Toilet (room)

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A small room with a flush toilet. A toilet brush (hidden in a decorative holder) and a toilet roll holder for toilet paper can be seen to the right of the flush toilet. Australian Toilet.JPG
A small room with a flush toilet. A toilet brush (hidden in a decorative holder) and a toilet roll holder for toilet paper can be seen to the right of the flush toilet.

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/handwash for handwashing, as this is important for personal hygiene. These rooms are typically referred to as "half-bathrooms" (half-baths; half of a whole or full-bathroom) in a private residence. [1]


This room is commonly known as a "bathroom" in American English, a lavatory or loo in the United Kingdom, a "washroom" in Canadian English, and by many other names across the English-speaking world.


"Toilet" originally referred to personal grooming and came by metonymy to be used for the personal rooms used for bathing, dressing, and so on. It was then euphemistically used for the similarly private rooms used for urination and defecation. By metonymy, it then came to refer directly to the fixtures in such rooms. [2] [3] At present, the word refers primarily to such fixtures and using "toilet" to refer to the room or activity ("use the toilet") is somewhat blunt and may be considered indiscreet. [4] [n 1] It is, however, a useful term since it is quickly understood by English-speakers across the world, whereas more polite terms vary by region.

"Lavatory" (from the Latin lavatorium, "wash basin" or "washroom") [5] was common in the 19th century and is still broadly understood, although it is taken as quite formal in American English, and more often refers to public toilets in Britain.[ citation needed ] The contraction "lav" [6] is commonly used in British English. [7]

In American English, the most common term for a private toilet is "bathroom", regardless of whether a bathtub or shower is present. [8] [9] In British English, "bathroom" is a common term but is typically reserved for private rooms primarily used for bathing; a room without a bathtub or shower is more often known as a "WC", an abbreviation for water closet, [10] "lavatory", or "loo". [11] Other terms are also used, some as part of a regional dialect.

Some forms of jargon have their own terms for toilets, including "lavatory" on commercial airplanes, "head" on ships, [12] and "latrine" in military contexts. [13] [n 2] Larger houses often have a secondary room with a toilet and sink for use by guests. [14] These are typically known as "powder rooms" or "half-baths" (half-bathroom) in North America, [15] and "cloakrooms" in Britain. [16]

Other items in the room

The main item in the room is the sanitation fixture itself, the toilet. This may be the flushing sort, which is plumbed into a cistern (tank) operated by a ballcock (float valve). Or it may be a dry model, which does not need water.

The toilet room may also include a plunger, a rubber or plastic tool mounted on a handle, which is used to remove blockages from the toilet drain. Toilets often have a wall mirror above the sink for grooming, checking one's appearance and/or makeup. Some toilets have a cupboard where cleaning supplies and personal hygiene products may be kept. If it is a flush toilet, then the room usually also includes a toilet brush for cleaning the bowl.

Methods of anal cleansing vary between cultures. If the norm is to use paper, then typically the room will have a toilet roll holder, with the toilet paper hanging either next to or away from the wall. If instead, people are used to cleaning themselves with water, then the room may include a bidet shower (health faucet) or a bidet. Toilets such as the Washlet, popular in Japan, provide an automatic washing function.

A sink (hand basin), with soap, is usually present in the room or immediately outside it, to ensure easy handwashing. Above the sink there may be a mirror, either mounted on the wall, or on a medicine cabinet. This cabinet (which is more typically located in the household's main bathroom) typically contains prescription and over the counter drugs, first aid supplies, and grooming equipment for shaving or makeup.


Into the modern era, humans typically practiced open defecation or employed latrines or outhouses over a pit toilet in rural areas and used chamber pots emptied into streets or drains in urban ones. The Indus Valley civilization had particularly advanced sanitation, which included common use of private flush toilets. The ancient Greeks and Romans had public toilets and, in some cases, indoor plumbing connected to rudimentary sewer systems. The latrines of medieval monasteries were known as reredorters; in some cases, these were connected to sophisticated water systems that swept its effluent away without affecting the community's drinking, cooking, or washing water. [17] [18] In the early modern period, "night soil" from municipal outhouses became an important source of nitrates for creating gunpowder. [19] 19th century refinements of the outhouse included the privy midden and the pail closet.

Indoor toilets were at first a luxury of the rich and only gradually spread to the lower classes. As late as the 1890s, building regulations in London did not require working-class housing to have indoor toilets; into the early 20th century, some English homes were built with an upstairs toilet for use by the owners and an outhouse for use by the servants. [20] In some cases, there was a transitional stage where toilets were built into the house but accessible only from the outside. [21] After World War I, all new housing in London and its suburbs had indoor toilets. [22]

Bathrooms became standard later than toilets, but entered working-class houses at around the same time. [23] [24] For plumbing reasons, flush toilets have usually been located in or near residences' bathrooms. (Both were initially located above the kitchen and scullery on the same account.) In upper-class homes, the first modern lavatories were washrooms with sinks located near the bedrooms; in lower-class homes, there was often only a collapsible tub for bathing. In Britain, there was long a prejudice against having the toilet located in the bathroom proper: in 1904, Hermann Muthesius noted that "a lavatory [i.e., toilet] is practically never found in an English bathroom; indeed it is considered downright inadmissible to have one there". [28] When toilets were placed within bathrooms, the original reason was cost savings. [22] In 1876 Edward William Godwin, a progressive architect-designer, drew up affordable housing with the toilet in the bathroom, and faced criticism for it. [29]

America and most European countries now combine their toilets and bathrooms. [30] Separate toilets remain common in British homes [24] and remain a builder's option even in places where the norm is for the toilet to be in the bathroom. [31] In France, [30] [32] Japan, [33] [34] and some other countries, [14] separate toilets remain the norm for reasons of hygiene and privacy. In modern homes outside of France, [30] such separate toilets typically contain a sink. In Japan, the toilet sometimes has a built-in sink (whose waste water is used for the next flush) to allow users to clean themselves immediately. [35] Japanese toilets also often provide special slippers—apart from those worn in the rest of the house—for use within the toilet. [34] [36] [37]

Society and culture

In English, all terms for toilets were originally euphemisms. [3] It is generally considered coarse or even offensive to use such direct terms as "shitter", [38] although they are used in some areas. Formerly, broadcast censorship even banned mentions of the euphemisms: Jack Paar temporarily quit the Tonight Show in February 1960 when NBC broadcast news footage in place of a joke he had taped involving the term "WC".

See also


  1. In British contexts, it is considered non-U, with the upper class generally preferring "loo", "lavatory", and "bog".
  2. For other synonyms for toilet, see "bathroom" at Wikisaurus.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hygiene</span> Practices performed to preserve health

Hygiene is a set of practices performed to preserve health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), "Hygiene refers to conditions and practices that help to maintain health and prevent the spread of diseases." Personal hygiene refers to maintaining the body's cleanliness. Hygiene activities can be grouped into the following: home and everyday hygiene, personal hygiene, medical hygiene, sleep hygiene, and food hygiene. Home and every day hygiene includes hand washing, respiratory hygiene, food hygiene at home, hygiene in the kitchen, hygiene in the bathroom, laundry hygiene, and medical hygiene at home.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sanitation</span> Public health conditions related to clean water and proper excreta and sewage disposal

Sanitation refers to public health conditions related to clean drinking water and 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Flush toilet</span> Toilet that uses water to convey human waste down a pipe

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

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Latrine</span> 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Outhouse</span> Small structure, separate from a main building, which covers a toilet

An outhouse is a small structure, separate from a main building, which covers a toilet. This is typically either a pit latrine or a bucket toilet, but other forms of dry (non-flushing) toilets may be encountered. The term may also be used to denote the toilet itself, not just the structure.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Portable toilet</span> Toilet that is easily moved around

A portable or mobile toilet is any type of toilet that can be moved around, some by one person, some by mechanical equipment such as a truck and crane. Most types do not require any pre-existing services or infrastructure, such as sewerage, but are completely self-contained. The portable toilet is used in a variety of situations, for example in urban slums of developing countries, at festivals, for camping, on boats, on construction sites, and at film locations and large outdoor gatherings where there are no other facilities. Most portable toilets are unisex single units with privacy ensured by a simple lock on the door. Some portable toilets are small molded plastic or fiberglass portable rooms with a lockable door and a receptacle to catch the human excreta in a container.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Public toilet</span> A room or building with toilets available for use by the general public

A public toilet, restroom, public bathroom or washroom is a room or small building with toilets and sinks for use by the general public. The facilities are available to customers, travelers, employees of a business, school pupils and prisoners and are commonly separated into male and female toilets, although some are unisex, especially for small or single-occupancy public toilets.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pit latrine</span> Toilet that collects human waste in a hole in the ground

A pit latrine, also known as pit toilet, is a type of toilet that collects human waste 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bucket toilet</span> 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.

There have been many toilet-related injuries and deaths throughout history and in urban legends.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Honeywagon (vehicle)</span> Vehicle carrying human excreta

A honeywagon is the slang term for a "vacuum truck" for collecting and carrying human excreta. These vehicles may be used to empty the sewage tanks of buildings, aircraft lavatories, passenger train toilets and at campgrounds and marinas as well as portable toilets. The folk etymology behind the name 'honeywagon' is thought to relate to the honey-colored liquid that comes out of it when emptying the holding tanks.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Room</span> Distinguishable space within a building or other structure

In a building or large vehicle, like a ship, a room is any enclosed space within a number of walls to which entry is possible only via a door or other dividing structure that connects it to either a passageway, another room, or the outdoors, that is large enough for several people to move about, and whose size, fixtures, furnishings, and sometimes placement within the building or ship support the activity to be conducted in it.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sustainable sanitation</span> 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Aircraft lavatory</span> Small room on an aircraft with a toilet and sink

An aircraft lavatory or plane toilet is a small room on an aircraft with a toilet and sink. They are commonplace on passenger flights except some short-haul flights. Aircraft toilets were historically chemical toilets, but many now use a vacuum flush system instead.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Improved sanitation</span> 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".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Toilet</span> Piece of hardware for the collection or disposal of human excreta

A toilet is a piece of sanitary hardware that collects human urine and feces, and sometimes toilet paper, usually for disposal. Flush toilets use water, while dry or non-flush toilets do not. They can be designed for a sitting position popular in Europe and North America with a toilet seat, with additional considerations for those with disabilities, or for a squatting posture more popular in Asia, known as a squat toilet. In urban areas, flush toilets are usually connected to a sewer system; in isolated areas, to a septic tank. 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dry toilet</span> Toilet that operates without flush water

A dry toilet is a toilet which, unlike a flush toilet, does not use flush water. Dry toilets do not use water to move excreta along or block odors. They do not produce sewage, and are not connected to a sewer system or septic tank. Instead, excreta falls through a drop hole.

<i>The English House</i> Architectural book about England

The English House is a book of design and architectural history written by German architect Hermann Muthesius and first published in German as Das englische Haus in 1904. Its three volumes provide a record of the revival of English domestic architecture during the later part of the nineteenth century. The main themes he discusses are history, form and decor.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Terraced houses in the United Kingdom</span> Popular type of housing in the UK

Terraced houses have been popular in the United Kingdom, particularly England and Wales, since the 17th century. They were originally built as desirable properties, such as the townhouses for the nobility around Regent's Park in central London, and the Georgian architecture that defines the World Heritage Site of Bath.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Emergency sanitation</span> 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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