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". Commented Apr 30, 2014 at 22:17
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    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
    Commented Apr 30, 2014 at 22:54
  • 12
    For the convenience of US Senators.
    – dlanod
    Commented Apr 30, 2014 at 23:02
  • 6
    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
    Commented Apr 30, 2014 at 23:18
  • 15
    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
    Commented May 1, 2014 at 3:59

6 Answers 6


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 are not so many 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. Commented Dec 9, 2014 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. Commented Jul 13, 2015 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
    Commented Jul 13, 2015 at 7:20
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    @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. Commented Jul 13, 2015 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
    Commented Jul 13, 2015 at 7:30

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.

  • 6
    ADA? Can you expand the TLA?
    – Mark Mayo
    Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 23:54
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    @MarkMayo -- probably Americans with Disabilities Act Commented Feb 5, 2016 at 0:52
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    @MarkMayo Americans with Disabilities Act ?
    – blackbird
    Commented Feb 5, 2016 at 0:53
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    How does a huge gap under the door help people with restricted movement? Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 19:39
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    The bottom gap is called "toe clearance". A huge gap is not absolutely necessary, but if there is no big gap, the toilet stall has to be wider. Take a wheelcheer and roll into a restroom. To turn around, your footrest has to be able to move. With a gap, your toes can pass under the gap. You can find this in any ADA restroom guide, e.g. here steppingthruaccessibility.com/…
    – Max
    Commented May 27, 2017 at 18:34

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: http://www.answerbag.com/q_view/4184

  • 2
    Takes intense concentration to not turn your head ninety degrees and look down? Please!
    – WGroleau
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 23:17
  • @WGroleau: Some of us have better peripheral vision than others. Frankly, I like the guards more for preventing the situation where the other person's lack of concern for backwash means your legs get damp. Commented May 25, 2018 at 14:26

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. Commented Jul 13, 2016 at 17:20
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    @Dean: Next time in the UK, try not peeking under the toilet cubicle doors and look instead at the occupancy indicator that is part of the door lock. Everybody will be much happier! :-) Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 17:27

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 Ev
    Commented Jul 13, 2016 at 19:36

This phenomenon back home in the States varies. The lower the class of the clientele, public, or local user base, the less privacy there will be. There is no practical or benevolent utility to the wide spaces except to deny privacy in the bathroom. The ADA has no standards for clearance under a door to a toilet, although the space under a door is generally just enough to see feet in non-security-theater countries.

Doors with wide hinges and that "hang away" from the frame are actually more expensive and difficult to maintain, and are sold featuring their viewable apertures on each side (hinge- and latch-side pillaster clearances). These are often sold internationally as 'US style'. Americans (especially the more conservative or deprived segments of the herd) are a fearful, often oppressive lot, as most well know. Nothing illustrates this more than the small touches added to everything that bespeak their fears of 'someone might get away with something I disapprove of'.

As an architect, I can tell you that the only purposes in these gaps is to discourage comfort, satisfy resentment at the requirement to provide minimum facilities on the part of public accomodation locale business operators and conservative lawmakers, enable dehumanization and humiliate the lower classes. It is the same reason that US transit stops are often not weather-safe and have discomfort in mind (under the aegis of preventing homeless 'camping', and thereby non-participation in rent regimes). It is the same reasoning underlying the use of inordinate amounts of privacy invasion for basic interaction with any institution at the middle class level or below: frivolous and pointless oppressiveness and an ever-present precarity to keep people in line.

If one goes to or frequents reservation-limited municipal golf courses; country clubs; higher-tier restaurants, hotels, their associated cocktail lounges; and facilities in more homogeneous areas, these little touches disappear. A public park in the same city will have no doors on the stalls in the 'poor' part of town, not to mention likely prison-style fixtures for toilet paper (if any is on offer) and will generally lack sanitary supplies. However, in the richer part of town, a similar park (in addition to newer, better children's play equipment and sports facilities, as well as maintained landscaping), will have full privacy in well-lit, meticulously maintained restrooms with modern equipment and special touches (clean baby changing stations with filled wipe dispensers, heated water as well as the standard cold, and paper towels and toilet paper, present and of good quality).

Any other offers of explanation, really, are delusions. Americans blend classism with bitter, petty security-theater antics to keep the labor class on their knees.

  • 5
    This is nothing more than a baseless rant with nothing to back it up.
    – Andy
    Commented Dec 4, 2016 at 22:10
  • I am an architect and a civil engineer who is also a multi-decade member of SEAOSC and the CEAC. I have worked for several counties and cities over the last 3 decades and have no reason to sugar-coat or skew my assertions. They are the facts and a quick visit to any facilities as described above will confirm them. I am sorry if your breadth of experience has not exposed you to this truth as of yet, and hope that your safe spaces have smaller gaps around their doorways than the average public bathroom in areas outside your comfort zone. Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 11:41
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    Please cite something that backs up what you're saying then. I really don't give a damn what your occupation is, unless there's something official that actually states the reasoning is to make people uncomfortable. If there's not, you're just stating your rather silly opinion to try and provide what you think is the rational.
    – Andy
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 23:17
  • 1
    @Internationalite can you somehow back up your claims of being a civil engineer? Anyone on the Internet could claim that.
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 10:09
  • While I certainly don't share the average American's conviction that we're the best, this other extreme is absurd..
    – WGroleau
    Commented May 25, 2018 at 15:47

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