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Most public toilets in the US are very low in privacy, the bottom gap in the door is so big (around 15-20% of the door), the side gaps are too big as well. This will make the toilet experience so unpleasant with no privacy at all. You can literally count the people outside and people outside are like "ok, now he is wiping, etc.".

I can't think of a reason behind this. Can someone tell me why?

US Toilets

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It probably all boils down to "it's cheaper this way". – Greg Hewgill Apr 30 '14 at 22:17
Well, your standard for privacy is evidently much higher than the norm in the U.S.— which, by European standards, is on the squeamish or even puritanical side when it comes to bodily functions or undress, and thus the last place you would think to be lax in this regard. For instance, it's pretty rare now to find trough urinals in newer construction in the U.S., though they seemed to be the norm, for instance, in Australia. – choster Apr 30 '14 at 22:54
For the convenience of US Senators. – dlanod Apr 30 '14 at 23:02
I have noticed this too. I suspect (though don't know) that it's designed to minimise secretive drug-taking and other undesirable activities. [In contrast the always-secretive Swiss make their cubicles virtually hermetically sealed.] – toandfro Apr 30 '14 at 23:18
The stalls in that photo look sufficiently private to me, for any legitimate use of the stalls. If someone can casually tell that you're wiping in one of those stalls, you're doing it wrong. – Flimzy May 1 '14 at 3:59
up vote 32 down vote accepted

I can't find a definitive link but there are a few reasons, a lot of which were already covered in the comments.

One, the style in your picture makes the whole place easier to clean. You can hose down the floors in one go and there's no fewer joins between the walls and the floors for gunk to build up. (EDIT: in your picture you can see that the toilets don't even join the floor -- so for that setup I'm pretty sure it's for ease of cleaning).

Two, it's so that people can see what you're doing in there. It discourages drug taking or people having sex in the cubicles because it's obvious what's going on. Also if someone passes out on the toilet (for whatever reason) it's easier for people to notice -- in a fully obscured stall someone could lie in there for a long time. It may also just discourage people for sitting in there for longer than necessary.

Lastly, it's cheaper and easier. Divisions like that can be deployed in any room regardless of the flatness of the floor, or the height of the room, etc. Building divisions that actually fit floor to ceiling might require custom cutting and fitting, that might happen in a big building with dozens of identical toilets but for the odd public toilet cheap and easy is the way people will go.

To add to choster's comment, it does tend to vary widely across the US. I've seen toilets with even less privacy than that picture -- like a door that's you can see over when you stand up. The concerns about misusing the toilets tend to trump the privacy, particularly in public places. But you're right, in many private places they will be more sealed. And there're many places in the world where you'll be lucky to find a door at all -- or many people that care that there's no door there.

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One thing to add on why these factors are a bigger deal for airports than elsewhere: international airports tend to be open with customers coming and going 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. For most other venues, after the building is closed the cubicles will be empty and cleaners can do a deep clean, force open any mysteriously closed cubicles, etc. – user568458 Dec 9 '14 at 12:54
This answers only half the question (or, as I've remarked in my comment on the question, one of the two questions), as it does not explain the depicted (IMO unusually, compared to other continents) wide gaps at the sides of the doors. – O. R. Mapper Jul 13 '15 at 6:44
@O.R.Mapper I'd imagine large gaps at the sides are also to discourage illicit activities in the stall. Or it could be just cheaper, less material, bad workmanship. – SpaceDog Jul 13 '15 at 7:20
@SpaceDog: I am really not convinced of the former suggestion; the gap between the door and the floor allows to recognize illicit acitivites without reducing privacy to a point where, say, private parts could be visible without considerable additional effort. Through the side gaps, on the other hand, the effort required to recognize illicit activities and to conduct bathroom voyeurism is roughly the same, making this a whole different topic. The other speculation might of course be true, but it warrants an analysis as to whether it really is specific to North America or the U.S. – O. R. Mapper Jul 13 '15 at 7:27
@O.R.Mapper, the truth is I don't really know, and short of someone knowledgeable dropping by I'm not sure we'll get a concrete answer. As for it being US specific, as I say in my answer things vary wildly around the world, without proper research it'd be impossible to pin down trends to countries. – SpaceDog Jul 13 '15 at 7:30

I can see the arguments about it being easier to clean, and perhaps spying is good for safety, but what's the deal with urinals? Often times they are squeezed uncomfortably close together, and most don't have a guard wall between them. In these situations, it takes some intense concentration to not accidentally get an eye full of full frontal. What possible reason could there be for such an obvious lack of privacy? Some might argue it's economics, but I see this in expensive and cheap places alike.

The best I can figure is that these designs stem from a time where people didn't care as much about bathroom privacy (the era when high schools had to shower together as a group) and they've simply been grandfathered in.

Here's some good answers on another forum:

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As an European I was always uncomfortable to use any public facility in USA, for the same reason and I asked myself, over and over, the same question "Why????" .

The official answer is here where you'll find this stunning ABSURD reason:


To prevent unnecessary queuing, anyone entering the restroom should be able to easily determine the state of occupancy of stalls. This can be done with doors that do not fully close when not in use or by other devices that signal occupancy. The doors of stalls often loose alignment over time. Doors should have sufficient clearance and locks latch length to function as the stall frame becomes misaligned. "

Of course, I do not believe this is the real reason. I think is more behind that official nonsense explanation, and I incline to believe that it about another way to invade our privacy. Plain and Simple!

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Well that can't be "official". No one in the US, save from expats from the UK, uses the word "queuing". Also, I don't know if it is a UK/US English thing or just a typo but it should be "lose" not "loose". That being said as an American, I remember being annoyed in the UK having to push on stall doors to see which was available rather than being able to lean slightly down to see which is available. – Dean MacGregor Jul 13 at 17:20

I think it is the nanny state thing. There are rules for everything in the USA (second most universalist nation behind Switzerland) and you might just be doing something naughty in the bathroom... like emptying your bladder. I used to think that the builders couldn't measure properly but it's definitely about keeping a watch on you.

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What do you mean by "nanny state"? Paternalism? – Vince Jul 12 '15 at 21:23

The bottom "gaps" are for ADA. Minimum 12" so feet and foot rests clear...I believe. The cracks between doors are just poor construction tolerances that nobody in the States seems to care about.

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ADA? Can you expand the TLA? – Mark Mayo Feb 4 at 23:54
@MarkMayo -- probably Americans with Disabilities Act – UnrecognizedFallingObject Feb 5 at 0:52
@MarkMayo Americans with Disabilities Act ? – blackbird57 Feb 5 at 0:53

As suggested on Seinfeld, the gap can be used to see if someone is inside before trying the door. Obviously there are usually locks for that purpose, but these tend to breakdown and the gap could work as a 'backup system'.

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Or in case someone needs a spare square of toilet paper (also Seinfeld). – Richard Everett Jul 13 at 19:36

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