AskDefine | Define lavatory

Dictionary Definition



1 a room equipped with toilet facilities [syn: toilet, lav, can, john, privy, bathroom]
2 a bathroom or lavatory sink that is permanently installed and connected to a water supply and drainpipe; where you wash your hands and face; "he ran some water in the basin and splashed it on his face" [syn: washbasin, basin, washbowl, washstand]
3 a toilet that is cleaned of waste by the flow of water through it [syn: flush toilet]

User Contributed Dictionary



From Latin lava wash + torium


  1. a bathroom; a washroom
  2. (British, Aust) a toilet



Extensive Definition

A toilet is a plumbing fixture and disposal system primarily intended for the disposal of the bodily wastes: urine and fecal matter. The word "toilet" can be used to refer to the fixture itself or to the room containing the fixture, especially in British English. There are two basic types of toilets: the dry toilet, and the wet toilet - the latter being the most commonly known and producer of blackwater. The dry toilet needs no plumbing for water input or evacuation, but is often coupled with some ventilation system.
The ancient cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro which are located in present day India & Pakistan had flush toilets attached to a sophisticated sewage system —and other forms of toilets were used both in the time of the Romans and Egyptians as well. Although a precursor to the modern flush toilet system was designed in 1596 by Sir John Harington, the toilet did not enter into widespread use until the late nineteenth century, when it was adopted in English upper class residences.
Nearly 40 percent of the world's population lacks access to toilets.

Types of toilets

There are also many different ways to clean oneself after using the toilet. A lot depends on national mores and local resources. The most common choice in the Western world is toilet paper, sometimes used in conjunction with the bidet. (See Toilet paper and Anal cleansing for a discussion of the many alternatives used through history and in different cultures.) In the Middle East and some countries in Asia, and South Asian countries such as India and Pakistan, the custom is to use water, either with or without toilet paper. Traditionally, the left hand is used for this, for which reason that hand is considered impolite or polluted in many eastern countries.
The most common type of toilet in modern cities is the flush toilet, in which water takes away the waste through sewers to a waste treatment plant. In rural areas where sewers are not practical, septic tanks may be installed instead.
The most common design in first-world countries is the sitting toilet. Some other countries use the squat toilet.

Public toilets

Public toilets, public lavatories, or public conveniences are toilets that are accessible to the general public with common access from the street. Conveniences being the collective term for male and female designated toilets, convenience (singular) usually acquiring a gender attribute.
A public toilet may or may not cost money to use; for those that do, see "pay toilet". Between the categories of outright free and outright pay toilets, there is a grey area of toilets where a fee is expected, but not enforced. A charge levied in the UK during the mid-20th century was one British penny, hence the generally adopted term "spend a penny" meaning to use the toilet. Public facilities often have several toilets partitioned by stalls (US) or cubicles (UK). Facilities for men often also have separate urinals, either wall-mounted fixtures designed for a single user, or a constantly-draining basin or trough for collective use. Wall-mounted urinals are sometimes separated by small partitions or other obstructions for privacy, i.e., to keep the user's genitals hidden from public view.
Outdoor public toilets (in the street, around parks, etc.) are a form of street furniture. For mixed sex arrangements, there are cubicles varying from simple devices with little or no plumbing to more luxurious versions that automatically clean themselves after every use (for the latter, see Sanisette). Facilities without walls all around are typically for urination only, and for men only; although passers-by can see the urinating men from the back, they cannot see the genitals. These street urinals are known as Pissoirs after the French term (see Urinal).
Some facilities are mobile, and can thus be put in place where and when needed, e.g., for a weekend at an entertainment venue. Additionally, some can be sunk into the ground (and thereby made inoperable), for the periods that they are not needed. The idea behind this is that some people do not like the sight of a public toilet in the street, and they are more easily hidden than repeatedly moved. This type is typically installed in entertainment areas and made operational during weekend evenings and nights.
A portable toilet is an outdoor public toilet with walls which can either be connected to the local sewage system or store the waste and be emptied from time to time. Space shuttles empty waste out into outer space. Many toilets can be cleaned on the spot, or at a central location in the case of a mobile toilet or urinal. In Europe, public toilets are also set up for cities as a compensation for advertising permits. They are part of a street furniture contract between the out-of-home advertising company and the city council. The reason for this combination is the shortage in city budgets.
Terms used to identify a public toilet will vary from region to region. The Gents and The Ladies are commonly used British terms meaning the male and female toilet respectively. Some European public toilets may be marked "WC" (Water Closet); while in the Philippines the label "CR" (comfort room) is common.
Some public toilets have begun to be provided with flushable paper toilet seat covers which allow the user the comfort of knowing that they are not in contact with a surface previously used by a stranger. There is however no medical evidence that these prevent the spread of disease.

Toilets for people with disabilities

Some toilet areas (otherwise known as "stalls"), are specially adapted for people with disabilities. These are wide enough to allow the entry and use by a person in a wheelchair, and often feature hand-holds or grab bars bolted to the wall, enabling the person to maneuver onto the toilet, if necessary. Some countries have legal requirements for the accessibility of toilets.

Gender and public toilets

Separation by sex is characteristic of public toilets to the extent that pictograms of a man or a woman are used to indicate where their respective toilets are. These pictograms are sometimes enclosed within standard geometric forms to reinforce this information, with a circle representing a women's toilet and a triangle representing a men's facility. Pictograms depicting men and women in traditional dress (men in pants, women in skirts) have been criticized for perpetuating gender stereotypes. Standard gender symbols are rarely used. In restaurants, bars and night clubs, the identifications can be designed to match the decoration of the premises, using male and female figures or parts of the body, text, or even puns, making it difficult for some patrons to identify them.
Sex-separated public toilets are a source of difficulty for some people. For example, people with children of the opposite sex must choose between bringing the child into a toilet not designated for the child's gender, or entering a toilet not designated for one's own. Men caring for babies often find that only the women's washroom has been fitted with a change table. People with disabilities who need assistance to use the restroom have an additional problem if their helper is the opposite sex.
Sex-separated public toilets are often difficult to negotiate for transgendered or androgynous people, who are often subject to embarrassment, harassment, or even assault or arrest by others offended by the presence of a person they interpret as being of the other gender (whether due to their outward presentation or their genital status). Transgendered people have been arrested for using not only bathrooms that correspond to their gender of identification, but also ones that correspond to the sex they were born with.
Many existing public toilets are gender-neutral. Additionally, some public places (such as facilities targeted to the transgendered or LGBT communities, and a few universities and offices) provide individual washrooms that are not gender-specified, specifically in order to respond to the concerns of gender-variant people; but this remains very rare and often controversial. Various courts have ruled on whether transgendered people have the right to use the washroom of their gender of identification.
A significant number of facilities have additional gender-neutral public toilets for a different reason — they are marked not for being for females or males, but as being accessible to persons with disabilities, and are adequately equipped to allow a person using a wheelchair and/or with mobility concerns to use them.
Amnesty International includes segregated toilets among the measures to ensure the safety of girls in schools

Family restrooms

Another recent development in public toilets is the "family restroom". Family restrooms are unisex bathrooms that contain multiple stalls designed for maximum privacy and a communal washing area for use by both genders. The family restroom is designed so that a parent with a young child of the opposite gender can bring the child into the restroom with them without the concerns associated with single-gender restrooms. Family restrooms have started appearing in newly-built sports stadiums, amusement parks, shopping malls, and major museums.

Toilets in public transport

There are usually toilets in airliners, regional rail trains, and often in long-distance buses and ferries, but not in metros, school buses, trams, and other buses. Many newer trains have a waste reservoir, but, in older trains and still in some newer ones, the contents simply fall on the tracks, hence the notice which appears in many train toilets: "Please do not flush while the train is standing at a station".
Lavatories on aircraft consist of a sink, a waste bin, and a toilet. On many newer aircraft the toilet does not flush with water; rather, suction removes the waste into a collection bin below cabin level. This type is generically known as a vacuum lavatory. Older aircraft use a lavatory tank below the toilet (normally hidden by a hinged "flapper valve" at the bottom of the toilet bowl) and a pump to filter and recirculate lavatory fluid to facilitate flushing.

Private toilets

Toilets in private homes are almost never separated by sex. However, the size of a home or facility bears on the availability of options. Small facilities are limited by their space to the toilet options they can offer; it is more common to find a higher number of choices in a large facility. The same is true for homes; in more affluent households in the USA, where the homes are usually larger, bathrooms are also often more spacious than average, and more numerous. In such homes, bathrooms (especially master bathrooms) are increasingly being designed with a small adjoining room exclusively for the toilet, as well as separate washing basins. This makes it easier for couples who share a bathroom to maintain their desired level of privacy and personal space. In Australia, it has long been the case that the toilet is in a separate room from the bathroom.

"High-tech" toilets

Advanced technology is being integrated into toilets with more functions, especially in Japan - see Toilets in Japan. The biggest maker of these toilets is TOTO. Such toilets can cost anywhere from US$200 to $5,000. The features are operated by control pads (sometimes with bilingual labels), and even hand-held remote control devices. Some of these features are
  • Automatic-flushing mechanisms, operated by a photocell or other sensor. Typically these flush a toilet when the user stands up, Toilets in multi-storey buildings, located on fire-resistance rated floors typically require at least two through-penetrations, which can compromise the rating of the floor if left untreated. One opening is for the fresh water supply to flush and/or fill the water tank. The other through-penetration is for the drain pipe. The fresh water supply line requires routine firestopping. The drain pipe, however, is exempt from firestopping in many building codes, particularly when noncombustible piping is used, because the penetration terminates on the unexposed side in a ceramic bowl filled with water, which can withstand significant fires. Intumescent firestops are often used, in the event plastic pipes are used for toilet drains, so that the melting plastic pipe is choked off in the event of an accidental fire. It is, however, customary to fill the metallic drain pipe annulus with rockwool packing. Even with the best of intentions, it would be difficult for the firestopper to install a sealant, because he is not allowed or inclined to remove the flange, which is what is partially used to support the drain pipe below during the installation process.

Grey water

seealso Greywater In some areas with water shortage issues, in order to conserve levels of potable water, some installations use grey water for toilets. Grey water is waste water produced from processes such as washing dishes, laundry and bathing.


According to Teresi et al. (2002):
The third millennium B.C. was the "Age of Cleanliness." Toilets and sewers were invented in several parts of the world, and Mohenjo-Daro circa 2800 B.C. had some of the most advanced, with lavatories built into the outer walls of houses. These were "Western-style" toilets made from bricks with wooden seats on top. They had vertical chutes, through which waste fell into street drains or cesspits. Sir Mortimer Wheeler, the director general of archaeology in India from 1944 to 1948, wrote, "The high quality of the sanitary arrangements could well be envied in many parts of the world today." Nearly all of the hundreds of houses excavated had their own bathing rooms. Generally located on the ground floor, the bath was made of brick, sometimes with a surrounding curb to sit on. The water drained away through a hole in the floor, down chutes or pottery pipes in the walls, into the municipal drainage system. Even the fastidious Egyptians rarely had special bathrooms.
Toilets appeared as early as 2500 BC. The people of the Harappan civilization in Pakistan and north-western India had water-flushing toilets in each house that were linked with drains covered with burnt clay bricks. Around the 18th century BC, toilets started to appear in Minoan Crete; Egypt in the time of the Pharaohs and ancient Persia. In Roman civilization, toilets were sometimes part of public bath houses.
Roman toilets, like the ones pictured here, are commonly thought to be used in the sitting position. But sitting toilets only came into general use in the mid-19th century. A case has been made for the squatting hypothesis.


The word "toilet" came to be used in English along with other French fashions. It originally referred to the toile, French for "cloth", draped over a lady or gentleman's shoulders whilst their hair was being dressed, and then (in both French and English) by extension to the various elements, and also the whole complex of operations of hairdressing and body care that centered at a dressing table, also covered by a cloth, on which stood a mirror and various brushes and containers for powder and make-up: this ensemble was also a toilette, as also was the period spent at the table, during which close friends or tradesmen were often received. The English poet Alexander Pope in The Rape of the Lock (1717) described the intricacies of a lady's preparation: These various senses are first recorded by the OED in rapid sequence in the later 17th century: the set of "articles required or used in dressing" 1662, the "action or process of dressing" 1681, the cloth on the table 1682, the cloth round the shoulders 1684, the table itself 1695, and the "reception of visitors by a lady during the concluding stages of her toilet" 1703 (also known as a "toilet-call"), but in the sense of a special room the earliest use is 1819, and this does not seem to include a lavatory.
Through the 18th century, everywhere in the English-speaking world, these various uses centred around a lady's draped dressing-table remained dominant. In the 19th century, apparently first in the United States, the word was adapted as a genteel euphemism for the room and the object as we know them now, perhaps following the French usage cabinet de toilette, much as powder-room may be coyly used today, and this has been linked to the introduction of public toilets, for example on railway trains, which required a plaque on the door. The original usages have become obsolete, and the table has become a dressing-table.
Vestiges of the original meaning continue to be reflected in terms such as toiletries, eau de toilette and toilet bag (to carry flannels, soaps, etc). This seemingly contradictory terminology has served as the basis for various parodies e.g. Cosmopolitan magazine ("If it doesn't say 'eau de toilette' on the label, it most likely doesn't come from the famed region of Eau de Toilette in France and might not even come from toilets at all.") The word toilet itself may be considered an impolite word in the United States, whilst elsewhere the word is used without any embarrassment. The choice of the word used instead of toilet is highly variable, not just by regional dialect but also, at least in Britain, by class connotations. Nancy Mitford wrote an essay out of the choice of wording; see U and non-U English. Some manufacturers show this uneasiness with the word and its class attributes: American Standard, the largest manufacturer, sells them as "toilets", yet the higher priced products of the Kohler Company, often installed in more expensive housing, are sold as commodes or closets, words which also carry other meanings. Confusingly, products imported from Japan such as TOTO are referred to as "toilets", even though they carry the cachet of higher cost and quality. When referring to the room or the actual piece of equipment, the word toilet is often substituted with other euphemisms and dysphemisms (See toilet humor). As old euphemisms have become accepted, they have been progressively replaced by newer ones, an example of the euphemism treadmill at work. The choice of word used to describe the room or the piece of plumbing relies as much on regional variation (dialect) as on social situation and level of formality (register).


The term lavatory, abbreviated in slang to lav, derives from the Latin lavātōrium, which in turn comes from Latin lavāre, to wash. It used to refer to a vessel for washing, such as a sink/wash basin, and thus came to mean a room with washing vessels. Since these rooms often also contain toilets, the meaning evolved into its current one, namely the polite and formal euphemism for a toilet and the room containing it. Lavatory is the common signage for toilets on commercial airlines around the world, see Aircraft lavatory.


The origin of the (chiefly British) term loo is unknown. According to the OED, the etymology is obscure, but it might derive from the word Waterloo. The first recorded entry is in fact from James Joyce's Ulysses (1922): "O yes, mon loup. How much cost? Waterloo. Watercloset".
Other theories are:
  • That it derives from the term "gardyloo" (a corruption of the French phrase gardez l'eau (or maybe: Garde de l'eau!) loosely translated as "watch out for the water!") which was used in medieval times when chamber pots were emptied from a window onto the street. However the first recorded usage of "loo" comes long after this term became obsolete.
  • That the word comes from nautical terminology, loo being an old-fashioned word for lee. The standard nautical pronunciation (in British English) of leeward is looward. Early ships were not fitted with toilets but the crew would urinate over the side of the vessel. However it was important to use the leeward side. Using the windward side would result in the urine blown back on board: hence the phrases 'pissing into the wind' and 'spitting into the wind'. Even now most yachtsmen refer to the loo rather than the heads.
  • That the word derives from the 17th century preacher Louis Bourdaloue. Bordaloue's sermons at the Saint Paul-Saint Louis Church in Paris lasted at least three hours and myth has it that wealthier ladies took along "travelling" chamber pots that could be hidden under their dresses whenever the need arose to avoid the need to leave. Due to the popularity of the myth the bowls became known as Bordaloues after the preacher and the name became corrupted to portaloos and sometimes just plain loos due to the habit of shortening words in slang.


The WC refers to the initial letters of Water Closet, used commonly in France (pronounced "le vay-say" or "le vater") and Hungary (pronounced "vey-tsay"). The term is also used in the Netherlands (pronounced "waysay"), Germany (pronounced "vey-tsay") and Poland (pronounced "vu-tse"). In Mexico, WC is very common to indicate a public toilet, although the majority of the people there do not know the meaning of the 'mysterious' letters on the door. The same can be said for Finland. Quite why the English expression should have become international is not clear.


Lexicographer Eric Partridge derives khazi, also spelt karzy, kharsie or carzey, from a low Cockney word carsey originating in the late 19th century and meaning a privvy. Carsey also referred to a den or brothel. It is presumably derived from the Italian casa for house, with the spelling influenced by similar sound to khaki. Khazi is now most commonly used in the city of Liverpool in the UK, away from its cockney slang roots.


The Dunny is an Australian expression for an outside toilet. See outhouse.The person who appeared weekly to empty the pan beneath the seat was known as the dunnyman. The word derives from the British dialect word dunnekin, meaning dung-house. It is now an informal word used for any lavatory and is most often used referring to drop or pit lavatories in the Australian bush.


The Privy is an old fashioned term used more in the North of England and in Scotland; "privy" is an old alternative for "private", as in Privy council. It is used interchangeably in North America for various terms for the outhouse.

Derivations of "house"

Standalone toilets has been variously known as backhouse, house of ease, house of office, little house, or outhouse.
The "house of office" was a common name for a toilet in seventeenth century England, used by, among others, Samuel Pepys on numerous occasions: October 23, 1660: ...going down into my cellar..., I put my foot into a great heap of turds, by which I find Mr Turner's house of office is full and comes into my cellar.


Latrine is a term common in the military, specifically for the Army and Air Force for any point of entry facility where human waste is disposed of, which a civilian might call a bathroom or toilet, regardless of how modern or primitive it is. The United States Navy and Marine Corps use the nautical term "Head" to describe the same type of facility, regardless of whether it is located on a ship or on the land.


Toilet training

An important part of early childhood education is toilet training.


Public toilets have been associated with graffiti, often of a transgressive, gossippy, or low-brow humorous nature (cf. toilet humour). The word latrinalia --from latrine 'toilet' and -alia, signifying a worthless collection--was coined to describe this kind of graffiti. A famous example of such artwork, was featured on the album cover of the satirical Tony-award Broadway musical Urinetown, using felt tip pen scribblings.

Popular culture

In November, 2007, the twelfth restaurant in a toilet-themed chain opened in Taipei.,23483,22756557-27977,00.html

How toilet cisterns work

Cisterns are either lever or push button operated. Cisterns operated by a push button are available in single (6L) or dual flush (3L/6L) depending on the range. The majority of cisterns are now internal overflow; this means in the event of a failure, the water will be contained within the unit. A flushing trough is an apparatus which serves several WC pans from one long cistern body. It is designed in this way to allow more frequent flushing. These can be found in schools, colleges and public toilets although are becoming less common.

How they are made

Pottery is made by a blend of clays, fillers and fluxes being fused together during the firing process. A white or coloured glaze is applied and is fused chemically and physically to the clay body during the same firing process. The finished product (vitreous china) has a very hard surface and is resistant to fading, staining, burning, scratching and acid attack. Due to the firing process and natural clays used, it is normal for the product to vary in size and shape, and +/- 5mm is normal.


List of manufacturers of toilets and fixtures:

Further reading

lavatory in Bulgarian: Тоалетна
lavatory in Czech: Záchod
lavatory in Welsh: Toiled
lavatory in Danish: Toilet
lavatory in German: Toilette
lavatory in Spanish: Inodoro
lavatory in Esperanto: Necesejo
lavatory in French: Toilette
lavatory in Korean: 화장실
lavatory in Indonesian: Toilet
lavatory in Italian: Vaso (sanitario)
lavatory in Hebrew: בית שימוש
lavatory in Hungarian: Vécé
lavatory in Dutch: Toilet
lavatory in Japanese: 便所
lavatory in Norwegian: Toalett
lavatory in Norwegian Nynorsk: Toalett
lavatory in Polish: Ubikacja
lavatory in Portuguese: Vaso sanitário
lavatory in Russian: Туалет
lavatory in Sicilian: Cessu
lavatory in Simple English: Toilet
lavatory in Slovak: Toaleta (WC)
lavatory in Swedish: Toalett
lavatory in Tamil: கழிவறை
lavatory in Vietnamese: Nhà vệ sinh
lavatory in Turkish: Tuvalet
lavatory in Wu Chinese: 厕所
lavatory in Yiddish: בית הכסא
lavatory in Contenese: 廁所
lavatory in Chinese: 廁所

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

WC, aquamanile, automatic dishwasher, backhouse, bagnio, balneae, balneum, basement, basin, bath, bathhouse, bathroom, baths, bathtub, bidet, bog, caldarium, can, closet, comfort station, convenience, crapper, dishpan, dishwasher, earth closet, equipment, ewer, finger bowl, head, john, johnny, johnny house, kitchen sink, latrine, lavabo, loo, mikvah, necessary, outhouse, piscina, powder room, privy, public baths, rest room, sauna, shower, shower bath, shower curtain, shower head, shower room, shower stall, showers, sink, spa, steam room, sudarium, sudatorium, sweat room, tepidarium, thermae, toilet, toilet room, tub, urinal, wash barrel, wash boiler, washbasin, washbowl, washdish, washer, washing machine, washing pot, washpot, washroom, washstand, washtub, water closet, watering place
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