Bathroom Etiquette 101


As I recently sat in a public restroom (yes, I realize that you now know exactly what I was doing, but everyone does it, so lighten up), I heard a flush, footsteps, then a door open and the footsteps fade. What I didn’t hear was a running sink or the rip of a paper towel. And so, I am going to go over a few basics that perhaps some folks out there missed.

Hand Washing

If you use the restroom, wash your hands. If you walk into a restroom, wash your hands. At the very least, walk over to the sink and make the water run for a minute. But hey, while you’re there, why not just wash your hands for real?

Urinal Decorum

There is an order to which urinals may be used. Here are a few basics to remember. When there are multiple urinals, the prime choice is the one furthest from the door, closest to the wall where there is only one urinal beside you. If that urinal is being used, DO NOT USE THE ONE RIGHT NEXT TO IT. Leave a gap of at least one. Ideally, choose the urinal furthest from the occupied one. If there are only two urinals in the bathroom, use your best judgement, especially when the one available is lowered to accommodate the younger peeing crowd. Remember, there are also traditional toilets available, in which one can also urinate (please lift the seat with your foot before using these though).

Talking in the Bathroom

Don’t do it. There are few worse places for idle chatter than the bathroom. Just don’t do it.

Toilet Paper Emergency

First, always check to make sure that your stall is properly equipped before dropping trousers. But, if you were caught up in a moment of desperation and could not check, here’s what you do:

  • Conduct a personal inventory – Do you have any toilet paper on your person? Perhaps a number of fast-food napkins? Maybe an undershirt that you never want to wear again? Use what you have first.
  • Text a friend – In following with the previously stated “Talking in the Bathroom” rule, use alternative forms of communication when available. Do you have a friend within walking or driving distance who can bring you what you need? Remember, a friend in need is a friend indeed.
  • Ask a neighbor – This should be a rule of last resort. If you do end up having to verbally ask someone for help, maybe disguise your voice. That way you can have plausible deniability that you were the one in need later on.


Is the bathroom a mess? Make sure to alert the management so they can take care of it. If you speak with a lesser employee, they may not wish to acknowledge it as a problem that needs solving, as they are likely the ones who will be putting scrub brush to toilet (and floor and stall – seriously, some people are nasty). Also, be sure to make the management aware that the bathroom was filthy before you used it, even if you are the one who made it filthy. No one needs to know that it was your fault.


Waiting in line is never fun. But when you are waiting in line inside a bathroom, it is even less pleasant. The best thing to do is stay alert, don’t touch anything, and respect the queue. Do your business quickly, wash your hands, and get out.

Bringing Children of the Opposite Gender into the Bathroom

First, do you need to? How close are you to home? Have you scotch-guarded your car seats lately? Maybe you can just deal with the mess without having to resort to the public restroom option. Just a thought.

Also, before you decide to bring little Robert into the Ladies room or little Roberta into the Men’s room, check for a Family bathroom. More and more places have them.

But if it cannot be avoided, make it quick. There are things in public restrooms that kids don’t need to see. Kids are great at asking awkward questions at the perfectly wrong moment already. The less opportunity they have to ask these things about strangers doing their business the better.

When to Use the Handicap Stall

Purists will tell you that the handicap stall is reserved only for the handicapped. I respectfully disagree. I mean, if you know that there is a reasonable likelihood that you will be stealing the stall from someone who is actually handicapped, try to avoid using it. But for most people, this likelihood is not a reality. Also, because others are reluctant to risk stealing this stall, there is a good chance that it is cleaner than the others.

The Caveat – If you use the handicapped stall without actually being handicapped, you do run the risk of encountering an actually handicapped person waiting for that stall upon your exit. Rather than trying to fake a limp, I suggest proudly strutting out. They will know that you are faking if you try the limp and will appreciate the honesty, if not the time it saves in getting you out of their stall.

When to Use the Family Bathroom

So you aren’t with your family. Can you still use the family bathroom? Well, consider this. Are you going to do something in this lesser-used bathroom that traditional bathroom users would appreciate you doing in a separate “smell zone”? If so, use it. Do you get “gun-shy” around others and need a little privacy? Use it. Are you actually with your family? Sure, use it. That’s what it was designed for anyway.

A Note to Bathroom Architects

Please always make doors open out from the bathroom. No one wants to pull a handle and risk coming into contact with people who ignore the first rule listed above. Also, be considerate when incorporating motion sensor lights. If the motion sensors are placed somewhere where motion inside the stalls does not register, it will lead to an awkward wait in the dark for people who could use light in the bathroom the most.

Stay safe out there!


7 responses to “Bathroom Etiquette 101

  1. How many of those rules/observations are based on personal experience? (and yes, you may plead the fifth if necessary.) I have actually oft pondered the urinal rules and I believe it to have much more game theory than just the standard “farthest from any other occupied urinal” rule. I’ve even contemplated making my own blog post about it, so I won’t tip my hand here. But yes, most of my thoughts on the topic have been before, during, and after the experience of urinating in public restrooms, and most often at work.

    • I do believe that the urinal rules I have listed above are primitive at best. I’d love to see your game theory rules as a post. Would you be interested in doing a guest post on my blog? Either that, or may I have permission to re-post it when you publish on your blog?

      • I’m not a writer and my authorship would be out of place on your blog, but you’re always welcome to link to or republish my content (with attribution).

  2. I should write a woman’s version of this. it would be a little different, though much the same. OK – since you brought up handwashing, here’s something I just read. I have tried it and it works. I can reduce to only one paper towel if I shake my hands 12 times and FOLD the paper towel in half to improve interstitial absorbency. (I thought JoshMosey Writer would like that one).

  3. Great thoughts! I never knew there was a male urinal etiquette and now I do! Not sure what I would do with it…wait… I do have a three year old nephew and a 7 month old nephew but they are both still in diapers! Thanks for the tips!

  4. Can I add something to the queues? This is for the ladies. If you’re in line and you see a pregnant woman, it little matters how badly you have to go…SHE has to go worse. Let her skip ahead.

  5. Josh, ask Eric about the guy at work with the, ah, interesting approach to urinals. It’s best if you ask him when no one is around because it involves a lot of demonstrations that will attract attention. No joke. 🙂

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