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Public Bathrooms, #2 and Locking the Door

Concerned reader G.W. writes the following:

OK – I have read through your site and I have run into a question on bathroom etiquette I haven’t yet seen addressed anywhere.

At work
The men’s bathroom has one stall and one urinal.
The men’s bathroom door locks.

Here is my thinking…

Acceptable multiple person use: (Reason to leave the door unlocked)
I am going in to do #1 and am the only occupant, I use the urinal, leaving the stall open for use.
I am going in to do #1 and the urinal is occupied, I use the stall and try and take long enough for urinal user to wash up and leave before heading to the single sink.
I am going in to wash hands only.

Situations for single use only: (reasons to lock door or leave and come back later)
I am going in to do #2 and am the only occupant, I use the stall but have locked the bathroom door so that no one else can enter the bathroom.
I am going in to do #2 and the urinal is occupied, I go to the stall and try and take long enough for “setup” that urinal user has time to wash up and leave before I get down to business. (someone with good etiquette would lock the bathroom door behind them so no one else is subjected to nasal collateral damage upon entering.)
I am going in to do #2 and the stall is occupied. The user is not practicing good etiquette. I lock the door for them and come back later or head to the other bathroom in the adjacent building.

So the reason I am writing is that I am taking flack for locking the door in the above situations. Am I out of line?

I don’t think I am and here is why…
When I lock the door I know what I am going to be doing in there. I don’t want company and believe me, they don’t want to be that company. Nothing about it is a bonding experience nor something I care to share. The same goes for when I walk in and someone is in the locked stall but the bathroom door is unlocked. I am instantly angry! Why? Why did you leave the bathroom door unlocked and assault me with your stench? Why couldn’t you have just stopped me outside the door with the simple press of a door handle button lock? Did you know what you were going to do when you went in there?

I won’t be offended that the door is locked. I am happy you spared me the disgust and revolt of having to have smelt what you have dealt!

Thank you very much!

(My hat is off to you, this stuff is complicated!) Keep up the good work

I’ve got to say, this is one of the most interesting and most difficult questions I have ever received. First of all though, I want to address this issue of the locking door. I’m surprised it’s possible to lock the door for another person. Wouldn’t this result in the potential situation where you lock the door, leave, there’s nobody in there and thus the bathroom is locked up with no way to enter it? Is this a pseudo-lock like you often find in homes which can be easily opened with a paperclip? It just seems like a very unusual setup for a public bathroom.

But let’s forget about that, because it really isn’t crucial to the question. We know the bathroom has a lock, and let’s assume that it is used perfectly and the door is never locked with nobody inside. The real question is, should somebody lock the door when they are doing a #2? Well to answer that we have to get to the root of what etiquette is all about.

Etiquette is about being concerned with other people.

In the context of a public bathroom, this generally means trying to minimize the negative impact your actions are having on other people, because let’s face it – there aren’t a lot of positive ways you can affect somebody by going pee or poo (unless the #2 mitigates a gassy afternoon at the office, but that’s another story for another time).

So let’s consider this action of door locking from the perspective not of the person doing the #2, but of the other people.


  1. Nobody has to listen to the sound of you doing a #2, which can be pretty gross
  2. The impact of the stench is abated


  1. People have to wait to use urinal and/or sink

But which of the above is most important? Do the positives outweigh the negatives? Clearly for G.W. they do. He’s a proponent of locking the door because he feels people are better off waiting outside for him to finish his business. The thing is, by his own admission G.W. is “taking flack for locking the door”, which implies the other people aren’t impressed.

And I think that’s really the bottom line. Despite his best intentions, G.W. is taking flack for his actions, and so the people have spoken. People would rather be assaulted by the stench than have to wait a couple minutes to go pee.

The flip side of course is that G.W. himself would rather wait. So the ideal circumstance is that he leaves the door unlocked, but that other people lock the door if they think he’s going to need to go pee, but it’s impossible to predict when that will happen.

And speaking of the stench, it’s hard to know how much it helps to not be present during the actual event. Most public bathrooms don’t exactly have great ventilation, so I’m not convinced that it’s any less stinky to go pee right after somebody finishes going #2 than it is while they are actually going #2.


1 Fred Boatwright { 04.29.12 at 9:21 am }

I want privacy when dropping friends off at the pool.

Some inconsiderate people hoard the toilet by reading magazines, etc. which would make others wait a long time for entry.

2 Lily Rowen { 08.29.12 at 8:23 pm }

This is a very interesting idea! I just wanted to share that I, too, just started a bathroom-related blog for public restrooms in the LA area. Please do check it out: I am trying to tell as many people about it as possible! Thank you!

3 Juliana { 10.21.12 at 4:29 pm }

This was indeed, an interesting issue to point out. Etiquette is definitely incredibly important when using the public bathroom – it is a public space after all. Please check out our cause on raising awareness about toilet etiquette @ Cheers!

4 Fernando { 09.15.16 at 4:47 pm }

Hello everyone. I’m a 38 year old guy. Recently I entered a new job in a small office. There are 5 women and 5 men including me. The men’s bathroom is very small. It is a 1 stall 1 urinal 1 sink facility with a locking door.

Since there is a stall, I never lock the door when pooping. One day I went to the bathroom to take my leisurely morning dump. I was through mid poop when a coworker opened the door. As soon as he realized I was in the stall he was shocked, quickly closed the door, and left. He obviously identified me by my shoes. I also identified him since he muffled something. He was very embarrassed and somehow I felt bad. I didn’t mean to offend him. If he needed a pee it would be no big deal to come in and use the urinal. If he wanted to use the stall he could have come later without making such a fuss about noticing a bro in the stall pooping. The rest of the day he acted weirdly. Although we did talk later throughout the day, I felt he was strange. Even a little hostile. As if I had offended him by pooping without locking the door. I simply decided to ignore him.

As the days went by, things returned to normal but I have noticed I’m the only guy in the office who doesn’t lock the door. Since then, I’m trying to poop more at home to avoid a potential situation in which someone opens the door while I’m pooping in the stall and is offended. But if I do have to poop at the office I continue with my open door policy. I refuse to lock the door. It’s silly and immature. In my opinion, locking the door doesn’t make sense since the toilet is already enclosed in a stall and leaving the door open leaves the urinal available for anyone who needs to use it. When we have visiting guys, they never lock the door, at least when taking a leak. Once I needed a pee and went to the bathroom. As I opened the door a visiting guy was at the urinal. Although he looked surprised, he was cool. He said come in. I went to the stall to pee. However, I have not seen a guy pooping in the stall though.

I don’t want to offend anyone but eventually it will happen again. It’s just a matter of time. So the bottom line is what should I do? Should I lock the door even if it means preventing anyone from using the bathroom for 15 minutes? Or should I poop at home? Or maybe just lock for pooping and leaving it open for peeing? Or maybe simply leaving the door open as I do and don’t caring what they think. Although it seems trivial I need your opinion. Please share your thoughts. They will be greatly appreciated.

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