Which Way Should Bathroom Stalls Open?

which way should a bathroom stall open

Have you ever wondered if there was a standard for which direction bathroom stall doors open? Or have you noticed patterns in the directions these doors opened and asked yourself if there was a reason for it? Have you ever asked yourself, “which way should a door open into a bathroom?”

It may not be a topic many of us think of often, but when we do, it’s a puzzling question. After all, if bathroom stall doors all open the same, it stands to reason that there must be a good explanation for it.

As it turns out, there are plenty of regulations surrounding this topic, and good explanations for all of them. Today, we’re going to be answering these questions so that you’ll never have to find yourself wondering about them again.

Which Way Do Public Bathroom Doors Swing?

There’s a good chance that you instantly know the answer to this question. After all, you’ve certainly used a public restroom once or twice in your life. And most of us have been inconvenienced by the direction they open more than once.

In case you aren’t entirely sure though, let’s set the record straight. Bathroom stall doors all open inward, with one notable exception that we’ll talk about later.

But why do bathroom stall doors swing in? The most common answer is that it comes down to space saving. Public restrooms are often cramped and crowded. People are trying to move from the stalls to the sinks and back out the door. If it’s a busy day, there may be a line waiting to access the stalls. People may be pausing in front of the mirror to adjust their clothing or check their hair. It’s often a highly congested area.

Because of this issue, most bathrooms feature a design that provides as much open floor space as possible. Trash cans are placed in out-of-the-way corners. Sinks are small and mounted on the wall. Most important of all, bathroom stall doors open inward.

Now that we know that bathroom stall doors open inward and why, let’s look at some of the positives and negatives of the movement.

Inward-Opening Doors: The Pros

Here are some of the positive results of inward-swinging doors.

1. Saving Space

The biggest and most obvious pro of inward-opening stall doors is the one we just mentioned. It is an enormous space saver. Imagine if stall doors opened outward. Doors would open without warning into the middle of the crowded restroom, unintentionally striking oblivious passers-by. The likelihood of collisions would increase, and bathroom congestion would only grow.

2. Working Around Broken Locks

Have you ever entered a stall only to find that the lock on the door is broken? This is a fairly common occurrence, and it’s also one that’s easy to deal with. Most of us experience it so often that we aren’t even bothered by it. Because the door swings in, it hits its maximum range of motion when you push it outward. That means that when you close a door with a broken lock, it will usually stay closed even if it isn’t locked. And if it doesn’t remain closed on its own, it’s an easy matter to hold the door shut with your hand.

3. Preventing Unwanted Intrusion

Have you ever thought a bathroom stall was unoccupied, only to try to open it and find the door blocked? Or been in a bathroom stall when someone tried to open the door? Neither experience is pleasant. A door that opens inward provides an extra level of protection against such events.

Even if the lock on the door is broken, it’s much harder to open the door from the outside if the door swings inward. The stall occupant can easily hold the door shut from the inside, preventing any embarrassing or uncomfortable situations.

4. Keeping Kids in Check

Many parents take their young children into bathroom stalls rather than leaving them out in the restroom. However, when children aren’t yet old enough to understand proper public restroom etiquette, it can be hard to predict what they’ll do. If a child in the stall with you decides to open up the door, it becomes much easier to prevent this event when the door opens inward. If the door opened outward, it would be almost impossible to catch it before it swung open.

5. Preventing Potential Barricading

If the bathroom stall door opened outward, that would mean anyone trying to exit the stall would be entirely dependent on the space outside the stall being clear to exit. If that space happened to be blocked, they would be helpless to get out.

Initially, this might seem like a non-concern, and you might wonder how that space would ever be blocked. But imagine if someone decided to try barricading people in the stalls. This wouldn’t likely be a common problem, but it’s certainly a possibility — particularly in school settings with groups of children. By designing doors to open inward, this eventuality is avoided altogether.

Inward-Opening Doors: The Cons

As great as inward-opening doors are, they aren’t without a few negative consequences. Here are two of them.

1. Limited Stall Space

Most of us are all too familiar with the experience of trying to leave the bathroom stall, only to have to squeeze next to the toilet to make room for the door to open. Unfortunately, most bathroom stalls are designed so that there is barely room for a person to stand in the stall as the door is opening and closing. In most cases, the person needs to be pressed up against the wall or toilet and leaning backward to give the door room to move.

This problem is compounded if you need to bring anything in the stall with you. For mothers with strollers, it becomes nearly impossible. For travelers who want to bring their luggage into the stall with them to prevent it from being stolen, there often just isn’t room. Even carrying a large purse, coat or shopping bag can make using a public bathroom a challenge due to the lack of space.

2. Increased Contact With Germs

In the process of squeezing in and out of a bathroom stall, many of us end up touching the walls of the stall. While these are certainly cleaned regularly, no one wants to touch the stall walls more than is absolutely necessary.

The same can be said for the toilet. In trying to make space for the door to swing open and shut, we often find ourselves standing much closer to the toilet than we would like. Realistically, it’s unlikely that this exposes us to any more germs than we’ve already been exposed to during our bathroom visit. However, being so close to the toilet when we’re not using it leaves us feeling dirty and covered in extra germs.

Should Bathroom Stall Doors Swing in or Out?

Why do bathroom stall doors swing in? After all, we’ve just considered a long list of the pros and cons of both sides of this argument. How do we decide which option is better?

Based on this simple list of pros and cons alone, we can clearly see that there are more positives to having the stall doors open inward than there are negatives. It isn’t hard to understand why almost every restroom adopts this practice. However, the issue is also slightly more complex than this list might make it seem. It involves much more than a simple list of pros and cons.

The cons listed here could easily be categorized as mere inconveniences. Certainly, no one enjoys the lack of space in a public restroom stall. And everyone wishes they didn’t have to stand so close to the toilet or the stall wall as the door opened and shut. But at the end of the day, these are little more than minor inconveniences.

The pros, on the other hand, deal with matters of actual safety and privacy. Imagine hitting an unsuspecting person as you opened your bathroom stall door. That would be a safety hazard. Or imagine being barricaded in a stall, or someone opening the stall door while you were inside? These are issues of both safety and privacy. And lacking the ability to hold the door shut against a broken lock or a mischievous child? These are serious privacy concerns.

It’s not simply a matter of there being more pros than there are cons. It also has to do with the fact that the pros far outweigh the cons. Creating a safe and private space for everyone in a public restroom is ultimately more important than ensuring that no one experiences inconvenience.

Who Is in Charge of Regulating the Direction Stall Doors Open?

No matter how big or small the decision, someone is in charge. In the case of deciding which way bathroom stall doors are supposed to open, we made a rough list of all the side-effects and could see that the pros outweighed the cons. Of course, there is a far more official process by which these dilemmas are decided. A group of individuals is responsible for making the actual decisions. How do we know who gets the final say?

There are several different parties involved in making the decision about stall doors. Firstly, all restrooms and restroom designers need to comply with local government standards. These may vary slightly from state to state, so they aren’t guaranteed to be the same everywhere you go. While the highlights of these regulations will be similar, some slight details may be different.

Every public business must also meet the requirement laid out by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). These rules regulate matters like how many restrooms are required, how the restrooms need to be laid out and how often they need to be cleaned.

The American Restroom Association (ARA) must also be considered. This is a nonprofit organization dedicated to advocating for safe, clean and functional public restrooms. While it does not actually pass any laws or place regulations regarding restroom design, it’s responsible for creating suggestions, opposing problematic legislation and more.

On the ARA’s website, you can find an extensive list of public restroom design issues. This list contains information about whether or not the main bathroom doors should open in or out, how mirrors should be placed, which types of touchless devices should be provided and much more. Interestingly enough, there is no mention made of the direction that individual stall doors should swing. Perhaps this indicates that, despite the minor annoyances caused by inward-opening doors, the subject is a current topic of debate.

What About Handicapped Restroom Stall Doors, Which Why Do They Need to Open?

The one notable exception that we haven’t mentioned yet is the handicapped stall. These stalls, as you may have noticed, will always open outward. This is no accident.

Given the lack of space in a typical bathroom stall, you can imagine that it would be quite impossible for a wheelchair to fit into the stall as the door was opening or closing. For this reason, handicap-accessible stalls are designed so that the door opens out into the restroom.

In the case of handicapped bathroom stalls, all the same pros and cons that we mentioned before are still factors. However, they are offset by the additional need to accommodate an individual in a wheelchair. While the privacy and safety issues are still concerns, they’re outweighed by the need to create a stall that physically allows a wheelchair inside.

It’s also no accident that handicap-accessible stalls are always located at the very end of the row of stalls. Even though the door opens outward, it won’t cause any major disruptions to the general flow of traffic.

Contact the Professionals

Are you looking to design a new public bathroom at your local business, school or church? If so, we’d love to work with you here at One Point Partitions. Not only are we a supplier of top-quality bathroom partitions in a variety of colors and materials, but we also have years of experience in designing bathrooms that we’d love to share with you.

Do you have some ideas about how you’d like your new bathroom to look, but you aren’t quite sure yet? We completely understand. That’s why we offer a free design service — we work with you to help you design a bathroom that both looks and functions perfectly for your business. We even offer free samples of our materials so that you can see up close what will work best for you.

Get a free quote from us today so that you can begin planning your project. Have more questions about what it takes to design and build a public bathroom? Contact us today to talk with an expert.

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