AskDefine | Define washroom

Dictionary Definition

washroom n : especially a lavatory in a public place

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. In the context of "US|Canadian English": A toilet, especially a public one.

Usage notes

  • In the U.S., where the term originated, it was mostly replaced by "restroom" in the 20th century. Today it is generally used only as a technical or commercial term.
  • In Canada, the term is used in everyday speech. The word "bathroom" is also used. The term "toilet" is generally considered somewhat indelicate in Canada and is avoided.
  • The term is rarely used in other English-speaking countries, where "public toilet" or "lavatory" are preferred.


Extensive Definition

''"The Men's Room" redirects here, for the radio program see The Men's Room (radio program).
A washroom is a room for washing one's hands (such as a lavatory); the term also is used to denote a public toilet, comfort room, toilet room, bathroom, or restroom (see above). Some washrooms also include full-body bathing facilities such as shower.


Usually the term washroom is used to denote a public, commercial, or industrial personal hygiene facility designed for high throughput, whereas a similar term "bathroom" is used to denote a smaller, often residential facility for lesser throughput (i.e., often for only one person at a time to use). The word originated in the United States and is currently the preferred term in Canada; in American English, "bathroom" or "restroom" are now more common (except in Chicago, where "washroom" is still standard). In Britain, Australia, Hong Kong (as toilets) and New Zealand, the terms in use are "public toilets" and (more informally) "public loos". In the rest of the world (usually Africa, Middle East, and Southeast Asia) the term "Comfort room" is used. Furthermore many European washroom doors are simply marked "WC", for water closet, which may be confusing for non-Europeans. One reason some Americans prefer "restroom" over "bathroom" is that restrooms do not have bathtubs. The word "washroom" is also sometimes used in the United States to denote a "laundry room" or utility room.

Gender and public washrooms

Separation by sex is so characteristic of public toilets that pictograms of a man or a woman are used to indicate where the respective toilets are. These pictograms are sometimes enclosed within standard forms to reinforce this information, with a circle representing a women's toilet and a triangle representing a men's facility. Symbols such as the DOT pictograms have been criticized for perpetuating gender stereotypes; however, there may be no practical alternatives.
Sex-separated public washrooms are a source of difficulty for some people, such as those with children of a different sex, or men caring for babies when only the women's washroom has been fitted with a change table.
Sex-separated public washrooms are often difficult to negotiate for transgendered or androgynous people, who are often subject to embarrassment, harassment, or even assault or arrest by others offended by the presence of a person they interpret as being of the other gender. Transgendered people have been arrested for using not only bathrooms that correspond to their gender of identification, but also ones that correspond to the gender they believe themselves to have been assigned at birth.
Many existing public washrooms are gender-neutral. Additionally, some public places (such as facilities targeted to the transgendered or homosexual communities, and a few universities and offices) provide individual washrooms that are not gender-specified, specifically in order to respond to the concerns of gender-variant people; but this remains very rare and often controversial. Various courts have ruled on whether transgendered people have the right to use the washroom of their gender of identification.
A significant number of facilities have additional gender-neutral public washrooms, also referred to as Unisex bathrooms, to accommodate disabled or elderly persons who may require assistance from a spouse or a caregiver of the other gender.
In schools there are washrooms for men and women for the staff and visitors. The boys and girls are for the students and kids.
Toilets in private homes are practically never separated, except in some very conservative Middle Eastern nations; even in these states it is rare.


Washrooms usually contain the following fixtures (the urinals generally being only present on the men's side):

Modern washroom architecture

The 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.
Modern washrooms usually have the following features:
  • Doorless entry (labyrinth entrance) 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.
  • Sensor operated fixtures prevent the spread of disease by allowing patrons to circumvent the need to touch common surfaces. Sensor operated fixtures also help conserve water by limiting the amount used per flush, and require less routine maintenance.

Service access and utilities passages

Modern washrooms often have a service entrance, utilities passages, and the like, that run behind all the fixtures. Wall mount toilets that bolt on from behind the wall have replaced floor mount toilets. Sensors are installed in a separate room, behind the fixtures. Usually the separate room is just a narrow corridor, or narrow passageway. 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 (and usually is) still used for all such electrical equipment.
Futuristic architecture is often achieved through a nice juxtaposition of industrial concrete, glass brick, some high quality black marble, and stainless steel structural supports, where the glass brick also serves to separate the service passage from the main washroom. The use of sensor operated sinks, toilets, urinals, and hand dryers, together with service-installed lighting often adds to the modern aesthetic and functionality.
Service lighting consisting of windows that run all the way around the outside of the washrooms uses electric lights behind the windows, to create the illusion of extensive natural light, even when the washrooms 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 washrooms provides optimum safety from electrical shock (keeping the lights outside the washrooms), 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 services duct and often old toilets that have been modernised 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 duel flushes. This trend of hiding cisterns and fittings behind the walls started in the late 1950s in the United Kingdom and by the 1960s it was unusual for toilet cisterns to be visible in public toilets. Some buildings such as schools though a cistern can still be visible although high level cisterns became old fashioned by the 1970s and a lot of schools would now have low level cisterns.

Toilet seats in washrooms

In most washrooms, toilet seats have a gap in the center. While this is to prevent male urination from spattering on the seat, these seats are seen in both male and female washrooms, as a seat with a gap is more stable in the lifted position - the flush is not in the way. In the United Kingdom and some areas of Europe, the seats tend to be a complete circle, without the gap.
Washroom toilet seats in washrooms may be either white or black, depending on when the washroom was built (or most recently remodeled) and the region in which they are located. Black toilet seats are the most common type in Canada. In the United States, though black was common in the past, white is now more common in most states, and is required by law in some states. The toilet seats in airplane lavatories are usually grey or some other intermediate neutral color.

Multi-use facilities

Some washrooms also function, in part, as changerooms, owing to their gender-segregated nature. For example, in beach areas, a portion of each washroom is often equipped with benches so that persons can change into or out of their bathing suits. Some such washrooms also include showers and soap/shampoo dispensers. Many modern showers and soap/shampoo dispensers are sensor-operated, and time out when used excessively.


Many public washrooms around the world are generally dirty due to heavy traffic, and the lack of available housekeeping staff to keep up with the cleaning. Some private businesses prohibit non-patrons from using their facilities as public washrooms in order to reduce the amount of traffic and the amount of cleaning necessary. Some go as far as locking the doors and providing keys to patrons only. Toilets which a pay on entry are usually cleaner than free toilets. Dr Dipak Chatterjee of Mumbai newspaper Daily News and Analysis claims that public toilet facilities are so unhygienic that people — especially women — who are vulnerable to infections should consider wearing adult diapers instead.
Some cities, like Philadelphia, are launching major efforts to install dozens of high-tech, self-cleaning public pay toilets in their heaviest pedestrian and tourist areas. Jack Sim, founder of the World Toilet Organization, has campaigned internationally for better, cleaner public toilets, particularly in developing nations.


External links

washroom in Dutch: Openbaar toilet
washroom in Japanese: 公衆便所
washroom in Swedish: Offentlig toalett
washroom in Chinese: 公共廁所

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

WC, backhouse, bagnio, balneae, balneum, basement, bath, bathhouse, bathroom, baths, caldarium, can, closet, comfort station, convenience, crapper, earth closet, head, john, johnny, johnny house, latrine, lavatory, mikvah, necessary, outhouse, powder room, privy, public baths, rest room, sauna, spa, steam room, sudarium, sudatorium, sweat room, tepidarium, thermae, toilet, toilet room, urinal, water closet, watering place
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