Why do most public toilet doors open inwards?

  • The design of most public restrooms greatly caters for the ability to wash hands after the use of the toilette, providing facilities like sinks - sometimes with touchless faucets - soap dispensers, hand driers, paper towels etc. All quite expensive or maintenance heavy equipment.

    But when leaving the restroom, in too many cases the design of the facility requires you to open the door inwards usually by pulling a handle.

    Door, from the inside, with handle

    (Note that the door in my picture is transparent allowing you to see who is on the other side. It leads to a short dedicated corridor, not an open public space. Both attributes greatly reduce the chance of knocking down anyone on either side of the door.)

    The problem is obvious, whoever did not wash his hands after using the toilette has touched that same handle passing germs and contamination onto it. In many cases the construction of the doors really requires you to grab the handle, unlike on the way in where you can simply push the door with a shoulder or feet.

    Is there a reason for such design or is it modern instance of Cargo Cult?

    great question, I too have that problem with these doors, and my technique is to use a paper tissue, or if I'm lucky have someone else open it for me (someone entering for instance).

    because some rileys throw the door open. (dangerous for bypassers)

    if the hallway is a high-traffic area, opening outwards into the hall causes a detour.

    A lot of public restrooms (for instance, on the New York Thruway) have no doors at all, with a bent hall that occludes any line of sight twixt outside and in.

    Smart facilities managers make sure there is a trash can near the door, so that people can throw away the paper towel they used to open the door. Otherwise, you might find a pile of paper towels by the entry.

    @JonPurdy: a local fitness center uses a semi-circular entrance and it's a bit awkward to walk through

    This is nothing compared to train toilets !: http://stardotstar.com/blog/interfacing-with-a-virgin-train-toilet "On a recent trip to the big smoke i managed to count 32 instructions for how to get into and out of, and use a Virgin Trains toilet"

    Good call. I ask myself this question every single weekday when I'm forced to use the door handle despite regularly *witnessing* people not washing their hands after concluding business. (My current workarounds include doing an awkward pirouette and using a couple of quickly discarded tissues.)

    Well... it differs from country to country. In Sweden fire safety dictates that you should be able to push the door out rather than in making it possible to exit more easily.

    In Japan they had electronic doors that opened laterally with a sensor on top. Both safe, and keeps your hands clean :)

    I think a better question is why the do the toilets in stalls line up with the crack. =/

    I think you're seeing this completely the wrong way. Would you really prefer a handle on the _outside_ part of the toilet? Some (but not all) people go into the toilet to wash their hands. They would be forced to pick up the handle with their dirty hands. The handle would get increasingly dirtier with time. After some time who would want to pick up that handle? People who go to the toilet just to urinate surely don't want to get their hands dirty before they go. The handle placed inside is definitely _much cleaner_ than if it were placed outside.

    @djeidot —  The problem is where the door opens. The problem is not on which side there is a handle. There is a handle on both sides, of course.

    The main problem for me with the door opening inwards is not so much the potentially dirty handle — I already have avoidance strategies against that. It is the lack of space. In these kinds of toilets, you typically have very little space, so when you open the door inwards where do you put yourself ? You end up touching the door or the walls — what I *hate* in these places of dubious cleanliness. And Asken is right about safety, this is an issue too. God bless Sweden !

    @NicolasBarbulesco What I said still applies, either way you are forced to grab one of the handles. If the door opens outwards you have to grab the handle when you're going in.

    @djeidot —  There exists a very neat invention : a door that opens in both ways.

    You are concerned with the germs on people leaving the restrooms. What about the germs on people that are _entering_ the restrooms? To me, that would be a bigger concern, because more people will have washed their hands after using the restroom than before using it.

    @Charles your can always wash your hands while inside the restroom, even before you touch your private parts.

    @daniel.sedlacek But by that point, the germs from the door handle are already on your body.

    We could use guillotine like doors, which rise up when they sense somebody is near, and fall down when the guest has passed.

    I always just figured it was a privacy thing. You can keep somebody from inadvertently entering, and you can shut it from where you're sitting if the latch is broken or it swings open or something. You're SOL (possibly literally) if the door opens outwards while you're on the pot. I don't buy any of the germ stuff; who cares if your hands touch a dirty door, that's why you wash your hands when you're done...

  • infoal

    infoal Correct answer

    9 years ago

    Of things you might touch, you should possibly be least worried about the exit door handle (see, Enteric Bacterial Contamination of Public Restrooms, Dr. Germ: Charles P. Gerba, etc.). But, as you say, touch-free flush, sink, and soap are often available, and urine is sterile (potentially no need to wash up anyway), leaving floor, air, and door.

    Perhaps there are no official sources to cite because the codes don't prevent doing it right:

    A representative for the [Massachusetts] Department of Public Safety told the newspaper that the state building code does not specify the direction public bathroom doors must open.

    Yet there is still the issue of opening a door into the path of traffic:

    Doors that swing outward allow one to exit without gripping a surface but they must be configured to avoid hitting passing hallway traffic.

    The International Building Code for New Jersey mentions:

    Doors opening into the path of egress shall not reduce the required width to less than one-half during the course of the swing.

    I think what you have, as with so much bad design and user experience, is convention and a lack of incentive to do the harder/more expensive thing (no law requiring it, no directive from the client, etc.). Do you think there needs to be more behind it than that?

    From your answer it seems to me that the bacteria contamination on the door handle (especially E-coli) is of greater danger for the user than the possibility of being hit by the door opening to any side (especially if the door is transparent and doe's not lead to large public area directly) or the possibility of being struck inside the restroom where the door is blocked from outside. my conclusion is that the answer to my question is that the pull-handle-to-leave-the-restroom design is *pure madness*.

    The most logic reason they would swing inwards is because nobody is in there so the door doesn't obstruct anyone, if you would swing it outwards you could hit a waiting person. Also, doors that go outwards obstruct your path if you have to go urgently...

    You wrote _"urine is sterile"_, but that seems to be a myth. See, for example, http://www.livescience.com/45800-confirmed-urine-not-sterile.html

    @BryanOakley Germs are just a rationalization. Come on. I can attest that I personally hate touching this particular kind of door handle because touching something that has traces of someone's sexual organs, urine or fecal matter is just plain **gross**. Nothing to do with being non-sterile.

    The "path of traffic" argument doesn't really make sense to me. My experience with these types of doors are usually in public restaurants, where hygiene is critical, and the doors are tucked into an alcove. So opening a door inwards has just as much chance of hitting someone as opening it outwards. I think Kelketek's answer provides a more practical rationale, but I still wonder if the rare fire death comes close to outweighing the damage from millions of unhygienic bathroom experiences. Convention seems the only rational explanation...and it's a fine example of reckless obliviousness.

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