Why do public toilets in the US have large gaps (no privacy)?

  • Most public toilets in the US are very low in privacy, the bottom gap in the door is so big (around 15-20% of the door), the side gaps are too big as well. This will make the toilet experience so unpleasant with no privacy at all. You can literally count the people outside and people outside are like "ok, now he is wiping, etc.".

    I can't think of a reason behind this. Can someone tell me why?

    US Toilets

    It probably all boils down to "it's cheaper this way".

    Well, your standard for privacy is evidently much higher than the norm in the U.S.— which, by European standards, is on the squeamish or even puritanical side when it comes to bodily functions or undress, and thus the last place you would think to be lax in this regard. For instance, it's pretty rare now to find trough urinals in newer construction in the U.S., though they seemed to be the norm, for instance, in Australia.

    I have noticed this too. I suspect (though don't know) that it's designed to minimise secretive drug-taking and other undesirable activities. [In contrast the always-secretive Swiss make their cubicles virtually hermetically sealed.]

    Just for kicks for those of you for whom this is a concern have you tried looking under the locked door?

    The stalls in that photo look sufficiently private to me, for any legitimate use of the stalls. If someone can casually tell that you're wiping in one of those stalls, you're doing it wrong.

    I honestly can't think of a reason why a public toilet should be built to make sure that outsiders are prevented to realize that the current user is wiping. As a spectator I would be more conserned if I realized that someone did *not* wipe after taking a dump.

    @Tor-EinarJarnbjo why would you care if someone's ass is wiped or not? I more care about not seeing the process.

    I think you should split up this question into two parts, one about the walls not reaching down to the floors (which, for instance, I perceive as very usual for much of Europe, as well), and the other one about the large gaps on the sides of the door (which, in contrast, I find extraordinary and have only once encountered like this - in Canada). These are really two separate questions, and the currently accepted answer only responds to the former part.

    @O.R.Mapper The walls don't come down to the floor in Europe, sure. But in the U.S., they're often about 18 inches off the floor whereas, in Europe, they're more or less half of that. My perception of U.S. bathroom stalls is that, if the lock jammed or something (super-unlikely, sure), I could crawl out under the door; in Europe, I couldn't.

    Didn't notice that differ from europe (germany)...I mean...you got to do what you've got to do...I had no problem with the "stalls"...and nobody else seemed to care.

    Nobody wants to stick their face up to the crack to see whether you're wiping. And if they did, someone else in the room would probably confront them. And nobody wants to stick their face under the door to look at you. If they do, kick them in the nose.

    NB "Why Can’t We Have Decent Toilet Stalls?" by science columnist Shannon Paulus at *Slate*.

    It's so Uncle Sam can spy on you and make sure you aren't up to no good.

  • SpaceDog

    SpaceDog Correct answer

    7 years ago

    I can't find a definitive link but there are a few reasons, a lot of which were already covered in the comments.

    One, the style in your picture makes the whole place easier to clean. You can hose down the floors in one go and there are not so many joins between the walls and the floors for gunk to build up. (EDIT: in your picture you can see that the toilets don't even join the floor -- so for that setup I'm pretty sure it's for ease of cleaning).

    Two, it's so that people can see what you're doing in there. It discourages drug taking or people having sex in the cubicles because it's obvious what's going on. Also if someone passes out on the toilet (for whatever reason) it's easier for people to notice -- in a fully obscured stall someone could lie in there for a long time. It may also just discourage people for sitting in there for longer than necessary.

    Lastly, it's cheaper and easier. Divisions like that can be deployed in any room regardless of the flatness of the floor, or the height of the room, etc. Building divisions that actually fit floor to ceiling might require custom cutting and fitting, that might happen in a big building with dozens of identical toilets but for the odd public toilet cheap and easy is the way people will go.

    To add to choster's comment, it does tend to vary widely across the US. I've seen toilets with even less privacy than that picture -- like a door that's you can see over when you stand up. The concerns about misusing the toilets tend to trump the privacy, particularly in public places. But you're right, in many private places they will be more sealed. And there're many places in the world where you'll be lucky to find a door at all -- or many people that care that there's no door there.

    One thing to add on why these factors are a bigger deal for airports than elsewhere: international airports tend to be open with customers coming and going 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. For most other venues, after the building is closed the cubicles will be empty and cleaners can do a deep clean, force open any mysteriously closed cubicles, etc.

    This answers only half the question (or, as I've remarked in my comment on the question, one of the two questions), as it does not explain the depicted (IMO unusually, compared to other continents) wide gaps at the sides of the doors.

    @O.R.Mapper I'd imagine large gaps at the sides are also to discourage illicit activities in the stall. Or it could be just cheaper, less material, bad workmanship.

    @SpaceDog: I am really not convinced of the former suggestion; the gap between the door and the floor allows to recognize illicit acitivites without reducing privacy to a point where, say, private parts could be visible without considerable additional effort. Through the side gaps, on the other hand, the effort required to recognize illicit activities and to conduct bathroom voyeurism is roughly the same, making this a whole different topic. The other speculation might of course be true, but it warrants an analysis as to whether it really is specific to North America or the U.S.

    @O.R.Mapper, the truth is I don't really know, and short of someone knowledgeable dropping by I'm not sure we'll get a concrete answer. As for it being US specific, as I say in my answer things vary wildly around the world, without proper research it'd be impossible to pin down trends to countries.

    "edits must be at least six characters" so I can't fix "no fewer" :-)

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM