A bathroom, washroom, and restroom are often used as synonymous with each other. In the U.S, Canada, and other European countries, it is quite common to ask the question, ‘’Where is the bathroom?’’ when they are looking for a lavatory. They intend to find a place where they can urinate or defecate. In Asian countries like India, Singapore, Malaysia, etc. since English is not the native language, people prefer to use the term restroom or washroom in the corporate environment.
There is a difference between these terms when we look at it from the point of view of a civil engineer. Let’s understand the differences properly today. It is fine to use the terms interchangeably in the colloquial usage; however, there is no harm in knowing the technical difference. There is a different usage of different words as per the culture and country. In many countries, people are not very comfortable mentioning bodily functions, and hence so many terms came into existence.
Definition of a bathroom
The term bathroom originated sometime in the latter part of the eighteenth century. It is typically used for a room that contains a bath or shower or both. With time as houses started becoming smaller and saving space became the biggest challenge for the architects, they started including toilets and washbasins inside the bathrooms.
In Great Britain, the norm still is to have the bath area separate from the toilet, however in modern apartments now they have started including the toilet area too. Even in countries like Australia and New Zealand, a bathroom means only a place to take a bath.
However, in American English, a bathroom normally denotes a place where someone can urinate or defecate. They use this term at their workplaces and homes, even though in many homes the toilets are built separately.
Definition of a washroom
Washroom again is a term that is understood as a place where someone can relieve himself/herself, however, have different meanings in different geographical locations. Typically, a washroom means a place that will be fitted in with for someone can wash his/her hands and face. Typically public washrooms do not have a shower or bathing area, however, there can be exceptions in different countries.
Definition and meaning of a lavatory
The word lavatory evolved from the Latin word ”Lavare.” This word means ”a bowl to wash in” and hence typically in a lavatory there should be a toilet. Later another word came into existence ”latrine” which was typically used for a small cubicle where people could relieve themselves. Normally in railways coaches, the lavatory contains the sign which says ”latrine” in Great Britain.
The colonies of Great Britain like Hong Kong, India, Colonial America, Barbados, British Borneo (Brunei), British Cameroon, parts of Canada, etc. till date use the term latrine in their railway carriages. With time things are changing and many countries have started putting the word ”Toilet” on the doors of public toilets, however, the impact of colonization can still be seen in some places.
Definition of a restroom
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the forms of entertainment changed and cinema came into existence after motion pictures evolved. Even theaters that staged plays and musicals became a part of the urban middle-class lifestyle. The industrial revolution brought prosperity and people had disposable income. They preferred to go out to have dinners in fancy restaurants with their spouses and other family members.
That brought out a need for women to look for a place where they could take care of their babies. The owners of restaurants and other public places started creating a place next to the lavatory with comfortable seating areas. People could sit there and read a magazine if they wished and women could take their babies in to feed them and change their diapers.
Since there is a place to take rest, they were known as restrooms. Currently, Americans use this term. Corporates that have their headquarters in any of the U.S states and have offices globally have started using this term in their offices everywhere.
This is a term that is used more frequently in Canada. A washroom typically should have the facility for the users to wash their faces and hands. They should be fitted with sinks or basins. This term is mostly used for public facilities or facilities within office premises.
Most Americans and English people refer to the washroom as a laundry or utility room where they can wash their clothes and utensils. In some high-end entertainment facilities, both washrooms and restrooms are available. A restroom will contain comfortable couches, bean bags and there will be a place to read or work on your laptop. One can play on their smartphones or tablets there. There might be a toilet available in such a place and of course along with a toilet, an area to wash hands has to be created.
In such upmarket amusement facilities, there will be separate washrooms which will be fitted in with toilets and will be smaller in size. There will be no place to sit and seldom such places will play music. However, in restrooms, there will be stereos playing soft instrumental music too.
This article was mainly written to make people aware of the actual meaning of these words which are normally used to denote one common usage. People across the globe understand these words now, and no matter what you use, they will show the place where someone can relieve themselves.
With time now public places have toilets meant for people with disabilities. Earlier there were lavatories available only for men and women and the men’s toilets were fitted in with separate urinals along with small cubicles where commodes were placed. Women’s toilets were fitted in only with commodes inside small cubicles. Both of them had washbasins and areas to wash one’s hands and face. However, with the growing need to accommodate people with disability, who need more support while using a toilet facility, there were bigger toilets created with multiple handles and equipment to support them.
Malls and many public places now have a breastfeeding room keeping the need of working mothers in mind. In some countries, it is becoming a legal requirement for certain types of buildings to have a breastfeeding room. As humanity grows, needs change and with changing needs, the architecture of buildings too change.