A public toilet is a confined place or room for the general public to defecate and urinate or perform other private acts. The structure may have one toilet area or multiple toilets and/or also urinals. Usually, the toilet has dedicated spaces for gents and ladies. However, some public toilets could be unisex, usually the ones found in restaurants. There are also public toilets specifically designed for physically challenged people. Public toilet usage isn’t free. The toilet may have a coin mechanism for entry or an attendant who must be tipped before/after using the toilet. Toilets found at parks, schools, colleges, offices, cinemas, bars, museums, fuel stations, railway stations, etc. are public toilets.

A public toilet in Indonesia. Image credit: Flickr
A public toilet in Indonesia. Image credit: Flickr

The toilet provides options for its people to excrete when they’re out of their houses. Also, people who don’t have their own private toilets find public toilets extremely helpful. Not just for the homeless, a public toilet is also handy for tourists who’d not like to spend on hotel rooms. The government usually builds such facilities, but there are also instances when an individual or a private entity may build the toilet free of cost for general use. And there are public toilets that could be built by the local authorities and managed by a private entity, or vice-versa. 

People may also use a public toilet for other personal tasks besides defecating and urinating. For instance, women can use the toilet to clean up and change their sanitary pads or tampons during their days of menstruation. Parents could use public restrooms to change diapers of their babies.

U-Shape Seat Design

A public toilet with a U-shape seat design in a casino. Image credit: Flickr
A public toilet with a U-shape seat design in a casino. Image credit: Flickr

Generally, a public toilet has an opening or a U-shaped toilet seat design at the front, primarily for hygiene purposes. The open design ensures the genitals don’t come in contact with the seat or there’s no urine splashing onto the seat. For women, the design also makes it convenient to wipe their private parts without touching the seat. Also, the front-open seat is inexpensive to make, which means it’s less likely to be stolen.

Cleanliness

Irrespective of how well-maintained a public toilet is, it can never match a home or private toilet in terms of cleanliness and hygiene, primarily because it gets used by way too many people on any given day. And the fact that quite a few don’t flush the toilet after use, and resort to many not-so-clean toilet habits makes things even worse. Not to mention, most people don’t wash their hands properly and use the same hand to open up the tap or the bathroom door’s inner latch.

Probably, the dirtiest spot is the floor. When flushing the toilet, the water could spray onto the floor as droplets, usually settling onto surface areas near the flush. These drops of water may carry fecal-borne illness-causing bacteria such as E.coli, salmonella, shigella, or norovirus. The other danger public toilet zones are faucet handles, towel dispensers, and sinks. And this makes such toilets not-so-ideal to handle, especially for eager kids who like to fiddle with everything they can get their hands on.

Contrary to public perception, the cleanest part of a public toilet is the toilet seat itself, provided the toilet is regularly cleaned and well-maintained. Usually, several people using the toilet wipe it clean before sitting on it. Also, the toilet cleaning staff use disinfectants to eliminate any virus or bacteria.

Infections

Though a public toilet isn’t the cleanest place in the world, there have been not many cases about individuals catching a disease from a germ they got exposed to in a public toilet. And this is because an infection happens only if the germs come in contact with the individual’s genital or urethral tract, or if there’s a sore or cut on the thighs or buttocks. To become sick, one should have contracted huge amounts of bacteria or viruses.

Accessibility Issues

Public toilets are not easily accessible even in the most developed countries. Restaurants are still not privy to the idea of opening up their washrooms or toilets to non-customers. Not to mention, how restrictive these toilets are in factories, offices, schools, etc. And this makes finding bathrooms for the homeless extremely difficult. A public toilet must be as basic as food, clothing and shelter, but the concept is still not as fundamental as it should be in most regions across the world.