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The Five Guiding Principles to Public Washroom Excellence

The most important thing you’ll do on any given day is visit the washroom. Relieving oneself surpasses whatever importance we may assign to the various responsibilities that consume us between trips to the toilet. Of the fundamental human needs, none is greater: a healthy adult, in temperate conditions, may go up to ten days without water, up to three weeks without food, and in the absence of a Steinbeck novel or subscription to TED Talks, up to a week without sleeping. But go nine hours, ten tops, without relieving oneself and you’re as good as dead. And what’s worse, you’ll have to navigate the eternal afterlife with the most embarrassing response to the “so how did you get here?” question.

But despite its grave importance, very little critical attention is paid to the merits and faults of public washrooms. We might stagger from a washroom, wiping our hands on our pant-leg, uttering “ew”, but the assessment typically ends there. Is this because such a dopey subject is unworthy of serious examination, and our mental faculties would be better served focusing our critical attention on the abundance of personal and societal problems that plague our exceedingly troubling world? Yes, probably. But sometimes, the seemingly shallow, the banal, the unglamourous, can reveal small shreds of substance upon close inspection. Although, close inspection of washrooms will likely just result in pink eye. It is with this in mind that we humbly offer the Five [arbitrarily constructed and probably totally useless] Guiding Principles to Public Washroom Excellence.

1. Responsive and Sensitive, But Not Overly

Let’s start with the most immodest of the five criteria: when in a public washroom, I don’t want to touch anything that might be part of the washroom itself. Any sort of handle, surface, or lever, be it one fixed to the toilet, urinal, sink, trash can, tampon dispenser, or door, is something I will go to great lengths, and sacrifice treasured articles of clothing, to avoid contacting directly. Touching anything, for the quasi-germaphobe, conjures up fears of mystery bodily fluids, parasitic outbreaks, and long term hospitalization.

The most understated in the hands-free concerns is the doorway. Ideally, the washroom doesn’t have one at all, but rather a sharp-cornered corridor which just barely obstructs passersby and peeping toms from casually glancing in, and more importantly, saves the quasi-germaphobe from having to use a sleeve to yank open a sopping door-handle teeming with bacteria and incurable disease. If you have a door, which is most often the case, please leave in the corner a little catch-all bin for repurposed paper towel. Litter will accumulate there regardless, but having one suggests you at least acknowledge the sufferings of the quasi-to-full-fledged-germaphobe, and we always appreciate being acknowledged.

The rest is pretty simple. Automatic faucets are a pleasure. Nudging them on clumsily with a knuckle or elbow so it unexpectedly gushes out full blast, sending a shower aimed directly at my crotch, is not. I’m impartial to the automatic soap dispensers, but please, liquid or foam soap. A bar sitting beside the sink, inevitably embedded with little pebbles, lint, and pubic hairs, will never be used and I would be just as likely to lather my hands with a dead rat. Drying seems to be fraught with complications. While sending robots to Mars or ventricular restoration surgery are a cakewalk, dispensing paper towels with regularity is apparently damn near impossible. Truth be told, I’d rather have paper towels than air driers, which seem only to be manufactured with two settings: soft yawn or deafening gale force eruption. Granted, both paper towels and air driers are preferable to the reusable cloth towel thingy [a favourite of gas station washrooms everywhere] which is kind of like drying your hands on a stranger’s dirty laundry. [I once saw a man wash and dry his face using the reusable cloth dispenser thing. These are mental scars no amount of therapy has been able to heal]. But as much as I dislike these reusable cloth driers, my hate for them pales in comparison to the Dyson Air-Blade, which are a veritable plague upon mankind. Due to their popularity in public washrooms, I’ll reserve further comment until they begin to pop-up in the actual reviews.

Lastly, the toilets! Automatic flushers are great, but please, I implore you, toilet makers, calibrate them to flush only when I have moved a safe distance from the toilet, not after any microscopic shift in positions, spraying my entire exposed private butt parts with a sheen of toilet water. Automatic urinal flushing is fine, but truth be told, I’ve never flushed a urinal in my life, nor have I ever seen one manually flushed, so autoflush urinals seems like a bit of waste. Hands-free doors and sentient, responsive, caring faucets are the areas of greatest importance in providing a sense of sterility. It’s about creating a sanitary experience, or at the very least, the illusion of one – which, for the Q-G, is often just as good.

2. A Surplus of Facilities

Important questions: Can your washroom comfortably accommodate all visitors during peak business hours? Will I be granted choice in deciding which stall, urinal, or sink to occupy, supporting the flimsy illusion that I chose the one that has literally never been used since installation and remains perfectly sterile, or, will I have to hold my breath and plunge into some Chamber of not-so-safely-kept Secrets and brave the aftermath of thousands of haphazard washroom goers before me? Are your toilet paper dispensers equipped with many never-ending jumbo rolls of single-ply paper which will be used in unabashed excess to essentially pad the entire stall? These questions, particularly the first, are exceedingly important for the female population, who, for complex reasons I have no business getting into, must endure more washroom traffic/lineups. And these are questions every builder and establishment should devote a great amount of time considering, because if faced with a washroom queue coupled with a growling bladder, most of us will quietly defer to peeing on your dumpster out back.

3. General Atmosphere and Thematic Practicality

The reasons or compulsions that bring us to the washroom are usually pretty straight forward, and certainly need no elucidation. Keeping these reasons in mind, washrooms should be practical, and any accessory to the practicality of a washroom is fluff, and works to diminish the pragmaticalness of said washroom, ie. Televisions, sofas, and specially designed selfie mirrors. Is your washroom swanky nightclub themed? If so, we probably forgot somewhere along the way why we’re in a washroom in the first place.

So please, no couches or bean bag chairs; I want my washrooms to feel like a washroom, not some Martha Stewart designed brothel. No matter how impressive your washroom chandelier is, or how many rhinestones line the urinal puck, you will get major points off for even giving people the option to lounge, because there may actually be some buffoon out there who decides to make this public washroom his/her ‘making friends’ spot. No amount of couches, dart boards, #selfie mirrors will convince me that public washrooms are indeed a social setting. And this bring us back to principle #2 [surplus of facilities, ya dingus], because the more time we spend snapping post-poop selfies or watching TV with our pants around our ankles, the less functional and efficient your washroom will be, which will then require an even greater surplus in facilities to make up for a design/atmosphere that encourages loafing.

Which is not to say washrooms shouldn’t be pleasant. They absolutely should be pleasant; the visitor made to feel safe, clean, and even humoured by the thematic choices of the washroom. What they shouldn’t be is confused. Keep your washroom a washroom. In five years, I don’t want to have to tip the washroom maitre’D or resident toilet-stall DJ who plays Comfortably Numb while I hurriedly do my business.

4. Security/Relative Location/Privacy

Much like Trump’s tax returns and Colonel Sanders’ recipes, your washroom should be shrouded in secrecy. It should be tucked in the further possible corner relative to your establishment’s regular public activities, so one can enter and vacate the washroom in relative obscurity, therefore minimizing the humiliating “what were you doing in there?” question upon your washroom return. This is doubly important for single occupant bathrooms for two reasons: 1) Any lingering smells or mess, regardless of when they occurred, will be invariably ascribed to the last person to emerge from the bathroom, ie You. 2) Spilling out from a washroom placed painfully close to a room full of strangers, let’s say in a coffee shop, who surely were timing the length of your visit and listening closely for any incriminating sounds, is pressure that no human should have to endure, and can subconsciously lead to all manner of phobias and fetishes.

Security almost always gets a pass, and therefore a non-issue. Privacy is a little harder to accomplish due to its capriciousness. [Urinal splash guards, for this reason, are long overdue as a men’s washroom standard. Yes, a stranger’s sustained gaze upon approach to a neighbouring urinal is flattering, but might produce temporary ischuria, and is a little disconcerting knowing that he too is about to unzip his pants.] The crowning achievement in public washroom privacy is found in the airport of Reykjavik, Iceland, which is a testament to what can be accomplished in high trafficked areas. You enter the washroom like any other – marked Men or Women, and inside you find the regular sink/urinal/stall offerings. But in the Reyk WC, the stalls are not actually stalls but washroom rooms. Forget the thin panels providing knee-to-shoulder privacy, these “stall”/rooms have beautiful thick white concrete walls, and, [the thought still sends shivers up my spine] a full length steel door. When closed and locked in, the Reyk WC washroom stall felt more like your own solitary confinement prison cell – which, for the agoraphobe/Q-G, is public washroom heaven. The cell was equipped with it’s own toilet, sink, and probably much like a genuine prison cell, a space roomy enough to rest your luggage, change, stretch, and even curl up and take a nap [the latter of which I didn’t do, but I did linger]. You couldn’t ask for greater washroom privacy and security, which makes one wonder what this says about the Icelandic people themselves, in what must be their country’s most visited washroom, if it might serve as a paradigm for some inherent qualities of introversion and high-minded civility found in their people. Or, perhaps they just want to keep themselves locked away from the country’s roaming and invisible elves.

5. Cleanliness and Washrooms As A Symbol For Professional Deference

The one constant to any washroom should be cleanliness. Providing public facilities should come with the expectation that every surface is slowly becoming a biohazard. Don’t assume that it’s all fine in there. Expect that it isn’t. Regular visits to be sure things haven’t gone full Trainspotting should be obligatory.

And while upkeep is without question the most important public washroom factor, there is one concession that must be mentioned: washroom graffiti. This, of course, takes some discretion on behalf of the owner, but good washroom graffiti is an under-appreciated art, and much like good street art, should be preserved whenever possible. Perhaps some less compelling efforts like SMOKE GRASS N GET DAT ASS should be removed. But if a client has enough foresight and ambition to bring a writing/carving instrument with them into the toilet and actually produce something funny or interesting, they should be granted a little latitude. And, if I see that you have curated your washroom art by painting over some while leaving others preserved and intact, I will automatically give you a perfect washroom score, no matter how horrific the rest of your facilities may be.

Now, you may be thinking this entire argument is an exercise overthinking something inherently inane – and you’re mostly right. But washroom analysis isn’t entirely without merit, and in some cases, may be a signpost to more important matters. It’s the aspect of business that never gets graded on any peer review sites, or mentioned when chatting with friends about the quality of some new place, and we won’t remember a washroom quite the same way we’ll remember a rude employee, chewy steak, or overpriced drink. There are plenty of ways to quietly deceive in business, to provide a customer with a lesser experience than what they believe they are paying for in order save time/money/energy, and washrooms may make for one of the more discreet areas of corner-cutting. [Particularly important when considering a business that serves food]. A washroom in gross disrepair doesn’t necessarily indicate some sort of dubiousness on the part of that business, but it also might, and the likelihood of professional deference to the customer [which is something we all, however consciously, expect when choosing to spend our time and money at an establishment] will absolutely be much greater if that business devotes some resources to a free, [never profit yielding] service which is clean, comfortable, and without a Dyson AirBlade. If you want a rough peek at the disposition of a business, take a pink-eyed look in the washroom – it’s why this stupid washroom analysis nonsense might have a small plop of relevance.