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Toilet photo.jpg
Raised pit toilet, Informal settlements Kampala (8409884995).jpg
Toilets come in various forms around the world, including flush toilets used by sitting or squatting, and dry toilets like pit latrines.

A toilet [n 1] is a piece of sanitary hardware used for the collection and/or disposal of human urine and feces, and sometimes toilet paper. Flush toilets use water, while dry or non-flush toilets do not. They can be set up to use a "western" sitting position with a toilet seat, with additional considerations for those with disabilities, or for an "Asian" squatting posture (squat toilet). Flush toilets are usually connected to a sewer system in urban areas and to septic tanks in isolated areas. The waste is known as blackwater and the combined effluent including other sources is sewage. Dry toilets are connected to a pit, removable container, composting chamber, or other storage and treatment device, including urine diversion with a urine-diverting toilet


Toilets are commonly made of ceramic (porcelain), concrete, plastic, or wood. The technology used for modern toilets varies. Some newer advances include dual flush, low flush, toilet seat warming, self cleaning, female urinals and waterless urinals. Japan is known for its elaborate toilet technology. Airplane toilets are specially designed. The need to maintain anal hygiene post-defecation is universally recognized and toilet paper (often held by a toilet roll holder), which may also be used to wipe the vulva after urination, is widely used (as well as bidets).

In private homes, depending on the region and style, the toilet may exist in the same bathroom as the sink, bath, and shower. Another option is to have one room for body washing (also called "bathroom") and a separate one for the toilet and handwashing sink (toilet room). Public toilets (restrooms) consist of one or more toilets (and commonly single urinals or trough urinals) which are available for use by the general public. Products like urinal blocks and toilet blocks help maintain the smell and cleanliness of toilets. Toilet seat covers are sometimes used. Portable toilets (frequently chemical "porta johns") may be brought in for large and temporary gatherings.

Historically, sanitation has been a concern from the earliest stages of human settlements. However, many poor households in developing countries use very basic, and often unhygienic, toilets - and nearly one billion people have no access to a toilet at all; they must openly defecate and urinate. [1] Or else they must resort to a "flying toilet": a plastic bag. These issues can lead to the spread of diseases transmitted via the fecal-oral route, or the transmission of waterborne diseases such as cholera and diarrhea. Therefore, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 wants to "achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation". [2]


The number of different types of toilets used worldwide is large, [3] [4] but can be grouped by:

Toilets can be designed to be used either in a sitting or in a squatting posture. Each type has its benefits. The "sitting toilet", however, is essential for those who are movement impaired. Sitting toilets are often referred to as "western-style toilets". [5] Sitting toilets are more convenient than squat toilets for people with disabilities and the elderly.

People use different toilet types based on the country that they are in. In developing countries, access to toilets is also related to people's socio-economic status. Poor people in low-income countries often have no toilets at all and resort to open defecation instead. This is part of the sanitation crisis which international initiatives (such as World Toilet Day) draw attention to. [6]

With water

Flush toilet

Flush toilet bowl Toilet 370x580.jpg
Flush toilet bowl
Toilet flush sound

A typical flush toilet is a ceramic bowl (pan) connected on the "up" side to a cistern (tank) that enables rapid filling with water, and on the "down" side to a drain pipe that removes the effluent. When a toilet is flushed, the sewage should flow into a septic tank or into a system connected to a sewage treatment plant. However, in many developing countries, this treatment step does not take place.

The water in the toilet bowl is connected to a pipe shaped like an upside-down U. One side of the U channel is arranged as a siphon tube longer than the water in the bowl is high. The siphon tube connects to the drain. The bottom of the drain pipe limits the height of the water in the bowl before it flows down the drain. The water in the bowl acts as a barrier to sewer gas entering the building. Sewer gas escapes through a vent pipe attached to the sewer line.

The amount of water used by conventional flush toilets usually makes up a significant portion of personal daily water usage. However, modern low flush toilet designs allow the use of much less water per flush. Dual flush toilets allow the user to select between a flush for urine or feces, saving a significant amount of water over conventional units. The flush handle on these toilets is pushed up for one kind of flush and down for the other. [7] Another design is to have two buttons, one for urination and the other for defecation. In some places, users are encouraged not to flush after urination. Flushing toilets can be plumbed to use greywater (previously used for washing dishes, laundry, and bathing) rather than potable water (drinking water). Some modern toilets pressurize the water in the tank, which initiates flushing action with less water usage.

Another variant is the pour-flush toilet. [3] This type of flush toilet has no cistern but is flushed manually with a few liters of a small bucket. The flushing can use as little as 2–3 litres (0.44–0.66 imp gal; 0.53–0.79 US gal). [3] This type of toilet is common in many Asian countries. The toilet can be connected to one or two pits, in which case it is called a "pour flush pit latrine" or a "twin pit pour flush to pit latrine". It can also be connected to a septic tank.

Flush toilets on ships are typically flushed with seawater.

Vacuum toilet

A vacuum toilet is a flush toilet that is connected to a vacuum sewer system, and removes waste by suction. They may use very little water (less than a quarter of a liter per flush) [8] or none, [9] (as in waterless urinals). Some flush with coloured disinfectant solution rather than with water. [8] They may be used to separate blackwater and greywater, and process them separately [10] (for instance, the fairly dry blackwater can be used for biogas production, or in a composting toilet).

Passenger train toilets, aircraft lavatories, bus toilets, and ships with plumbing often use vacuum toilets. The lower water usage saves weight, and avoids water slopping out of the toilet bowl in motion. [11] Aboard vehicles, a portable collection chamber is used; if it is filled by positive pressure from an intermediate vacuum chamber, it need not be kept under vacuum. [12]

Floating toilet

A floating toilet is essentially a toilet on a platform built above or floating on the water. Instead of excreta going into the ground they are collected in a tank or barrel. To reduce the amount of excreta that needs to hauled to shore, many use urine diversion. The floating toilet was developed for residents without quick access to land or connection to a sewer systems. [13] It is also used in areas subjected to prolonged flooding. [14] The need for this type of toilet is high in areas like Cambodia. [15]

Without water

Pit latrines are still in use in rural areas of wealthy countries (Heroy, Norway) Utedo.JPG
Pit latrines are still in use in rural areas of wealthy countries (Herøy, Norway)

Many types of toilets without a water seal (also called dry toilets or "non-flush toilets") exist. These types of toilets do not use water as an odor seal or to move excreta along. For example, from simple to more complex: a bucket toilet (honey bucket), a tree bog or arborloo (two simple systems for converting excrement to direct fertiliser for trees), a pit latrine (a deep hole in the ground), a vault toilet (which keeps all the waste underground until it is pumped out), a container-based toilet, a composting toilet (which mixes excreta with carbon-rich materials for faster decomposition), a urine-diverting dry toilet (which keeps urine separate from feces), and incinerating and freezing toilets.

Dry toilets use no water for flushing. They also do not produce wastewater. Some of these devices are high-tech but many are quite basic. [4]

Pit latrine

A poorly maintained pit latrine in Yaounde, Cameroon Pit latrines in Briqueterie - des latrines a fosses a la Briqueterie, Yaounde (3447843124).jpg
A poorly maintained pit latrine in Yaounde, Cameroon

A simple pit latrine uses no water seal and collects human excreta in a pit or trench. The excreta drop directly into the pit via a drop hole. This type of toilet can range from a simple slit trench to more elaborate systems with seating or squatting pans and ventilation systems. In developed countries, they are associated with camping and wilderness areas. They are common in rural or peri-urban areas in many developing countries. Pit latrines are also used in emergency sanitation situations.

The pit or trench can be dug large enough so that the pit can be used for many years before it fills up. When the pit becomes full, it may be emptied or the hole covered with earth and the pit latrine relocated. Pit latrines have to be located away from drinking water sources (wells, streams, etc.) to minimize the possibility of disease spread via groundwater pollution.

A ventilation improved pit (VIP) latrine adds certain design features to the simple pit latrine which reduces flies from exiting the latrine, thereby reducing the spread of diseases. [3]

Vault toilet

A vault toilet is a non-flush toilet with a sealed container (or vault) buried in the ground to receive the excreta, all of which is contained underground until it is removed by pumping. A vault toilet is distinguished from a pit latrine because the waste accumulates in the vault instead of seeping into the underlying soil.

Urine-diverting toilet

Urine diversion toilets have two compartments, one for urine and one for feces. A urine-diverting dry toilet uses no water for flushing and keeps urine and feces separate. It can be linked to systems which reuse excreta as a fertilizer.

Portable toilet

A line of blue plastic portable chemical toilets Porta Potty by David Shankbone.jpg
A line of blue plastic portable chemical toilets
Portable toilets lined up on top of a mountain in China Portable potty on top of a mountain in China.JPG
Portable toilets lined up on top of a mountain in China

The portable toilet is used on construction sites, film locations, and large outdoor gatherings where there are no other facilities. They are typically self-contained units that are made to be easily moved. Most portable toilets are unisex single units with privacy ensured by a simple lock on the door. The units are usually lightweight and easily transported by a flatbed truck and loaded and unloaded by a small forklift. Many portable toilets are small molded plastic or fiberglass portable rooms with a lockable door and a receptacle to catch waste in a chemically treated container. If used for an extended period of time, they have to be cleaned out and new chemicals put in the waste receptacle. For servicing multiple portable toilets, tanker trucks (vacuum trucks) are equipped with large vacuums to evacuate the waste and replace the chemicals. Portable toilets can also be urine-diverting dry toilets.

A bucket toilet, also known as a honey bucket, is a very simple type of portable toilet.

Chemical toilet

Chemical toilets collect human excreta in a holding tank and use chemicals to minimize odors. They do not require a connection to a water supply and are used in a variety of situations.

Aircraft lavatories and passenger train toilets were in the past often designed as chemical toilets but are nowadays more likely to be vacuum toilets.[ citation needed ]

Toilet fed to animals

The pig toilet, which consists of a toilet linked to a pigsty by a chute, is still in use to a limited extent. [16] It was common in rural China, and was known in Japan, Korea, and India. The "fish pond toilet" depends on the same principle, of livestock (often carp) eating human excreta directly.

"Flying toilet"

A bucket toilet Abortkubel.1.jpg
A bucket toilet

A "flying toilet" is a facetious name for a plastic bag that is used as a container for excrement and are then simply discarded. Associated especially with slums, they are called flying toilets "because when you have filled them, you throw them as far away as you can". [17]

Squat toilets

A squat toilet (also called "squatting toilet", "natural position toilet", or by many national names) is a toilet of any technology type (i.e. pit latrine, urine-diverting dry toilet, flush toilet etc.) which is used in a squatting position rather than sitting. This means that the defecation posture used is to place one foot on each side of the toilet drain or hole and to squat over it.

Squatting toilets are the norm in many Asian and African countries, and are common in most Muslim countries. They are also occasionally found in some European and South American countries.

In 1976, squatting toilets were said to be used by the majority of the world's population. [18] However, there is a general trend in many countries to move from squatting toilets to sitting toilets (particularly in urban areas) as the latter are often regarded as more modern. [19]



There are cultural differences in socially accepted and preferred voiding positions for urination around the world: in the Middle East and Asia, the squatting position is more prevalent, while in the Western world the standing and sitting position are more common. [20]

Anal cleansing habits

In the Western world, the most common method of cleaning the anal area after defecation is by toilet paper or sometimes by using a bidet. In many Muslim countries, the facilities are designed to enable people to follow Islamic toilet etiquette Qaḍāʼ al-Ḥājah. [21] For example, a bidet shower may be plumbed in. The left hand is used for cleansing, for which reason that hand is considered impolite or polluted in many Asian countries. [22]

There are toilets on the market where the seats have integrated spray mechanisms for anal and genital water sprays (see for example Toilets in Japan). This can be useful for the elderly or people with disabilities.

Accessible toilets

An accessible toilet is designed to accommodate people with physical disabilities, such as age related limited mobility or inability to walk due to impairments. Additional measures to add toilet accessibility are providing more space and grab bars to ease transfer to and from the toilet seat, including enough room for a caregiver if necessary.

Public toilets

A public toilet is accessible to the general public. It may be municipally owned or managed, entered directly from the street. It may be within a building that, while privately owned, allows public access, such as a department store, or it may be limited to the business's customers, such as a restaurant. If its use requires a fee, it is also called a pay toilet.

Depending on the culture, there may be varying degrees of separation between men and women and different levels of privacy. Typically, the entire room, or a stall or cubicle containing a toilet, is lockable. Urinals, if present in a men's toilet, are typically mounted on a wall with or without a divider between them. In the most basic form, a public toilet may not be much more than an open latrine. Another form is a street urinal known as a pissoir , after the French term.

Public health aspects

Toilets should be innovated and "reinvented" to properly address the global sanitation crisis says the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

To this day, 1 billion people in developing countries have no toilets in their homes and are resorting to open defecation instead. [23] Therefore, it is one of the targets of Sustainable Development Goal 6 to provide toilets (sanitation services) to everyone by 2030. [2] [24]

Toilets are one important element of a sanitation system, although other elements are also needed: transport, treatment, disposal, or reuse. [3] Diseases, including Cholera, which still affects some 3 million people each year, can be largely prevented when effective sanitation and water treatment prevents fecal matter from contaminating waterways, groundwater, and drinking water supplies.


Ancient history

Roman public toilets, Ostia Antica. Ostia-Toilets.JPG
Roman public toilets, Ostia Antica.
Model of toilet with pigsty, China, Eastern Han dynasty 25 - 220 AD Green glazed toilet with pigsty model. Eastern Han dynasty 25 - 220 CE.jpg
Model of toilet with pigsty, China, Eastern Han dynasty 25 – 220 AD

The 4th millennium BCE would witness the invention of clay pipes, sewers, and toilets, in Mesopotamia, with the city of Uruk today exhibiting the earliest known internal pit toilet, from c.3200 BCE. [25] The Neolithic village of Skara Brae contains examples, c.3000 BCE, of internal small rooms over a communal drain, rather than pit. [26] The Indus Valley Civilisation in northwestern India and Pakistan was home to the world's first known urban sanitation systems. In Mohenjo-Daro (c. 2800 BC), toilets were built into the outer walls of homes.[ citation needed ] These toilets had vertical chutes, via which waste was disposed of into cesspits or street drains. [27] Another typical example is the Indus city of Lothal (c. 2350 BCE). In Lothal all[ citation needed ] houses had their own private toilet which was connected to a covered sewer network[ citation needed ] constructed of brickwork held together with a gypsum-based mortar that emptied either into the surrounding water bodies or alternatively into cesspits, the latter of which were regularly emptied and cleaned. [28] [29]

The Indus Valley Civilization also had water-cleaning toilets that used flowing water in each house that were linked with drains covered with burnt clay bricks. The flowing water removed the human waste.[ citation needed ] The Indus Valley civilisation had a network of sewers built under grid pattern streets.[ citation needed ]

Other very early toilets that used flowing water to remove the waste are found at Skara Brae in Orkney, Scotland, which was occupied from about 3100 BC until 2500 BC. Some of the houses there have a drain running directly beneath them, and some of these had a cubicle over the drain. Around the 18th century BC, toilets started to appear in Minoan Crete, Pharaonic Egypt, and ancient Persia.

In 2012, archaeologists found what is believed to be Southeast Asia's earliest latrine during the excavation of a neolithic village in the Rạch Núi archaeological site, southern Vietnam. The toilet, dating back 1500 BC, yielded important clues about early Southeast Asian society. More than 30 coprolites, containing fish and shattered animal bones, provided information on the diet of humans and dogs, and on the types of parasites each had to contend with. [30] [31] [32]

In Roman civilization, latrines using flowing water were sometimes part of public bath houses. Roman latrines, like the ones pictured here, are commonly thought to have been used in the sitting position. The Roman toilets were probably elevated to raise them above open sewers which were periodically "flushed" with flowing water, rather than elevated for sitting. Romans and Greeks also used chamber pots, which they brought to meals and drinking sessions. [33] Johan J. Mattelaer said, "Plinius has described how there were large receptacles in the streets of cities such as Rome and Pompeii into which chamber pots of urine were emptied. The urine was then collected by fullers." (Fulling was a vital step in textile manufacture.)

The Han dynasty in China two thousand years ago used pig toilets.

Post-classical history

Garderobes were toilets used in the Post-classical history, most commonly found in upper-class dwellings. Essentially, they were flat pieces of wood or stone spanning from one wall to the other, with one or more holes to sit on. These were above chutes or pipes that discharged outside the castle or Manor house. [34] Garderobes would be placed in areas away from bedrooms to shun the smell [35] and also near kitchens or fireplaces to keep the enclosure warm. [34]

The other main way of handling toilet needs was the chamber pot, a receptacle, usually of ceramic or metal, into which one would excrete waste. This method was used for hundreds of years; shapes, sizes, and decorative variations changed throughout the centuries. [36] Chamber pots were in common use in Europe from ancient times, even being taken to the Middle East by medieval pilgrims. [37]

Modern history

Bourdaloue chamber pots from the Austrian Imperial household Bourdaloue dsc02723.jpg
Bourdaloue chamber pots from the Austrian Imperial household
Early 18th century British three-seat privy Townsend House privy - the inside.jpg
Early 18th century British three-seat privy
19th century thunderbox, a heavy wooden commode to enclose chamber pot Commode, Europe, 1831-1900 Wellcome L0057869.jpg
19th century thunderbox, a heavy wooden commode to enclose chamber pot

By the Early Modern era, chamber pots were frequently made of china or copper and could include elaborate decoration. They were emptied into the gutter of the street nearest to the home.

In pre-modern Denmark, people generally defecated on farmland or other places where the human waste could be collected as fertilizer. [38] The Old Norse language had several terms for referring to outhouses, including garðhús (yard house), náð-/náða-hús (house of rest), and annat hús (the other house). In general, toilets were functionally non-existent in rural Denmark until the 18th century. [38]

By the 16th century, cesspits and cesspools were increasingly dug into the ground near houses in Europe as a means of collecting waste, as urban populations grew and street gutters became blocked with the larger volume of human waste. Rain was no longer sufficient to wash away waste from the gutters. A pipe connected the latrine to the cesspool, and sometimes a small amount of water washed waste through. Cesspools were cleaned out by tradesmen, known in English as gong farmers, who pumped out liquid waste, then shovelled out the solid waste and collected it during the night. This solid waste, euphemistically known as nightsoil, was sold as fertilizer for agricultural production (similarly to the closing-the-loop approach of ecological sanitation).

The garderobe was replaced by the privy midden and pail closet in early industrial Europe.[ citation needed ]

In the early 19th century, public officials and public hygiene experts studied and debated sanitation for several decades. The construction of an underground network of pipes to carry away solid and liquid waste was only begun in the mid 19th-century, gradually replacing the cesspool system, although cesspools were still in use in some parts of Paris into the 20th century. [39] Even London, at that time the world's largest city, did not require indoor toilets in its building codes until after the First World War.

The water closet, with its origins in Tudor times, started to assume its currently known form, with an overhead cistern, s-bends, soil pipes and valves around 1770. This was the work of Alexander Cumming and Joseph Bramah. Water closets only started to be moved from outside to inside of the home around 1850. [40] The integral water closet started to be built into middle-class homes in the 1860s and 1870s, firstly on the principal bedroom floor and in larger houses in the maids' accommodation, and by 1900 a further one in the hallway. A toilet would also be placed outside the back door of the kitchen for use by gardeners and other outside staff such as those working with the horses. The speed of introduction was varied, so that in 1906 the predominantly working class town of Rochdale had 750 water closets for a population of 10,000. [40]

The working-class home had transitioned from the rural cottage, to the urban back-to-back terraces with external rows of privies, to the through terraced houses of the 1880 with their sculleries and individual external WC. It was the Tudor Walters Report of 1918 that recommended that semi-skilled workers should be housed in suburban cottages with kitchens and internal WC. As recommended floor standards waxed and waned in the building standards and codes, the bathroom with a water closet and later the low-level suite, became more prominent in the home. [41]

Before the introduction of indoor toilets, it was common to use the chamber pot under one's bed at night and then to dispose of its contents in the morning. During the Victorian era, British housemaids collected all of the household's chamber pots and carried them to a room known as the housemaids' cupboard. This room contained a "slop sink", made of wood with a lead lining to prevent chipping china chamber pots, for washing the "bedroom ware" or "chamber utensils". Once running water and flush toilets were plumbed into British houses, servants were sometimes given their own lavatory downstairs, separate from the family lavatory. [42] The practice of emptying one's own chamber pot, known as slopping out, continued in British prisons until as recently as 2014 [43] and was still in use in 85 cells in the Republic of Ireland in July 2017. [44]

With rare exceptions, chamber pots are no longer used. Modern related implements are bedpans and commodes, used in hospitals and the homes of invalids.

Development of dry earth closets

Henry Moule's earth closet design, circa 1909 Moule's earth closet design, circa 1909.jpg
Henry Moule's earth closet design, circa 1909

Before the widespread adoption of the flush toilet, there were inventors, scientists, and public health officials who supported the use of "dry earth closets" - nowadays known either as dry toilets or composting toilets. [45]

Development of flush toilets

Although a precursor to the flush toilet system which is widely used nowadays was designed in 1596 by John Harington,[ citation needed ] such systems did not come into widespread use until the late nineteenth century.[ citation needed ] With the onset of the industrial revolution and related advances in technology, the flush toilet began to emerge into its modern form. A crucial advance in plumbing, was the S-trap, invented by the Scottish mechanic Alexander Cummings in 1775, and still in use today. This device uses the standing water to seal the outlet of the bowl, preventing the escape of foul air from the sewer. It was only in the mid-19th century, with growing levels of urbanisation and industrial prosperity, that the flush toilet became a widely used and marketed invention. This period coincided with the dramatic growth in the sewage system, especially in London, which made the flush toilet particularly attractive for health and sanitation reasons. [40]

Flush toilets were also known as "water closets", as opposed to the earth closets described above. WCs first appeared in Britain in the 1880s, and soon spread to Continental Europe. In America, the chain-pull indoor toilet was introduced in the homes of the wealthy and in hotels in the 1890s. William Elvis Sloan invented the Flushometer in 1906, which used pressurized water directly from the supply line for faster recycle time between flushes.

High-tech toilet

"High-tech" toilets, which can be found in countries like Japan, include features such as automatic-flushing mechanisms; water jets or "bottom washers"; blow dryers, or artificial flush sounds to mask noises. Others include medical monitoring features such as urine and stool analysis and the checking of blood pressure, temperature, and blood sugar. Some toilets have automatic lid operation, heated seats, deodorizing fans, or automated replacement of paper toilet-seat-covers. Interactive urinals have been developed in several countries, allowing users to play video games. The "Toylet", produced by Sega, uses pressure sensors to detect the flow of urine and translates that into on-screen action. [46]

Astronauts on the International Space Station use a space toilet with urine diversion which can recover potable water. [47]



In La Toilette from Hogarth's Marriage a la Mode series (1743), a young countess receives her lover, tradesmen, hangers-on, and an Italian tenor as she finishes her toilette Marriage A-la-Mode 4, The Toilette - William Hogarth.jpg
In La Toilette from Hogarth's Marriage à la Mode series (1743), a young countess receives her lover, tradesmen, hangers-on, and an Italian tenor as she finishes her toilette
Detail of Queen Charlotte with her Two Eldest Sons, Johan Zoffany, 1765, (the whole painting). She is doing her toilet, with her silver-gilt toilet service on the dressing-table Johan Zoffany - Queen Charlotte (1744-1818) with her Two Eldest Sons - Google Art Project (cropped).jpg
Detail of Queen Charlotte with her Two Eldest Sons, Johan Zoffany, 1765, (the whole painting). She is doing her toilet, with her silver-gilt toilet service on the dressing-table

Toilet was originally a French loanword (first attested in 1540) that referred to the toilette ("little cloth") draped over one's shoulders during hairdressing. [49] During the late 17th century, [49] the term came to be used by metonymy in both languages for the whole complex of grooming and body care that centered at a dressing table (also covered by a cloth) and for the equipment composing a toilet service, including a mirror, hairbrushes, and containers for powder and makeup. The time spent at such a table also came to be known as one's "toilet"; it came to be a period during which close friends or tradesmen were received as "toilet-calls". [49] [52]

The use of "toilet" to describe a special room for grooming came much later (first attested in 1819), following the French cabinet de toilet. Similar to "powder room", "toilet" then came to be used as a euphemism for rooms dedicated to urination and defecation, particularly in the context of signs for public toilets, as on trains. Finally, it came to be used for the plumbing fixtures in such rooms (apparently first in the United States) as these replaced chamber pots, outhouses, and latrines. These two uses, the fixture and the room, completely supplanted the other senses of the word during the 20th century [49] except in the form "toiletries". [n 2]

Contemporary use

The word "toilet" was by etymology a euphemism, but is no longer understood as such. As old euphemisms have become the standard term, they have been progressively replaced by newer ones, an example of the euphemism treadmill at work. [53] The choice of word relies not only on regional variation, but also on social situation and level of formality (register) or social class. American manufacturers show an uneasiness with the word and its class attributes: American Standard, the largest firm, sells them as "toilets", yet the higher priced products of the Kohler Company, often installed in more expensive housing, are sold as commodes or closets, words which also carry other meanings. Confusingly, products imported from Japan such as TOTO are referred to as "toilets", even though they carry the cachet of higher cost and quality. (Toto, an abbreviation of Tōyō Tōki (東洋陶器 Oriental Ceramics), is used in Japanese comics to visually indicate toilets or other things that look like toilets; see Toilets in Japan.)

Regional variants

Different dialects use "bathroom" and "restroom" (American English), "bathroom" and "washroom" (Canadian English), and "WC" (an initialism for "water closet"), "lavatory" and its abbreviation "lav" (British English). Euphemisms for the toilet that bear no direct reference to the activities of urination and defecation are ubiquitous in modern Western languages, reflecting a general attitude of unspeakability about such bodily function.[ citation needed ] These euphemistic practices appear to have become pronounced following the emergence of European colonial practices, which frequently denigrated colonial subjects in Africa, Asia and South America as 'unclean'. [54] [55]


"Crapper" was already in use[ citation needed ] as a coarse name for a toilet, but it gained currency from the work of Thomas Crapper, who popularized flush toilets in England.

"The Jacks" is Irish slang for toilet. [56] It perhaps derives from "jacques" and "jakes", an old English term. [57]

"Loo" – The etymology of loo is obscure. The Oxford English Dictionary notes the 1922 appearance of "How much cost? Waterloo. Watercloset." in James Joyce's novel Ulysses and defers to Alan S. C. Ross's arguments that it derived in some fashion from the site of Napoleon's 1815 defeat. [58] [59] In the 1950s the use of the word "loo" was considered one of the markers of British upper-class speech, featuring in a famous essay, "U and non-U English". [60] "Loo" may have derived from a corruption of French l'eau ("water"), gare à l'eau ("mind the water", used in reference to emptying chamber pots into the street from an upper-story window), lieu ("place"), lieu d'aisance ("place of ease", used euphemistically for a toilet), or lieu à l'anglaise ("English place", used from around 1770 to refer to English-style toilets installed for travelers). [58] [61] [62] Other proposed etymologies include a supposed tendency to place toilets in room 100 (hence "loo") in English hotels, [63] a dialectical corruption of the nautical term "lee" in reference to the need to urinate and defecate with the wind prior to the advent of head pumps, [n 3] or the 17th-century preacher Louis Bourdaloue, whose long sermons at Paris's Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis prompted his parishioners to bring along chamber pots. [64]

See also


  1. For a full list of English synonyms, see "toilet" in Wiktionary's Thesaurus.
  2. The French eau de toilette ("toilet water") is sometimes used as a sophisticated synonym for perfume and cologne but is generally received jokingly, as with Cosmopolitan's parody "If it doesn't say 'eau de toilette' on the label, it most likely doesn't come from the famed region of Eau de Toilette in France and might not even come from toilets at all."
  3. Yachtsmen still tend to refer to their toilets as "loos" rather than "heads".[ citation needed ]

Related Research Articles

Sanitation Public health conditions related to clean drinking water and adequate disposal of human excreta and sewage

Sanitation refers to public health conditions related to clean drinking water and adequate treatment and disposal of human excreta and sewage. Preventing human contact with feces is part of sanitation, as is hand washing with soap. Sanitation systems aim to protect human health by providing a clean environment that will stop the transmission of disease, especially through the fecal–oral route. For example, diarrhea, a main cause of malnutrition and stunted growth in children, can be reduced through adequate sanitation. There are many other diseases which are easily transmitted in communities that have low levels of sanitation, such as ascariasis, cholera, hepatitis, polio, schistosomiasis, and trachoma, to name just a few.

Flush toilet toilet that disposes of human waste by using water to flush it

A flush toilet is a toilet that disposes of human waste by using water to flush it through a drainpipe to another location for disposal, thus maintaining a separation between humans and their waste. Flush toilets can be designed for sitting or for squatting, in the case of squat toilets. Most modern toilets are designed to dispose of toilet paper also. The opposite of a flush toilet is a dry toilet, which uses no water for flushing.

Latrine Toilet or an even simpler facility that is used as a toilet within a sanitation system

A latrine is a toilet or an even simpler facility that is used as a toilet within a sanitation system. For example, it can be a communal trench in the earth in a camp to be used as emergency sanitation, a hole in the ground, or more advanced designs, including pour-flush systems.

Squat toilet A toilet used by squatting

A squat toilet is a toilet used by squatting, rather than sitting. There are several types of squat toilets, but they all consist essentially of a toilet pan or bowl at floor level. Such a toilet pan is also called a "squatting pan". The only exception is a "pedestal" squat toilet, which is of the same height as a sitting toilet. The user of a sitting toilet can also squat, but this requires extra care as such toilets are not designed for squatting.

Composting toilet A type of toilet that treats human excreta by a biological process called composting

A composting toilet is a type of dry toilet that treats human waste by a biological process called composting. This process leads to the decomposition of organic matter and turns human waste into compost-like material. Composting is carried out by microorganisms under controlled aerobic conditions. Most composting toilets use no water for flushing and are therefore called "dry toilets".

Human waste refers to the waste products of the human digestive system, menses, and human metabolism including urine and faeces. As part of a sanitation system that is in place, human waste is collected, transported, treated and disposed of or reused by one method or another, depending on the type of toilet being used, ability by the users to pay for services and other factors. Faecal sludge management is used to deal with fecal matter collected in on-site sanitation systems such as pit latrines and septic tanks.

Pit latrine Toilet that collects human feces in a hole in the ground

A pit latrine, also known as pit toilet, is a type of toilet that collects human feces in a hole in the ground. Urine and feces enter the pit through a drop hole in the floor, which might be connected to a toilet seat or squatting pan for user comfort. Pit latrines can be built to function without water or they can have a water seal. When properly built and maintained, pit latrines can decrease the spread of disease by reducing the amount of human feces in the environment from open defecation. This decreases the transfer of pathogens between feces and food by flies. These pathogens are major causes of infectious diarrhea and intestinal worm infections. Infectious diarrhea resulted in about 700,000 deaths in children under five years old in 2011 and 250 million lost school days. Pit latrines are a low-cost method of separating feces from people.

Bucket toilet A basic form of a dry toilet with a bucket

A bucket toilet is a basic form of a dry toilet whereby a bucket (pail) is used to collect excreta. Usually, feces and urine are collected together in the same bucket, leading to odor issues. The bucket may be situated inside a dwelling, or in a nearby small structure.

Manual scavenging is a term used mainly in India for "manually cleaning, carrying, disposing of, or otherwise handling, human excreta in an insanitary latrine or in an open drain or sewer or in a septic tank or a pit". Manual scavengers usually use hand tools such as buckets, brooms and shovels. The workers have to move the excreta, using brooms and tin plates, into baskets, which they carry to disposal locations sometimes several kilometers away. The practice of employing human labour for cleaning of sewers and septic tanks is also prevalent in Bangladesh and Pakistan. These sanitation workers, called "manual scavengers", rarely have any personal protective equipment. The work is regarded as a dehumanizing practice.

Sustainable sanitation Sanitation system designed to meet certain criteria and to work well over the long-term

Sustainable sanitation is a sanitation system designed to meet certain criteria and to work well over the long-term. Sustainable sanitation systems consider the entire "sanitation value chain", from the experience of the user, excreta and wastewater collection methods, transportation or conveyance of waste, treatment, and reuse or disposal. The Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (SuSanA) includes five features in its definition of "sustainable sanitation": Systems need to be economically and socially acceptable, technically and institutionally appropriate and protect the environment and natural resources.

Improved sanitation Term used to categorize types or levels of sanitation for monitoring purposes

Improved sanitation is a term used to categorize types of sanitation for monitoring purposes. It refers to the management of human feces at the household level. The term was coined by the Joint Monitoring Program (JMP) for Water Supply and Sanitation of UNICEF and WHO in 2002 to help monitor the progress towards Goal Number 7 of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The opposite of "improved sanitation" has been termed "unimproved sanitation" in the JMP definitions. The same terms are used to monitor progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 6 from 2015 onwards. Here, they are a component of the definition for "safely managed sanitation service".

Sanitation worker A person responsible for cleaning and maintaining of a sanitation technology

A sanitation worker is a person responsible for cleaning, maintaining, operating, or emptying the equipment or technology at any step of the sanitation chain. This is the definition used in the narrower sense within the WASH sector. More broadly speaking, sanitation workers may also be involved in cleaning streets, parks, public spaces, sewers, stormwater drains, and public toilets. Another definition is: "The moment an individual’s waste is outsourced to another, it becomes sanitation work."

Arborloo A simple type of composting toilet in which feces are collected in a shallow pit and a tree is later planted in the full pit

An arborloo is a simple type of composting toilet in which feces are collected in a shallow pit and a fruit tree is later planted in the fertile soil of the full pit. Arborloos have: a pit like a pit latrine but less deep; a concrete, ferrocement or other strong floor; a superstructure to provide privacy; and possibly a ring beam to protect the pit from collapsing. The pit should remain well above the water table in the soil, so as to not contaminate groundwater.

Pail closet

A pail closet or pail privy was a room used for the disposal of human excreta, under the "pail system" of waste removal. The "closet" was a small outhouse (privy) which contained a seat, underneath which a portable receptacle was placed. This bucket (pail), into which the user would defecate, was removed and emptied by the local authority on a regular basis. The contents, known euphemistically as night soil, would either be incinerated or composted into fertiliser.

Urine diversion Separate collection of human urine and feces at the point of their production

Urine diversion, also called urine separation or source separation, refers to the separate collection of human urine and feces at the point of their production, i.e. at the toilet or urinal. Separation of urine from feces allows human waste to be treated separately and used as a potential resource. Applications are typically found where connection to a sewer-based sanitation system is not available or areas where water supplies are limited.

Dry toilet A toilet that operates without flush water

A dry toilet is a toilet that operates without flush water, unlike a flush toilet. The dry toilet may have a raised pedestal on which the user can sit, or a squat pan over which the user squats in the case of a squat toilet. In both cases, the excreta falls through a drop hole.

Toilet (room) Room for privately accessing a toilet, and often handwashing basin

A toilet is a small room used for privately accessing the sanitation fixture (toilet) for urination and defecation. Toilet rooms often include a sink (basin) with soap for handwashing, as this is important for personal hygiene. These rooms are typically referred to as "half-bathrooms".

Urine-diverting dry toilet Dry toilet with separate collection of feces and urine without any flush water

A urine-diverting dry toilet (UDDT) is a type of dry toilet with urine diversion that can be used to provide safe, affordable sanitation in a variety of contexts worldwide. The separate collection of feces and urine without any flush water has many advantages, such as odor-free operation and pathogen reduction by drying. While dried feces and urine harvested from UDDTs can be and routinely are used in agriculture, many UDDTs installations do not apply any sort of recovery scheme. The UDDT is an example of a technology that can be used to achieve a sustainable sanitation system. This dry excreta management system is an alternative to pit latrines and flush toilets, especially where water is scarce, a connection to a sewer system and centralized wastewater treatment plant is not feasible or desired, fertilizer and soil conditioner are needed for agriculture, or groundwater pollution should be minimized.

Container-based sanitation Sanitation system which uses mobile containers

Container-based sanitation refers to a sanitation system where toilets collect human excreta in sealable, removable containers that are transported to treatment facilities. This type of sanitation involves a commercial service which provides certain types of portable toilets, and delivers empty containers when picking up full ones. The service transports and safely disposes of or reuses collected excreta. The cost of collection of excreta at usually borne by the users. With suitable development, support and functioning partnerships, CBS can be used to provide low-income urban populations with safe collection, transport and treatment of excrement at a lower cost than installing and maintaining sewers. In most cases, CBS is based on the use of urine-diverting dry toilets.

Emergency sanitation Management and technical processes required to provide sanitation in emergency situations

Emergency sanitation is the management and technical processes required to provide sanitation in emergency situations. Emergency sanitation is required during humanitarian relief operations for refugees, people affected by natural disasters and internally displaced persons. There are three phases of emergency response: Immediate, short term and long term. In the immediate phase, the focus is on managing open defecation, and toilet technologies might include very basic latrines, pit latrines, bucket toilets, container-based toilets, chemical toilets. The short term phase might also involve technologies such as urine-diverting dry toilets, septic tanks, decentralized wastewater systems. Providing handwashing facilities and management of fecal sludge are also part of emergency sanitation.


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