patrons from using their facilities as public washrooms in order to reduce the amount of traffic and the amount of cleaning necessary. Some go as far as locking the doors and providing keys to patrons only. Toilets that require a pay on entry are usually cleaner than free toilets . Dr Dipak Chatterjee of Mumbaimarker newspaper Daily News and Analysis claims that public toilet facilities are so unhygienic that people — especially women — who are vulnerable to infections should consider wearing adult diapers instead.

Some cities, like Philadelphiamarker, are launching major efforts to install dozens of high-tech, self-cleaning public pay toilets in their heaviest pedestrian and tourist areas. Jack Sim, founder of the World Toilet Organization, has campaigned internationally for better, cleaner public toilets, particularly in developing nations.

See also


  1. Jan. 23, 2007, DAN GERINGER, 35 self-cleaning facilities could be operating by fall, Philadelphia Daily News
  2. "World Toilet Czar Finds Beauty in Times Square," The New York Times November 21, 2007.

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