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Good Bathrooms Make Good Neighbors: 10 Tips for Surviving Communal Bathrooms

        Home & Garden | Dorms
Sharing a bathroom with a bunch of strangers is not much fun. What can you do to make it a better experience? See other pictures of college life. Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Thinkstock

What truly separates man from beast is how we humans do our dirty work. Anyone familiar with one often-used sarcastic response knows that bears do, to put it euphemistically, poop in the woods. If you've ever walked down a city street or spent time on a farm, you probably understand that all manner of animals from pigeons to pigs have absolutely no problem using sidewalks, park benches and open fields as their own public toilets.

Meanwhile, our advanced species is generally pretty sensitive in terms of where and when we rid our bodies of excess water and waste. These are usually private matters, but bathroom trips become something of a team effort in places like offices, dorms and shared living spaces where the setting is communal. A little bit of simple etiquette can go a long way in easing the pain, repugnance and overall irritation that often come with shared bathroom experiences.

Pop a squat and take a peek at 10 tips for making the best of a shared bathroom.

10
Lower the Toilet Seat
Unless you live in an all-male household, pull the toilet seat down after using. Mayte Torres/Flckr/Thinkstock
Unless you live in an all-male household, pull the toilet seat down after using. Mayte Torres/Flckr/Thinkstock

"Does this place look like I'm married? The toilet seat's up, man," explains Jeff Bridges to a pair of intruders who have mistaken the dazed and confused bachelor for a pillar of the local community in "The Big Lebowski." Like puppies, racing thoroughbreds and deep-sea divers, some men simply need to be trained when it comes to the habit of putting the seat down in its resting position after use.

Of all the thorny issues that can come up in the unisex communal lavatory situation, this is probably the one that causes the most strife. Some guys object that the onus is on them to take this extra step. But you can save some tension with your significant other, roommate or co-worker by taking two extra seconds to ensure the seat is down when you've completed your business [source: Hyde].

9
Aim True
Pay just a little attention to your aim and you'll avoid having to wipe down the toilet seat when you're done. iStockphoto/Thinkstock
Pay just a little attention to your aim and you'll avoid having to wipe down the toilet seat when you're done. iStockphoto/Thinkstock

This doesn't mean you can skip a step by simply leaving the seat down while using it if you're standing up. No one wants to sit on a toilet that has recently been splattered with urine. Men, lift the seat before using the toilet to create a larger target. Pay just a little attention to your aim, and you will avoid having to wipe down the entire thing when you're done.

Users of both sexes -- including those who perch themselves above the seat for sanitary reasons -- should take the time to check for any stray urine and get rid of it before leaving the commode for the next person. And ladies, if you're having your period, don't leave any evidence of it around.

8
If You Finish It, Replace It
Did you know that the correct way to hang a roll of toilet paper is with the paper away from the wall? © Balston; James/Arcaid/Corbis
Did you know that the correct way to hang a roll of toilet paper is with the paper away from the wall? © Balston; James/Arcaid/Corbis

This is a simple concept: If you use the last of a toilet paper roll, replace it. There are few things worse than rushing to the bathroom in an emergency only to find a bare paper dispenser. There are karmic forces at work in the bathroom etiquette world. What goes around comes around. Think of it as protecting yourself in the event of future emergency.

And while you're at it, you may as well put the TP in the dispenser the right way. Yes, there is one. The loose end of the roll should lie away from the wall -- the so-called "waterfall method" -- so as to be easily accessible. It's especially helpful for those "hoverers" who have the delicate task of ripping the paper while balancing themselves precariously above the loo [sources: Fennessy, Ryan].

7
Keep the Food Out of the Can
Eating food in the loo is just plain gross. Patryce Bak/Workbook Stock/Getty Images
Eating food in the loo is just plain gross. Patryce Bak/Workbook Stock/Getty Images

An ordinary trip to the bathroom not only offers relief, but also provides a moment of respite from the storm of conference calls or oversharing roommates that may be waiting outside. So maybe it shouldn't be surprising to enter a communal water closet and find a fella hunched over a urinal, resting his head against his forearm as it's propped against the wall and dangling a half-eaten corned beef sandwich in his hand. Or to hear a woman munching an apple in the next stall. But that doesn't make it any less unsanitary (and just gross) to dine on the can. If not for your own personal hygiene, refrain from noshing for the benefit of others. Who wants to smell corned beef or hear that apple while trying to take care of "business"?

6
Give a Courtesy Flush
Double-check the bowl after flushing in case you need to flush a second time. iStockphoto/Thinkstock
Double-check the bowl after flushing in case you need to flush a second time. iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Good bathroom etiquette is largely a matter of common courtesy. By taking a few easy measures for the comfort and benefit of anyone else who may use the same restroom, you create an atmosphere where your compatriots will be inclined to do the same. (We hope.)

When occupying a stall in a multiperson restroom, issue a courtesy flush. In other words, flush the toilet while you're still using it. This simple maneuver will cut down on the smell, not to mention the chance of someone passing out at the first whiff of trouble. And while we're at it, check the bowl before heading out in case you need to give another flush so that the next person doesn't have to deal with something you accidentally left behind.

If you're using a shared single bathroom, kindly flip the fan switch before you take a seat. This is for both your immediate benefit and that of future visitors [source: Schulz].

5
Shut Up
Let's leave the chit-chat till we leave the commode, shall we? iStockphoto/Thinkstock
Let's leave the chit-chat till we leave the commode, shall we? iStockphoto/Thinkstock

"No conversation" should be the default setting for any trip to a communal restroom. Chit-chat under these circumstances is inevitably awkward and takes you off the task at hand. A simple nod of the head or "Hey, how are ya?" when you encounter others along the way will suffice. This isn't one of Gertrude Stein's 1920s Parisian salons where painters, poets and novelists gather to sip wine and discuss life's endless possibilities. You may do your best thinking on the can, but that doesn't mean anyone wants to hear about it, at least not at that very moment.

And for God's sake, don't carry on a cellphone conversation in the loo. Not only is this annoying to others and unsanitary (apparently 16 percent of cellphones have fecal matter on them, according to Mashable), but you might end up dropping the phone in the bowl.

4
Make It Quick
Don't be the one in the dorm that everyone hates to be stuck behind. Image Source/Getty Images
Don't be the one in the dorm that everyone hates to be stuck behind. Image Source/Getty Images

Taking some reading material with you to pass the time on the john is one thing; setting up shop in there is another. A bathroom is not a library, nor is it a cafe. So while you might peruse a few pages while handling your business, polishing off an entire novel is a bit excessive.

For one thing, it's not healthy. Doctors say too much time in the commode can contribute to hemorrhoid growth. If the anal cushions (yes, that's the anatomical term) become stretched, they can cause bleeding, itching or pain [sources: Fennessy, Esquire]. For another thing, a marathon trip to the stall can really cramp the style of anyone who may be waiting to use it. Do yourself and your fellow man a favor: Get in and get out. Just not before you check that the seat is down and dry.

3
Clear the Sink
Leaving out some cleaning spray  by the sink may encourage everyone to wipe up after themselves. © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS
Leaving out some cleaning spray by the sink may encourage everyone to wipe up after themselves. © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

A clogged sink isn't just an annoyance -- particularly, having to wait for it to drain before being able to run the water again -- but also a health concern. Stuffed drains are breeding grounds for bacteria and pests, and water that stands clogged long enough can produce mold.

Keep your sink clear and functioning by paying attention to what goes down there. First, try wiping the area around the sink with a paper towel rather than just washing toothpaste and shavings down the drain. Avoid getting longer strands stuck by drying your hair away from the sink and even in another room. The same goes for nail trimmings: do it outside or over a trash can. Consider putting a mesh filter over the drain to catch those lovely bits of hair and nails [source: John Moore Services].

If your sink regularly clogs, consider changing soaps. Some are more likely than others to leave residue in pipes that can lead to clogging [source: John Moore Services].

2
Show Some Shower Sensibility
A good book and a glass of wine in the tub are fine if you're the only occupant of the bathroom. If not, make it quick and clean out the hair before you exit. Paul/Getty Images
A good book and a glass of wine in the tub are fine if you're the only occupant of the bathroom. If not, make it quick and clean out the hair before you exit. Paul/Getty Images

Cosmo Kramer of TV's "Seinfeld" successfully installed a garbage disposal in his tub, but Kramer lived alone. He didn't have to consider roommates, spouses or children who may not have had the time to wait for him to finish washing a head of lettuce.

In the real world, hair is probably the biggest issue in a shared shower relationship. For some, seeing it wrapped around a bar of soap is nothing short of dry heave-inducing. Use a washcloth and rinse off any stray hair when you're finished. Make sure there is a filter over the shower drain that can be emptied. This will prevent clogging. Follow up by spraying down the shower with a daily mildew cleaner or shower spray and you'll cut down on soap scum and water stains [sources: Apartment Therapy].

And while we're at it, make that shower quick. Nothing worse than standing in a line outside a shower stall waiting for someone to get done. Unless it's cleaning off the hair he or she left behind.

1
Take It Easy
Your communal bathroom may not look as spotless as this but that doesn’t mean you have to pitch a fit. Aim for "generally clean" rather than perfection. © Grant Smith/VIEW/Corbis
Your communal bathroom may not look as spotless as this but that doesn’t mean you have to pitch a fit. Aim for "generally clean" rather than perfection. © Grant Smith/VIEW/Corbis

Even if you and everyone with whom you share a bathroom abide by these rules, it's unlikely to ensure a spotless environment. No one is infallible. We are human, we have hair. A stray strand here or there is no reason to sound the alarm and release the hounds. Keep your expectations manageable. A generally clean bathroom with minimal clogging, a toilet seat that's normally down and a shower that doesn't double as a garbage disposal are good places to start

If you feel that you must leave a note for the offenders, or hold a dorm or roommate meeting about the general nastiness, keep it civil and try to avoid scolding or finger-pointing. No one likes to feel that their mother just walked into the room. Focus on what needs to change rather than making personal attacks and you just might see a turn for the better.

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Author's Note: 10 Tips for Surviving Communal Bathrooms

Try relieving yourself in a bar anywhere across the continental U.S. and you're likely to find that most if not all of the above tips have been completely disregarded. At least in the men's room. Maybe it's the booze, but the foulest, most ill-kept commodes I've ever encountered have been in some of my favorite watering holes. The freedom and disregard for norms that people seem to enjoy on the johns in juke joints and pubs is also apparent by the graffiti that adorns the walls of bar bathrooms from New York to L.A. You won't hear me complain about it. I believe it was at a dive bar in Brooklyn where I encountered this bit of wisdom scrawled above the toilet: "Bathroom graffiti is done for neither fame nor monetary profit and is therefore the purest art form." I don't know about the "pure" part, but otherwise I'm on board.

Related Articles

Sources

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  • Esquire. "How Dangerous Is It to Read on the Toilet?" Dec. 3, 2009. (June 2, 2013) http://www.esquire.com/features/answer-fella/toilet-reading-1209
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