Essential Reading For Anyone Designing a Public Restroom. [Optional – but hopefully amusing – For All Others]

*Note: This post has NOTHING to do with running, plantar fasciitis, the gym, science, or food.  It hardly has anything to do with Singapore.  However, it *does* have to do with toilets (tee hee hee!), so read on!

I posted the following on Facebook yesterday:

“Place I do not value creativity: On the signs differentiating the men’s and women’s restrooms.  Please, just plaster it up there in big, bold text so I don’t have to hesitate and look like a doofus.”

Although my phraseology isn’t exquisite, based on the number of ‘Likes’ this status received, I seem to have touched on a somewhat common restroom experience.  This got me thinking…perhaps my public-bathroom-related pet-peeves are a more shared human experience than I previously thought.

So what the heck…let’s share, feel all warm and snuggly, and bond over some shared experiences/impressions.  Note that what I’m presenting here are peeves that are unrelated to cleanliness or other bathroom users.  They are purely logistical/functional, relating to the construction of the restroom and its facilities.  [I also know they are first world problems.  YES, I have visited places without flushing toilets.  YES, I am thankful for modern sanitation.  YES, I realize how good I have it.  YES, I will still proceed.]  Without further ado, and in no particular order..

Holly’s Top 5 Public-Bathroom-Design-Pet-Peeves

1. Poor Door Labeling.  I don’t care if the restroom is tucked in the back corner of the restaurant, or off the breezeway, or out in the back. That’s totally fine.  I can always ask where it is.  But once I’m standing in front of it, please for the love of my un-creative mind, keep the labeling simple: “Ladies” and “Gentlemen”, and a simple, skirt/no skirt stick drawing will do just fine, thanks.  Don’t make the label tiny.  Don’t hide it in the corner.   Don’t substitute a stylized drawing for a label.  Honestly, don’t even be creative.  “Cowboys” and “Cowgirls” makes me feel like I might walk into a hoedown when I open the door.  No, thanks, I don’t mix my do-see-doing with my pee-pee-peeing.  No, siree…

2. Entry Hall/Doorway Is Too Narrow To Accommodate a Line: If the bathroom is in a busy mall, and there are THREE stalls, there will sometimes (often? always?) be a line. If it’s for the Ladies room, there will sometimes (often? always?) be squirmy kids and big strollers in line.  So please, please, please give us enough room to stand.  And don’t use petite, Chinese ladies traveling alone when you decide how much space is “enough”.  Remember the kids, and strollers, and the elderly aunties with canes.  Squeeze three meters from the retail space next door – just make the hallway wide enough so that those leaving the restroom can walk out without risking indecent contact with those on line to go in.

3. Bad Automatic Flushing.  This has a variety of manifestations.  Most commonly, it goes something like this:

I’m getting ready to sit (2 flushes).
I’m sitting perfectly still, not bending/leaning/reaching for my purse on the door – just sitting still (1 flush).
I hop up so my tush doesn’t get sprayed during the flush.
I sit (another flush…repeat stand/sit/flush/jump cycle).
Finally, I sneak onto the seat, hold my breath, and do my business, muscles tensed and prepared to leap at any second, should a flush initiate.
Stand up (distinct absence of flushing).
Gather bag (still no flush).
Dance in front of sensor (still NO FLUSHING).
I reach over and touch the manual flush button (EW, because this means I’m leaning over the bowl while it starts flushing…).
I turn, unlock door, start to walk out of stall (FLUSHES AGAIN).

Dear Whoever Designed These: Please make them better.  And never make them designed to flush as I leave the stall.  This leaves me paranoid.  I mean, what if I walk out, and it doesn’t flush?   At best, I’m alone in the bathroom, and can just pop back in and flush it.  At worst, there’s a line, and someone has already stepped into the stall and will forever think I’m a gross non-flusher.  Fail, fail, FAIL.

4. Over-Exuberant Flushing: There is no reason whatsoever that any of the water in that bowl should ever ever EVER leave during flushing.  I don’t care that it’s probably the “clean” incoming water that sends a few errant sprays out.  Use less water. Make a deeper bowl.  Use less force.  I don’t care – but get your engineers on it, because my shoes do NOT want that kind of bath.

5. Automatic Sinks With A 5 Second Water Limit: You know the feeling – You wave your hand around, finally get some water running, wet your hands, pump some soap on them, start to lather and…the water shuts off.  And no matter what you do, you can’t get it back on.  You repeat your motion sensor dance (which is no more effective than it was in front of the Toilet Flush Sensor). You wave your hand around like a fool.  You accidentally touch the inside of the sink, shudder because you know about sink germs, then wave even more desperately.Eventually, you are rewarded with another short burst of water, which is enough to rinse the soap from half of one hand.  Wave, wave, wave, rinse, repeat until your hands are passably soap-free.  And don’t even think about trying to fill a water bottle in one of these.

OK – It’s your turn.  What have I forgotten?

22 thoughts on “Essential Reading For Anyone Designing a Public Restroom. [Optional – but hopefully amusing – For All Others]

  1. Kim

    One of the worst public restroom design faux pas is when the stall door opens inward. There is no space for
    You to open the door without half straddling the toilet. There is even less space if you have a shoulder bag. You have to squirm to get yourself between the door and the toilet to get around the door to exit. Unless you’re in an unusually large handicapped stall, doors opening inward are a terrible idea. Also, tiny stalls drive me nuts, but doors opening inward are THE WORST.

  2. Nicole

    There is this furniture chain here that also happens to have an imax theater at their 2 largest locations (an odd story for another day). At one of their locations the ladies room has full length “mirrors” on the front of all the stall doors. Neat! Or so I thought…Once in the stalls I first noticed it was very dark inside and started to look for a light switch…that is until I turned toward the door and could see the sinks on the other side! Two-way mirrors on bathroom stall doors…ew. While it may help if you have kids with you to keep an eye on them, mothers have long been able to make a work around for this for years…Just ew!

    1. Kim

      When we were little my mother would make my sister and I put our foot under the door. I feel like that is a better solution than a 2-way mirror.
      Also, in Vegas, there was someplace we went that had restrooms with windows on the door. They were slightly foggy until you locked the door and they became almost opaque. I was disturbed and uncomfortable.

    1. Holly KN Post author

      Meh. Take or leave. I prefer a sit-on, but can use a squat when necessary.

      And since they exist for cultural reasons, and some people prefer them, I don’t really have an issue with them. Although, my informal impression is that they are a dying breed in public places. I remembering seeing them more often when I first started visiting Singapore. I’m not even sure I’ve seen one (in a public restroom) since we’ve moved back.

      1. gracechua (@gracechua)

        They’re a dying breed in homes, too. My grandma’s old flat used to have one, and the very oldest public housing still does – if the owners haven’t renovated the loo. In Japan though – they’re everywhere! Definitely a cultural preference. I was just wondering since some of my gaijin friends in Japan took a while getting used to them.

        1. Holly KN Post author

          I spent some time in Eritrea while in college – and squat toilets there were quite common, and not as nice as those here/in Japan. And after getting adjusted to those (+ traveler’s gastrointestinal troubles), things here are easy. 🙂

  3. Meg

    Partial flush toilets- ones that stop halfway through and leave things… behind. Frequently, these have no way to trigger an additional flush without waiting 3 minutes for the toilet to stop running. Just… ew!

  4. Amy Z

    Ha! This is hilarious. I have experienced some nasty “public” restrooms in China and will spare you the details, but know that over-use of technology is much, much better than under-use of it 🙂

  5. Kate


    The only thing I have to add is cubicles that are too small. Poor planning on your part means my knees are against the DOOR when I sit down. Same goes for doors that don;t go all the way up. Awkward!

    1. Holly KN Post author

      Yessss….particularly when combined with, as Kim already noted, doors that OPEN IN.

      Door height: True that. Asia is short. I am tall. And it’s awkward if I can stand up and kinda see over the top of the stall…

  6. Jean

    3 and 5: yes, yes, yes!!!! The “automatic flushers” that don’t automatically flush are the worst!!! I will literally park myself in front of one of those until it flushers to avoid being labeled a non-flusher. These are great.

  7. Kristen L

    Haha — great list Holly. I always have issues with the sinks not turning on! And I agree with the mention of doors opening in if there isn’t enough room to actually get around the door!

    We have a restroom in my building at work where the toilet paper roll stops rotating and you end up with only one tiny little sheet — not enough to wipe with! It is SO annoying to have to rip off lots of little pieces!

    1. Holly KN Post author

      Five points for you, too – making the toilet paper hard to get to may be a clever cost saving measure, but it is a definite pain! I also dislike when the dispenser is fitted with a roll that’s too big…so you have to use your hand to walk the roll along gently, to eek out enough for yourself….


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