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||It has been suggested that Pay toilet be merged into this article. (Discuss) Proposed since January 2017.|
||It has been suggested that Privatization of public toilets be merged into this article. (Discuss) Proposed since January 2017.|
A public toilet is a room or small building containing one or more toilets (and possibly also urinals) which is available for use by the general public, or by customers or employees of certain businesses. Public toilets are commonly separated into male and female facilities, although some can be unisex, particularly the smaller or single-occupancy types. Increasingly, public toilets are accessible to people with disabilities.
Public toilets may either be used free of charge or the user may be charged a fee. In the latter case they are also called pay toilets and sometimes have of a coin-operated turnstile.
Public toilets may be provided by the local authority or by a commercial business. They may be unattended or be staffed by a janitor or attendant. In many cultures, it is customary to tip the attendant, especially if they provide a grooming service, such as at upscale nightclubs or restaurants.
Public toilets are typically found in schools, offices, factories, and other places of work; in museums, cinemas, bars, restaurants, and other places of entertainment; in railway stations, filling stations, and on long distance public transport vehicles such as trains and planes. Portable toilets are often provided at large outdoor events. In many Asian, African and Muslim countries, public toilets are of the squat type, as this is regarded as more hygienic for a shared facility.
- 1 Terminology
- 2 Types
- 3 Purposes
- 4 Design
- 5 Society and culture
- 6 Legislation
- 7 Gender issues
- 8 History
- 9 Gallery
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 External links
Public toilets are known by many names in different varieties of English. One of the more formal circumlocutions is "public convenience", as in the Guilford Place public conveniences, an architecturally valuable example.
In American English, the term "restroom" usually denotes a public, commercial, or industrial personal hygiene facility designed for high throughput. However, "bathroom" is now more commonly used. The word "washroom" is used in some parts the United States for a "laundry room" or utility room. (See Wash house, a historic term for a public place to wash clothes, similar in function to a self-service laundry.) Another euphemism is "comfort station", sometimes associated with visitor welcome centers, e.g. in national parks.
In Canadian English, public facilities are always called "washrooms". As men's and women's facilities are not normally situated next to each other in department stores, they may be referred to simply as "the women's room" or "the men's room". The word "toilet" generally denotes the fixture itself rather than the room. The word "washroom" is never used to mean "utility room" or "mud room". "Bathroom" is generally used to refer to the room in the home that contains a bath or shower.
In Britain, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, and New Zealand, the terms in use are "public toilet", "public lavatory" (abbreviated "lav") and more informally, "public loo". A "bathroom" is a room containing a bath, a "washroom" is a room for washing hands, and a "restroom" is a room to rest in when 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. The British Toilet Association, sponsor of the Loo of the Year Award, refers to them collectively as "away from home" toilets.
In non-English speaking Europe, either the local translation of "toilet" (for example toilettes in French), or "WC" (abbreviation for "water closet", an old-fashioned term for the flush toilet) are common.
Buildings where Muslims gather (not only mosques, but also madrassas (schools) and some places of work) have public, sex-segregated "wash rooms", as Islam requires specific cleansing of parts of the body before prayer. These rooms normally adjoin the toilets, which are also subject to Muslim hygienical jurisprudence and Islamic toilet etiquette.
Many public toilets are permanent small buildings, visible on the street, but many are not. Some of the oldest ones still existing in Britain, for example, are underground facilities. A modern replacement for this, at street level, is an automatic, self-cleaning toilet in a self-contained pod; one brand name is the Sanisette, which first became popular in France.
Another old design that has been re-invented is the French pissoir (vespasienne), a screened urinal. A modern version of this is sunk under the pavement, out of the way most of the time, but pops up when needed. This retractable model is typically installed in entertainment districts and made operational only during weekend evenings and nights. One brand is the Urilift, invented in the Netherlands in 2000, which developed a model for women in 2016. The company claims to have almost eliminated public urination.
Permanent public toilets may be maintained by private firms. The companies are then permitted to use the external surfaces of the enclosures for advertising. The installations are part of a street furniture contract between the out-of-home advertising company and the city government, and allow these public conveniences to be installed and maintained without requiring funds from the municipal budget.
Public toilets can either be used free of charge to the user, or they require the user to pay an entrance fee, in which case they are also referred to as pay toilet.
Some public toilets are mobile, and can thus be put in place where and when needed, e.g. for a festival. In this sense, a portable toilet is a temporary outdoor enclosure which can either be connected to the local sewage system, or store the waste in a holding tank to be emptied by a vacuum truck. Portable toilets may be cleaned and the tank emptied on location, or they may be moved back to a central base for servicing.
A step beyond the standard wheelchair-accessible toilet is what campaigners are calling a truly accessible facility, the "changing places" toilet. This has a hoist for an adult, a full-sized changing bench, and room for up to two carers.
A public toilet is to be used as an "away from home" toilet room. It is not only used for accessing the toilet itself for urination and defecation but may also be used for getting changed, washing hands, accessing drinking water (e.g. refilling water bottles), menstrual hygiene needs, using the mirrors, using waste bins etc. It is also used for unintended purposes, such as illegal activities (see below sections on drugs and sexual activities).
People with urinary and fecal incontinence problems, such as the elderly, are particularly in need of public toilets to live and participate in their communities with dignity and confidence. For example, more than 3.8 million Australians are estimated to suffer continence issues, including families with young children. This represents 18% of the Australian population. The National Public Toilet Map in Australia helps these people to locate the closest public toilets easily.
Inability to access a bathroom when necessary has caused health issues such as urinary tract infections, kidney infections, and digestive problems which can later develop into severe health problems. Inadequate access to the use of a bathroom when required can lead to substantial problems for people who have prostate problems, going through menopause, or are menstruating for instance.
Public toilets serve people who are “restroom challenged.” First, there are those who need to go very frequently. These people may have normal conditions – young age, old age, females who are pregnant or menstruating – or medical conditions. Second, there are those whose need for a toilet comes urgently, suddenly and without warning. These include most people with chronic conditions such as Crohn’s disease and colitis as well as those temporarily afflicted with food borne illnesses.
Also, drivers such as bus and truck drivers on a timed schedule have been known to have no access to a toilet and thus have a high risk of coming in contact with bladder and stool health problems. Furthermore, the lack of access for a driver may result in a lack of concentration on the road, which is a public safety concern. The need to access a public toilet becomes a larger issue than that for the individual who is being immediately deprived.
Workers therefore have legal rights to access a toilet during their work day.
Modern public toilets may be designed with a labyrinth entrance (doorless entry), which 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.
Coin operated entry
Pay toilets usually have some form of turnstile that is coin operated, or they have an attendant who collects the fee.
Modern public toilets often have a service entrance, utilities passage, and the like, that run behind all the fixtures. Sensors are installed in a separate room, behind the fixtures. Usually the separate room is just a narrow corridor or passageway.
Sensor-operated fixtures (faucets, soap dispensers, hand dryers, paper towel dispensers) prevent the spread of disease by allowing patrons to circumvent the need to touch common surfaces. Sensor-operated toilets also help conserve water by limiting the amount used per flush, and require less routine maintenance. 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 used for all such electrical equipment.
Service lighting consisting of windows that run all the way around the outside of the toilet using electric lights behind the windows, to create the illusion of extensive natural light, even when the toilets 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 toilets provides optimum safety from electrical shock (keeping the lights outside the toilet), 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 1930s in the United States and in the United Kingdom from the 1950s and by the late 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 now have low-level cisterns.
Public toilets by their nature have heavy usage, so they may rely on a flushometer with a stronger and louder flush than a home-usage toilet. Some high-vandalism settings, such as beaches or stadiums, will utilize metal toilets. Public toilets generally contain several of the following fixtures.
In the lockable cubicle (stall)
- Toilet with toilet seat; whereas a home toilet seat has a lid, a public toilet may or may not
- Toilet paper, often within a lockable dispenser
- Coat hook
- "Pull-down" purse holder
- Sanpro bin for menstrual products; this may be classified as clinical waste and be subject to special regulations concerning disposal
- Dispenser for flushable paper toilet seat covers
At the point of handwashing
- Faucets (taps), note some are at a lower level for children and wheelchair users
- Antiseptic handwash dispenser or soap dispensers, pump bottles or auto dispensers
- Mirror (usually over sinks)
- Paper towel dispenser (sometimes they have auto-sensors for touchless dispensing)
- Garbage can (a rubbish bin)
- Hand dryer (used manually or with auto-sensors)
- Urinals (almost exclusively in men's rooms; although see female urinal)
- Vending machines dispensing condoms, diapers (nappies), painkillers, energy drinks, perfume, breath mints, facial tissue, confectionery, undergarments, swimwear, soap, sex toys, or sanitary napkins or tampons
- Air fresheners or odour control systems
- Infant changing table, often fold-down (usually in women's rooms, but increasingly in men/s rooms, due to legal changes)
- Sometimes showers are also present, often with soap, shampoo, or similar dispensers (often at truck stops)
Society and culture
Graffiti and street art
Public toilets have long been associated with graffiti, often of a transgressive, gossippy, or low-brow humorous nature (cf. toilet humour). The word latrinalia—from latrine (toilet) and -alia (a collection)—was coined to describe this kind of graffiti. A famous example of such artwork was featured on the album cover of the satirical Tony Award Broadway musical Urinetown, using felt-tip pen scribblings.
As graffiti merged into street art, so some public street-level toilets began to make a feature of their visibility. The Hundertwasser toilet block is a colourful example in Kawakawa, New Zealand, designed by an Austrian artist and viewed as a tourist draw in a small town.
Drugs and vandalism
Some public toilets are known for drug-taking and drug-selling, as well as vandalism. This is associated with all "neglected, unsupervised buildings", not just toilets, and good cleanliness and maintenance, and ideally an attendant on the premises, can act as a protection against these problems.
Before the gay liberation movement, public toilets were amongst the few places where men too young to get into gay bars could meet others who they knew for sure to be gay. Many, if not most, gay and bisexual men at the time were closeted, and there were almost no public gay social groups for those under legal drinking age.
Sexual acts in public toilets are outlawed by many jurisdictions (e.g. the Sexual Offences Act 2003 in the UK). It is likely that the element of risk involved in cottaging makes it an attractive activity to some.
Privatization and closures
In some places, the provision of public toilet facilities is under great pressure. One response by public authorities is to close the buildings, often citing criminal activity. The United Kingdom government austerity programme has led to major council cut-backs to public toilet provision, with knock-on effects on the public realm as a whole. Some of the buildings, particularly the underground ones, are sold and used for other purposes, e.g. as a bar.
Another response is to privatise the toilets, so that a public good is provided by a contractor, just as private prisons are. The toilets may fall under the category of privately owned public space - anyone can use them, but the land ultimately belongs to the corporation in question. When toilets that have been privatised are improperly run, or closed, there may be calls to take them back into the control of the public authority, as with Westminster Council in central London - one of the wealthiest places in the world, where members of the public are reduced to urinating in the parks and streets for lack of available facilities.
In parts of the United States, public toilets were subject to racial segregation, due to the Jim Crow laws prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This imposed significant restrictions on the lives of African-Americans. Those who were able to afford cars could avoid the indignities of segregated trains and buses, but they faced the difficulty of finding a public toilet they were allowed to use. Courtland Milloy of the Washington Post recalled that on cross-country roadtrips in the 1950s his parents were reluctant to stop the car to allow the children to relive themselves – it just wasn't safe. One solution to this was to carry a portable toilet (a sort of bucket-like arrangement) in the trunk of the car.
Uncle Otis had made this trip before, and he knew which places along the way offered "colored" bathrooms and which were better just to pass on by. Our map was marked and our route was planned that way, by the distances between service stations where it would be safe for us to stop.
Toilet symbol in unicode
|🚹||U+1F6B9||MENS SYMBOL||men's restroom|
|🚺||U+1F6BA||WOMENS SYMBOL||women's restroom|
|🚻||U+1F6BB||RESTROOM||restrooms or unisex restroom|
|🚼||U+1F6BC||BABY SYMBOL||baby changing station|
|♿||U+267F||WHEELCHAIR SYMBOL||disabled accessible facilities|
|🅏||U+1F14F||SQUARED WC||restroom with flush toilet|
|🚾||U+1F6BE||WATER CLOSET||restroom with flush toilet|
Employees' rights to use the toilet vary between jurisdictions.
The Restroom Access Act is legislation passed by several U.S. states that requires retail establishments that have toilet facilities for their employees to also allow customers to use the facilities if the customer suffers from an inflammatory bowel disease or other medical condition requiring immediate access to a toilet.
In the United Kingdom, the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 requires businesses to provide toilets for their employees, along with washing facilities including soap or other suitable means of cleaning. Guidance on how many toilets to provide and what sort of washing facilities should be provided alongside them is given in the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Approved Code of Practice and Guidance L24, available from Health and Safety Executive Books.
But there is no legal obligation on local authorities to provide public toilets, and although in 2008 the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee called for a duty on local authorities to develop a public toilet strategy, this was rejected by the Government.
Separation by sex
In many cultures, separation by sex or gender is so characteristic of public toilets that pictograms of a man or a woman are used to indicate locations of the respective toilets, often without explicit reference to the fixtures themselves. In restaurants and other private locations, the identifications can be designed to match the decoration of the premises. Some toilets also function, in part, as changing rooms (locker rooms), owing to their gender-segregated nature. For example, in beach areas, a portion of the building is equipped with benches so that people can change into or out of their bathing suits.
In jurisdictions using the Uniform Plumbing Code, sex separation is a legal mandate via the building code.Amnesty International includes segregated toilets among its list of suggested measures to ensure the safety of females in schools. In many places the queues for the women's toilets are longer than those for the men's; efforts to deal with this are known as potty parity. Pay toilets disproportionately affect women.
Difficulties with segregation
Gender-segregated public toilets are a source of difficulty for some people; for example, men caring for babies may find that only the women's toilet has been fitted with a baby changing facility. Single men (such as divorced fathers) have similar problems when exercising visiting rights to their young daughters if they have only public areas to resort to. Legislation has been proposed in California that "requires buildings owned or partially owned by state or local governments, as well as other private buildings open to the public, as specified, to maintain at least one safe, sanitary, and convenient baby diaper changing station that is accessible to women and men". People with disabilities who need assistance to use the restroom have an additional problem if their helper is a different gender to themselves.
In the 21st century, with increased exposure of the transgender community, there have been some initiatives calling for gender-neutral public toilets, instead of only male and female ones, to accommodate genderqueer individuals. Political activists have drawn on the commonality between public toilets being segregated formerly by race and still by sex. This has become an increasingly contentious issue, as shown in the battles over North Carolina's Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act 2016. Transgender and gender non-conforming persons also may be subject to embarrassment, harassment, or even assault or arrest by others offended by the presence of a person they interpret as being of a different anatomical sex to themselves.
Many public toilets have either individual or gender-neutral facilities. These can accommodate people with disabilities, elderly persons who may require assistance from a carer of another gender, or other cases where public gender-segregated facilities might lead to discomfort. There are also gender-neutral toilets in cases where gender-segregated ones are not practical, such as in aircraft lavatories and passenger train toilets. Toilet facilities for disabled people, especially those reliant on a wheelchair, may be either unisex or gender-specific. Anthropologist Roger Lancaster draws the historical links between racial and sexual segregation of public toilets, and proposes future designs that re-think public space in a way "at once unsegregated, child-friendly, and handicapped accessible"
Public toilets were part of the Sanitation system of ancient Rome, often in the proximity or as part of public baths (thermae). By the Middle Ages public toilets became uncommon, with only few attested in Frankfurt in 1348, in London in 1383, and in Basel in 1455.
In the early 19th century, large cities in Europe started installing public toilets: first in Paris, then in Berlin in 1820 and in London in 1851.
George Jennings, the sanitary engineer, introduced public toilets, which he called "monkey closets", to the Crystal Palace for The Great Exhibition of 1851. He also used the euphemism "halting station", now in use in Indian English for a basic place to stay attached to a railway station. Public toilets were also known as "retiring rooms" (cf "Drawing room", from "to withdraw", and Waiting room.)
Underground public toilets were introduced in the United Kingdom in the Victorian era, in built-up urban areas where there was no space to provide them above ground. The facilities could be accessed by stairs, and were lit by glass brick on the pavement. Underground public toilets were often built to a high standard by local health boards, although there was a much higher provision for men than women. Most have been closed as they did not have disabled access, and were more prone to vandalism and sexual encounters, especially if there was no attendant. A few remain in London, but others have been converted into alternative uses such as cafes, bars and even dwellings.
Facilities for women sometimes had a wider emphasis, providing a safe and comfortable private space in the public sphere. The Ladies Rest Room is one example of the non-euphemistic use of the term: literally, a place to rest.
A notable early example of a public toilet in the United States is the Old School Privy. The American 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 York in 1904.
Toilets with a user fee
John Nevil Maskelyne, an English stage magician, invented the first modern pay toilet in the late 19th century. His door lock for London toilets required the insertion of a penny coin to operate it, hence the euphemism to "spend a penny".
Public toilet at the Vienna State Opera has recorded music
Roadside squat toilet near Toulouse, France
Squat toilets in Beijing, China
Old-style public toilet in a Hong Kong factory
Public toilet at Jozankei Hot Springs, Hokkaido, Japan
Public toilets near Kullu, India
Public toilet near cinema in Bangalore, India
Public toilet in Pukekohe, New Zealand
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Toilet buildings.|
- National Public Toilet Map (in Australia)
- Pay toilet
- Spray-and-vac cleaning, a method of professional cleaning
- Unisex public toilet
- Mulrooney, Thomas. "Public Toilets Around the World". Plumbworld News. Archived from the original on 1 November 2013. Retrieved 20 January 2014.
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- PHLUSH (2015). Public Toilet Advocacy Toolkit. Public Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human (PHLUSH), Portland, USA
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- David Northmore (11 April 1998). "Finding private passion in a public place; Why is it that some gay men go in search of sexual encounters in lavatories?". The Independent.
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- Molotch, ed. by Harvey; Norén, Laura (2010). Toilet. ; Public Restrooms and the Politics of Sharing. New York: New York University Press. ISBN 0814795897.
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- Jerry Brown vetoes bills to help men change baby diapers Sacramento Bee. SEPTEMBER 19, 2014 http://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article2610428.html
- SB-1358 Baby diaper changing stations http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201320140SB1358
- Toilet: Public Restrooms and the Politics of Sharing - Page 192, Laura Noren - 2010
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- British Toilet Association Campaigning for Better Public Toilets for All
- American Restroom Association America's advocate for the availability of clean, safe, well designed public restrooms
- Australia's National Public Toilet Map shows the location of more than 14,000 public and private public toilet facilities across Australia.
- Public Toilets Database Locations of public toilets in 18 countries. New locations and comments can be added. Detailed information includes the geographic coordinates and quality of the facility.
- Needaloo The Uk Online Disabled Loo Locator
- Find A John: Filterable Restroom Directory
- PHLUSH Volunteer advocacy group for public toilets