The throne. The john. The loo. The big white telephone. There are seemingly endless ways to describe the most important fixture in any home, office or public space. There's also a similar number of colorful ways to describe how people use that fixture, from answering the call of nature to making the bladder gladder and going to see a man about a horse.
Yet for all the creative ways that humans have come up with to talk about bathrooms and what happens in them, many of us have shown an impressive inability to handle our business properly and with respect for other users. Unless you're a hermit who lives in a remote mountain cave, you're going to have to share a bathroom with others from time to time. Proper bathroom etiquette is a part of being a member of society. By following some simple rules, you can make the experience of relieving yourself easy and even pleasant. Or at least a little less gross for everyone involved.
How a person handles a toilet seat isn't just a matter of decorum, it's a window into the human soul. The type of fella who leaves the seat up after he drains the main vein is the type of fella who leaves clean clothes in the dryer and picks them out when he needs them or wears a Bluetooth device when he's not using it. In other words, he's not to be trusted.
Good seat work is a two-step process. If you're standing up while using a toilet, lift the seat before you unleash the stream and put the seat back down when you're finished. This technique serves dual purposes: It keeps you from accidentally spraying the seat, and it protects the next user from falling in.
As with most rules, there are some exceptions. Situations in which a toilet will be used exclusively by men call for a change of plans. Rather than going through the motions of lifting, dropping and lifting the seat each time the john gets used – and taking the chance that one of your more lazy friends, colleagues or roommates will forget to lift and miss his mark – go ahead and leave the seat up. Just don't get used to it.
No matter how many times they're told that it's a matter of simple civility – and not much work – some people just won't lift the toilet seat before they relieve themselves. If you can't be bothered to do the most minimal favor for your bathroom brethren before you pee, the least you can do afterward is make sure that the seat is dry.
Think of it as a game. Your goal is to aim true and shoot straight, all while leaving nary a drop on the rim. If you win, congratulations! You will no doubt be at the top of the list of potential competitors if and when urination accuracy becomes an Olympic sport. If you lose, your punishment is to clean up your mess. Of course, you could avoid this trouble by lifting the seat before you start to increase the size of your target.
Women who choose to stay perched slightly above the seat to avoid wetness and germs should also make a quick check for splatter when they're finished. And both genders should wipe the seat down with some TP if there are some drops.
"Use your words" is one of those phrases that gets thrown around a lot as advice to people who tend to express themselves through physical actions like punching and biting rather than saying how they feel. (That includes toddlers and soccer hooligans.) It's a generally solid approach and one that could ease tensions not just on the playground and in the stands, but also in a wide variety of other settings. A shared or public bathroom is not one of those settings.
Unless you happened to fall into the commode after somebody forgot to put the seat down and you need to call for help, leave the phone conversations until after you've taken care of business. The person in the next stall doesn't want to hear you making dinner reservations or gossiping about your neighbors while he or she is popping a squat. And whoever is on the other end of the line probably doesn't want to hear the sound of you or your neighbor flushing the toilet either. Not the mental image they want to have while talking to you. Which brings us to the next item on our list.
Think of the restroom as a sanctuary. For many folks, it's one of the few places where they can get a few moments' break from the hustle and bustle of life. For others, it's simply a place to take care of some highly necessary and completely personal business. Both groups would like you to kindly check your conversation at the door.
This is particularly true at the urinal. Just because you're standing next to someone and staring at what's probably a blank wall in front of you, it isn't an invitation to start yakking about whatever inane thoughts are on your mind. Nor is it a place to conduct business, no matter how pressing the topic might be. For one thing, you never know who else might be in there lurking behind a closed stall door. If you're the one in the stall, the only time you should strike up a chat with your neighbor is if you need to ask him to pass over a roll of toilet paper. Otherwise, save the office gossip for the water cooler, the break room and the happy hour bar.
Here's a news flash: The stuff that comes out of your body during a bowel movement doesn't smell very good. Bathrooms, especially the communal versions that see a lot of foot traffic over the course of a day, often take on a peculiar smell. You can do your part to cut down on the funk by flushing at least once during the course of your stay on the pot.
Forget the tree-hugger types who bemoan wasting water with a courtesy flush. There's a certain efficiency in the mid-sit flush: It helps prevent waste from clinging to the bowl, an unfortunate situation that would otherwise require more flushes down the road [source: Schulz].
Think of the courtesy flush as a form of paying it forward. If you have the decency to cut down on your own stench, others who use the same bathroom will do it too. That means you won't have to get a whiff of what Jim from Accounting had for lunch when you hit the stall for your afternoon "break."
Have you seen the "Seinfeld" episode where George brings a book into the bathroom at a Brentano's bookstore and then tries to put the book back on the shelf when he's finished? Hilarity ensues when the store manager forces him to buy the book. "They're selling coffee, bran muffins ... you're surrounded by reading material. It's entrapment!" George says, shortly before he tries and fails in several attempts to return the book.
Don't be like George. Don't take books, documents or other materials into to restroom if others might be handling them later. Would you want to thumb through a memo that you just saw Jerome from Marketing take into the can with him? Just remember the Brentano's sign that George walked by on his way to the commode. "BATHROOM NOT BOOKROOM."
Personal reading material is quite all right, so long as you take it with you when you're finished. Leaving a half-finished New York Times crossword puzzle for the next stall user might seem like a nice gesture, but the paper is likely to wind up crumpled and kicked around the floor.
This is a very simple principle: If you use up the toilet paper, you replace it, not just lay it on top of the toilet tank. Hosts should be sure there's an extra roll within reach, especially if they don't want their guests digging around under the sink and looking from something to wipe with in a pinch. Those frilly towels that Aunt Ginny gave you as a housewarming gift were meant to be used on hands.
The trick here isn't just setting up a fresh roll when the last one runs out, but setting it up properly. Use the "waterfall method" to ensure that the loose end of the roll is facing away from, rather than up against, the wall. This allows users to access the TP with a gentle flick of the wrist, instead of having to reach and scoop. This is also the practice hotels use, as the paper flows more freely and looks attractive with that little decal pressed into it. But some people think the underhand method actually makes it easier to tear the paper off the roll and offers less wastage.
Proper bathroom etiquette varies based on the setting. In a home, for example, it's probably a good idea to light a match in addition to a courtesy flush or two. This will get rid of any lingering smell. Of course, this will only work if there is a matchbook handy.
Hosts who want their guests to practice common civility in the washroom can go a long way in making it happen by ensuring that the place is well stocked. That means plenty of soap, hand towels and toilet paper (at least one extra roll). It also means keeping a plunger nearby [source: Ahlberg].
If you're entertaining, you may also want to leave a note near the toilet that alerts users to any equipment issues. That includes strange flushing requirements – hold the handle down until the bowl clears, jiggle it a few times before flushing, stand on your head and count to 10 before using – that your guests should be aware of. If you don't want to recreate the toilet scene from "Dumb and Dumber," make it very clear to guests that a toilet is out of commission and direct them to the nearest alternative.
In simpler times, it was easy to tell if a bathroom stall was occupied. One needed only to crouch down and look for a pair of feet under the door. These days, however, it's not always that straightforward. Fancy new bathroom designs where the stall door goes all the way to the bottom leave no room for the crouch and spot. This can create some awkward run-ins with colleagues, roommates and complete strangers for those who choose to simply try the door.
To get around this, knock lightly and listen for a response. Trying the handle should be the last resort. Some stall doors don't lock very well, which makes barging in a roll of the dice, and lead to embarrassing situations. You wouldn't want to run into your boss, would you?
The sad truth is that many communal bathrooms have fewer sinks than toilets. That means that users should at least be vaguely aware that there are probably other folks trying to get to the basin and wash their hands. Except, that is, the ones who don't wash their hands or just simply run water over them in the blink of an eye. We know who you are, and we do not approve of your methods.
It's OK – I guess – if you want to hit the restroom after lunch to brush your teeth and floss, fix your hair or reapply makeup. Just don't hog up the space so others can't wash their hands or get to the paper towel dispenser. Move over if you have to. Remember, in communal bathroom settings, we're all in this together.
Merriam-Webster has added 850 words to its online dictionary. Learn more about new words for 2018 in this HowStuffWorks article.
Author's Note: 10 Restroom Etiquette Rules People Are Constantly Breaking
The Jesus and Mary Chain is one of those '80s British alternative bands whose brand of soaring melancholy is so darn catchy and mopey at the same time that it's perfect for the movies. Film fans may remember the band's best-known song – "Just Like Honey" – as the audio backdrop to the climax scene in "Lost in Translation," the 2003 Sophia Coppola flick about loneliness, relationships and Japanese karaoke. What listeners might not pick up the first time around, however, is the song's lyrics. Singer Jim Reid pledges his love to some unidentified person by telling his special someone "I'll be your plastic toilet." At least that's the way I always heard it. Then I looked up the lyrics. It's "plastic toy."
More Great Links
- Ahlberg, Amy. "All your bathroom etiquette questions answered!" Reader's Digest. (March 22, 2015) http://www.rd.com/slideshows/all-your-bathroom-etiquette-questions-answered
- Fennessy, Christine. "The WH Bathroom Etiquette Guide." Women's Health. (March 22, 2015) http://www.womenshealthmag.com/life/bathroom-etiquette
- Hindenach, Jeff. "6 Bathroom Etiquette Tips for the Office." MediaBuzz (March 22, 2015) http://mediabuzz.monster.com/benefits/articles/1631-6-bathroom-etiquette-tips-for-the-office
- International Center for Bathroom Etiquette. "Seat Up, Seat Down." (March 22, 2015) http://www.icbe.org/seat-up-seat-down/
- Murphy, Ryan. "How to: Practice Toilet Etiquette." Ask Men. (March 22, 2015) http://www.askmen.com/fine_living/how_to_400/461b_how-to-practice-toilet-etiquette.html
- Ryan, Maxwell. "How To: Hang Your Toilet Paper Correctly?" Apartment Therapy. Jan. 30, 2012 (March 22, 2015) http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/how-to-hang-your-toilet-paper-correctly-165219
- Schulz, Nick. "The Crappiest Invention of All Time." Slate. March 7, 2006 (March 22, 2015) http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/gizmos/2006/03/the_crappiest_invention_of_all_time.html
- Seinfeld Scripts. "The Bookstore." (March 22, 2015) http://www.seinfeldscripts.com/TheBookstore.htm
- Wang, Jacqueline Burt. "Use Your Words." Parents Magazine. (March 22, 2015) http://www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/development/social/use-your-words/
- Zupek, Rachel. "Restroom etiquette for the office." CNN. (March 22, 2015) http://www.cnn.com/2009/LIVING/worklife/09/14/cb.bathroom.office.etiquette/index.html?iref=nextin