Public Restroom Design Issues

June 25, 2013

A properly designed public toilet facility improves the experience of both those who operate the facilities and those who use them. Proper design reduces queuing, misuse, and lowers initial and recurring cost.



At a minimum public restrooms must meet the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG).


When the lock in on the inside of the door to the full restroom, rather then on individual stalls, it significantly impacts the availability of the facility. An unlocked facility may find a person in a stall while another is washing, and a third is using a hand dryer. This same situation in a locked room would have 2 people waiting outside. Room locks increase the opportunity for misuse. Even an employee taking a smoke breaks, reduces the availability of the facility by those with a legitimate need. The worse case implementation is when the above is implemented with a slide locks. While fine on a stall door, a slide lock on the facility door provide no mechanism for management to intervene when an occupant fails to respond after an excessive period of usage. (see also DOORS)
Some restrooms, typically portable sanitation units have outside latches that accommodate a pad lock. Occupants can easily imprisoned by a pranksters using no more then a stick



Not everyone washes their hands after using the toilet. Those that do should not be required to touch potentially unclean surfaces after they have scrubbed. Restroom doors should be designed so that after one has washed their hands, exit is possible without touching a surface. Doors that swing outward allow one to exit without gripping a surface but they must be configured to avoid hitting passing hallway traffic. Labyrinth entrances (door-less) have no surface to contaminate and they avoid the problem of an outward swinging door hitting someone. With no door opening to give warning of possible visit by security personnel, labyrinth design is less conducive to unwanted activity. Additionally, the sound signature of criminal activity is more likely to be detected when no doors exist. (see also LOCKS)



Mirrors can increase security by allowing a sight-line from the entrance to the back of the restroom. Thoughtlessly placed mirrors, however, may provide a view from outside to areas where privacy was intended such as the urinals in a men’s room.



To prevent unnecessary queuing, anyone entering the restroom should be able to easily determine the state of occupancy of stalls. This can be done with doors that do not fully close when not in use or by other devices that signal occupancy. The doors of stalls often loose alignment over time. Doors should have sufficient clearance and locks latch length to function as the stall frame becomes misaligned.



Having the individual unisex toilet compartments with only enough room for a toilet significantly increasing the likelihood that the room will be used for it’s intended purpose only.


No matter what their configuration, public restrooms portals should be designed with sufficient width to accommodate peak times when users may be waiting in line. People exiting the restroom should not have to jockey their way through or collide with people waiting to enter the restroom. Entries and exits must accommodate the possibility that individuals with mobility-impairments needing a wheelchair, walker, or other devices and those traveling with luggage, baby strollers, etc. must be able to pass each other with adequate room to spare. This situation is a special problem in women’s restrooms where lines are more likely to form. Of particularly importance to women, entrances alignments that provide a sight-line to all stalls to insure full utilization. A separate exit sufficiently distant from the entrance to prevent users from looping back past one another, further reduces queuing. To improve security particularly for women, entrances room should be located were the clearest site-line to high traffic public area’s exist. Labyrinth entrances directly along major traffic corridors provide both the ‘sense of’ and actual security. Worse-case configuration have restrooms at the end of long corridor’s where users have no acoustic or visual site-line to trusted persons.



Open ceilings or a ceiling with ventilation provide a conduit for sound. Some sound dampening is necessary to assure privacy but the knowledge that a call for help can be heard reduces apprehension of both the occupant and a waiting parent or spouse.



The efforts of a person who thoroughly washes their hands before departing a lavatory are negated if they must touch a door handle. In most scenarios, it is likely that some previous users have failed to wash. Doors that swing outward allow occupants to use their shoulders. Eliminating this problem is another advantage of a door-less design. Where a door handle must be used to exit the restrooms, waterless hand sanitizers should be provided on the wall adjacent to the door. This allows the person exiting to sanitize their hands after opening the door. Where paper towels are present many will use a piece of towel to grip the handle. Some littering of the restroom floors can reduced by recognizing this smart practice and providing trash receptacles close to the exit.



Automated devices reduce the spread of disease and cost by controlling product usage. However, these devices are at times prone to failure. Preferred devices are those that can also be operated manually. Touch-less and automated devices include:

  • door openers,
  • toilet flusher,
  • faucets,
  • liquid soap dispensers,
  • hand dryers,
  • paper towel dispensers, and
  • toilet paper dispensers

Particularly on commodes, it is important that the sensor be installed so that it does not prematurely initiate the flush cycles. Wall sensors that detect movement away from the fixture may be less likely to falsely activate.



Hot water is appreciated by restroom users and is likely a municipal code requirement. Automated faucets keep heating costs in check. Point source heating allows instant availability of hot water and prevents energy waste when a faucets are left running.



People are sometimes soiled by overly sensitive automatic-flushing toilets that trigger while still in use or too quickly as the person begins to stand Overly powerful pressure-assisted, water-saver toilets sometimes spray dirty water on toilet seats. Both problems are unsanitary.



Toilet seats are often soiled by women who avoid contact by trying to squat above the seat or by men who stand to void. Some who attempt to raise the seats find they will not remain standing. All of the above problems are addressed by seats kept upright by spring loading. Upright seats that block flush valves increase the incidences of un-flushed toilets. Disposable seat covers should be available regardless of seat configuration. Automated self cleaning toilet seats typically found in APT’s can now be found in building restrooms. A common complaint to ARA are toilet seats that are not tightly affixed to the commode.


Background music inside the restroom, beside improving the ambience, provides a level of acoustic privacy.



Shields between urinals provide privacy and prevent splash from spreading. The latest version of the International Plumbing Code contains code that mandates partitions between urinals. If sufficiently high they also hinder person to person eye-contact that leads to nefarious activities. For additional information see the IPA Restroom Improvement Project.



be expected to have their hands full, malls, schools, etc,  restrooms should have shelves and coat hooks.  They should be sufficiently wide and strong enough to accommodate items that would otherwise be placed on  floor or the wet lavatory surfaces.



  • Misuse versus availability.
  • Roll-over (switch-over to second roll) when empty.
  • Extra-large rolls
  • Soft tissues are preferred by women
  • High dissolvability tissue prevents clogs in high use environments
  • Restricted quantity feed system



Two major factors when considering a floor surface should be high tractability when wet yet smooth enough to accommodate easy cleaning.   Unfortunately these two factors often conflict.  Curved tiles in the corners (vs 90 degree edge) particularly between the floor and the wall, prevent dirt build-up and facilitate cleaning.



Provide framing for advertising.  Ad’s offset the cost of operation.



Removing hand dryers does not mitigate the need for a trash receptacle.   Soiled children’s and adult diapers and sanitary napkins are a few items that need to be disposed of within the restroom.



Well ventilated restrooms can significantly reduce the sense that a restroom is dirty.  Ventilation also protects occupants from the misapplication of  dangerous commercial cleaning products.   As noted elsewhere, ventilation increase the chance that assault or vandalism will be heard.




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