The most important public toilet etiquette rules. The appropriate behaviors for visiting the bathroom in public places.

What public toilet etiquette is

Public toilet etiquette is the set of rules to keep appropriate behavior in a public restroom. Such rules include:

  • The hygiene rules.
  • How to respect others.
  • The behaviors to avoid in a public bathroom.
public toilet and shared bathroom rules

Public toilet etiquette rules

1) Limit your use of public bathrooms

In general, public toilets present a higher hygiene risk compared to our own bathrooms at home. Thus, it is best to limit the visits to public restrooms to a minimum. Furthermore, try to keep your visits to public restrooms as short as possible, to allow other people to visit the toilet too. If possible, try to avoid peak hours, such as after lunchtime. 

It is OK to refresh your makeup or even brush your teeth. However, in a public bathroom, it is best to avoid more elaborate tasks, such as flossing or shaving. 

Limit conversation with others. You can say hello and some small talk. However, do not chat in the bathroom. Avoid phone calls. No email or Internet browsing. 

Bring to the toilet only what is strictly necessary. Avoid bulky items, such as luggage. Do not bring any food or beverage to the restroom. First and foremost, bringing food into a bathroom is against hygiene rules. Furthermore, you risk spilling food or beverage and soiling the restroom.

2) Be considerate when the toilet is occupied

Knock gently if the toilet door is closed. Do not try to open it. Do not peep under the doors. Avoid knocking endlessly.

If the toilet is occupied, it is best to leave. Come back later. If possible, do not stay outside of the toilet, waiting for the person to leave. It would embarrass the person. However, if you cannot wait longer, it is perfectly fine to line up outside. If you are in the bathroom and someone knocks, say a simple “occupied” or “sorry”.

When possible, give precedence to anyone who might need the restroom more than you do. Such as seniors, people visibly sick, or parents with young children.

3) Check the bathroom when you enter

Avoid awkward situations. When you enter a public toilet, check that everything is in order. Lock the door carefully. Never leave the toilet door open. Make sure that there is enough toilet paper. Wipe the toilet seat before seating. Male employees should lift the toilet seat beforehand.

4) Do not dispose of any items in the WC

Never dispose of any items in the WC. Limit the amount of toilet paper to avoid clogging. Never dispose of feminine care items in the WC. Similarly, avoid disposing of paper towels in the WC. Instead, throw them in the trash bin.

5) Exit the public toilet with grace

In an era of gender equality, leaving the toilet seat up is no longer a major etiquette offense. However, the best etiquette is to rest the toilet seat and the cover down. Wipe the seat before leaving. 

Always flush. Flush more than once if necessary. Open the restroom door only when the flush is over. Never show your private parts or underwear. Leave the toilet stall fully dressed and in a neat state.

6) Leave the public toilet as you found it

Never leave a mess behind. Females should always sit on the toilet seat. Males should always stand close to the WC to avoid dripping. If the toilet stall is in poor hygiene conditions, go to another one if available and notify the staff. Do not make the conditions of the toilet stall worse. Notify the staff if anything is not right. Such as the flush not working, the WC being clogged, or wet patches on the floor. Otherwise, people may think you are responsible for the mess. 

Never smoke or vape inside a public bathroom. 

7) Wash your hands before leaving the toilet

Always wash your hands before leaving a public bathroom. Keep the water running only when necessary. Turn the taps off before you leave. Avoid splashing water around and on the mirrors. Do not make a mess with soap. 

Dry your hands thoroughly. Never leave the bathroom with wet hands. Do not touch the door handles with wet hands. 

8) Apply the appropriate toilet etiquette to each place

The general public toilet etiquette rules apply to any situation. However, some occasions or venues call for additional rules or extra care.

Bathroom etiquette at someone else’s house

Always ask your host if you can use the bathroom before you visit it. If your host’s home has more than one bathroom, it is polite to ask which bathroom you should use.

Restroom breaks at work or in the office

Limit the frequency and the duration of your visit to the restroom at work. To learn all the specific toilet rules at work, read the full workplace bathroom etiquette.

Toilet etiquette in public transportation

If possible, avoid visiting the public toilet on public transportation. Public transportation receives high traffic every day, while often its toilets are cleaned only once or twice per day.

If you are on a plane, train, or long-distance bus, visit the bathroom outside of peak hours. Avoid going to the toilet during stops or landings.

Shared toilet etiquette in hotels, bed & breakfasts, and hostels

Some hotels and bed & breakfasts have shared bathrooms. While in hostels, shared bathrooms are the norm. Apply public toilet etiquette in such cases. If your room has a private bathroom, you should use yours and avoid using the shared toilet.

Toilet etiquette in restaurants, cafes, and bars

Try to visit the restroom before or after dinner to avoid disruptions. If you need to visit the restroom during the meal, try to go between courses, after you have finished your food and before the next course is served.

Another good time is after placing your order, as you and the guests are waiting anyway. However, you should not visit the toilet before placing the order, as you would force the other guests to wait for your return before ordering their food. Thus, to wait longer before eating.

If possible, do not leave the table multiple times during a meal, as it can be annoying to other guests. When you leave the dining table to visit the bathroom, it is sufficient to say “excuse me”. Leaving the dining table without saying anything, or giving too much detail, is bad table manners.

Schools, hospitals, and care houses

At school or university, follow workplace bathroom etiquette.

In hospitals and care houses, apply extra care to respect hygiene rules. Patients and hosts are often fragile and particularly sensitive to germs and bacteria.

public toilet etiquette mistakes

Public toilet etiquette: the worst mistakes

The Rude Index identifies and ranks negative behaviors. 

A high score (8-10) means that the behavior has the potential to trigger a conflict with others. A medium score (4-7) means that the behavior risks making you look inelegant and unsophisticated. More about the Rude Index and its methodology here.  

Avoid the worst public toilet etiquette mistakes. 

  • 10/10. Not washing your hands before leaving.
  • 8/10. Spending too much time in a public toilet.
  • 8/10. Embarrassing others.
  • 8/10. Leaving the toilet in a messy state.
  • 8/10. Not flushing.
  • 7/10. Disposing of items in the WC.