The Trouble with Toilets (or Ruminations on Restrooms)

Posted: 2011-01-27 in how tos
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Occasionally, I’ll find myself mulling over a topic that I haven’t ever spent a lot of time on before.  Often, it’ll be something esoteric and of trivial value (such as my previous post on the design and usability of yogurt cups), but every once in a while I stumble onto a topic of real value.  I would submit that today’s post is one such topic, assuming you can bear with me until the bitter end.   Perservere, oh brave reader (but if you need to, you can hold your nose while doing so.)

There are places we visit almost every day, but most people loathe them.  There are more rules governing etiquette and usage there than anywhere else I can think of, but very seldom are these rules actually communicated verbally to others at any point in our lives.  Yes, I’m speaking of public restrooms.

Now there are plenty of posts out there about proper bathroom etiquette.  I’m sure I don’t need to go into the details of how to select a sink/urinal/stall based on the current occupancy configuration of the restroom.  If you need such a tutorial, this little flash game is an EXCELLENT guide to such unspoken rules of the restroom.

But where should you choose to go when there’s absolutely nobody in your public restroom, upon your arrival into said meditation chamber?  Obviously, the only way to truly make an informed decision is to scope out your bathroom in advance, and know all the intricacies of the layout to help you make your call.  Confused?  Allow me to offer my workplace’s bathroom as an example to get you started on the kinds of things you should consider when selecting a specific spot to answer the call of Mother Nature.

Upon entering a restroom, you should be able to almost immediately picture the entire floor plan in your head.  Here’s my workplace’s restroom as an example:

Now of course, the little details may escape your attention at first (such as the half-height urinal intended for all those coworkers under 5 feet tall, the extra-spacious handicapped stall whose toilet often leaves normal peoples’ toes not touching the ground, and the creepy deodorizer unit mounted on the wall that maliciously waits until utter silence has fallen to let loose with a ratchet-clank noise not unlike that of Robocop cocking a twelve-gauge shotgun, if said shotgun subsequently shot a spritz of overpoweringly fragrant deodorizing molecules out of an atomizing nozzle).  The first time in a new place, it’s normal to fail to observe these things until it’s too late – just take note of as many of these as you can and prepare yourself properly for future visits (drawing a diagram such as I have above is optional, unless your short-term memory is as bad as mine!)

Some suggested things to consider (besides the obvious cleanliness check):

Stalls (for both men and women)

  1. How many “shared walls” you will have with your temporary “neighbors”
  2. Height/size of toilets (including any abnormal ones)
  3. Typical TP availability (and direction of installed rolls, if you’re particularly anal about such things)
  4. Working latch mechanisms
  5. Ridiculously large gaps between door and frame where people might accidentally glimpse what’s going on (alternately, where you may be able to hold surveillance on the rest of the room)
  6. Width of stall / chance of feet-under-wall scares
  7. Whether people will naturally choose that stall first (i.e. try to open the door when you’re locked inside, giving you a mini heart attack)
  8. Chances of being “surrounded” by people on either side

Urinals (for men, and exceptionally talented women)

  1. Walls/dividers that provide “natural shielding” so you can easily avoid accidental/intentional glance-overs
  2. Height/size of urinals (including any abnormal ones)
  3. How many people you will have to walk past / how many people will walk past you
  4. Chances of being “surrounded” by people on either side

Once you’ve done the physical reconnaissance, it’s time to evaluate the results, and make an informed and rational decision to maximize your comfort and minimize distress while visiting said public restroom.  Here’s an example of a pro/con chart I made for my workplace bathroom:

Whatever you do, avoid that splash-back!

Reviewing the above, it becomes quickly apparent to me that Urinal C should always be my first choice, and although the decision is tougher when it comes to the stalls, I’ll probably take my chances and pick stall #2 rather than worry about the door rattling or latching mechanism woes that tend to come with stalls #1 and #3, respectively.

Obviously, you don’t have to go all-out and make your own chart for each and every restroom you tend to occasion – once you think through the things that are important to you, you’ll know where you stand on almost any public bathroom you visit in the future.

Or you know, you could just try winging it and see what happens, but don’t come to me when you get squicked out because you chose the wrong urinal/stall – yes, I’ll empathize with you, but then I’ll probably point you right back here to this post…

  1. Budd says:

    Lighting, should be considered if you are going to read a paper. Also look for paper towel dispensers. I used to work at a place where there was one behind a urinal. Most people used a different one but occasionally someone would walk up behind you to get a paper towel, or maybe worse, stand there and wait while you finish. Check sinks for super high powered nozzels that splash your pants.

    I thought it was only short folk like me that got left hanging in the handy capable stalls.


  2. bookmole says:

    I thought you were OTT on this,till I remembered that |I do have a loo I prefer at work. I will have to give this more thought!


  3. Margy says:

    Phew! That’s quite the rumination. You’ve got the engineer in you, alright.


  4. bookmole says:

    I think it is different for girls (cue Joe Jackson song)

    Because we do not have to do our weeing in public. And if we make disgusting noises / smells, we can just wait until the room is empty before leaving the stall. Thank god for phones with games / books on!


  5. jaklumen says:

    I don’t know about all these intricacies… I would just like North Americans to get over their stupid squeamish mindsets about bidets and realize that they are much more sanitary than toilet paper alone.

    I can take care of most business in a public area just fine except that what I need a bidet for, and that is way too much information for y’all anyways, so I am done.


  6. snoringKatZ says:

    When I was 15, I was part of a French language competition someplace downtown in Chicago. I don’t remember anything else about that day except going into this very fancy highrise’s very fancy bathroom. I came out of my stall to see an actual grownup woman turn on every faucet full blast in the place (four sinks? five? I don’t remember exactly) and go into a stall, presumably to pee. I wasn’t quite sure if I should wash my hands or if there were cameras somewhere and this was a joke so I just stood there looking dumb and/or baffled.

    She emerged moments later, turned off all the faucets and walked out of the bathroom. Whatever hangups I had about public bathrooms were over from that moment on.


  7. […] ex-Vox neighbour, Ross, has a great post on restrooms – go here for the full […]


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