Bathroom doors policy - unique preference or equally valid option?
October 24, 2016 1:08 PM   Subscribe

Do you leave your bathroom door open or closed when not in use?

I am living with people other than my husband for the first time in decades. The house we share is very quite large with multiple full bathrooms and two half-bathrooms (toilet and sink only) that are mostly used by visitors.

One of our housemates consistently closes the bathroom door when he leaves the bathroom. I have never encountered this before as in all previous shared living situations the rule has been that a closed bathroom door means the bathroom is in use. It took me awhile to figure it out, because I had been assuming the bathrooms were in use when I passed the closed doors, and this roommate almost never uses the bathroom that I use as my daily shower/prep bathroom. I only really noticed when I had a couple of guests over when no one else was home and both of the half-bathroom doors were closed.

We have regular, monthly house meetings, and I was thinking about bringing it up, but wanted to check my assumption that "open when not in use" was the default rule for shared bathroom doors, because perhaps it is just my preference.

Is closing the doors of shared bathrooms when not in use a common practice?
posted by hworth to Human Relations (60 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
"Open when not in use" is my default.
posted by selfmedicating at 1:14 PM on October 24, 2016 [17 favorites]

Doesn't matter. Ask everybody to leave the door open when not in use, for the eminently reasonable reason you have already given. It's highly inconvenient to have to knock on the door of an empty bathroom when you need to pee.

And, I leave all doors open all the time, except closets, because there's no reason to close them.
posted by JimN2TAW at 1:14 PM on October 24, 2016 [9 favorites]

Not to me. I too take a closed door to mean the bathroom is in use. If someone feels the need to close it because they don't want smells wafting out, I think closing it most of the way is a better compromise.

Could just be a habit from living with a dog they needed to keep out of the toilet bowl or something.
posted by purple_bird at 1:14 PM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Bathroom doors have always been left open (at least partway), in all of my shared living situations, precisely for the reason you say--to indicate whether or not the bathroom is currently in use.
posted by Automocar at 1:14 PM on October 24, 2016

We have always left them open for exactly the reason you mentioned, indicating if it's in use or not. And I used to keep the litter box in the bathroom, so keeping the door closed would have been a super bad idea!
posted by clone boulevard at 1:15 PM on October 24, 2016

I'd bet this has to do with someone (human or animal) that they needed to keep out - after my little brother started crawling, we transformed into a closed-always household.

Unless you have a reason like that to keep the door closed, I think it's sensible to ask everyone to leave it open.
posted by SMPA at 1:16 PM on October 24, 2016 [6 favorites]

We close the bathroom with the tub after the kitten-peeing-in-tub incident, but never bother to close the pocket door in the master. But there are just the two of us, and we're neither of us particularly bothered by walking in on each other.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:16 PM on October 24, 2016

"Open when not in use" is definitely the rule I've been living by my whole life, including when I lived in a group living situation with various bathrooms and people coming and going all the time.

You could also propose getting some kind of Occupied sign or magnet or similar, but that sounds much more complicated than everybody just leaving the door open when not in use.

I would probably just ask this person not to do this anymore rather than have a meeting about it, or bring it up publicly in front of everyone.
posted by Sara C. at 1:23 PM on October 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Upstairs full bath - door always open
Downstairs half bath (directly off the kitchen seating area) - door almost always closed.

In our house its not so much about odors as it is about not wanting people sitting at the kitchen table to be staring at the toilet. Also, the door opens out (its a tiny space) so leaving the door open creates an obstacle. We usually tell that there isn't anyone in there because the light switch (on the outside next to the door) is off.
posted by anastasiav at 1:25 PM on October 24, 2016 [5 favorites]

I go by "open when not in use," but when I lived in France for 6 months I found that the norm was "closed when not in use." So it could be a cultural thing. Neither of you is right or wrong but you do need to all agree on one norm.
posted by serelliya at 1:26 PM on October 24, 2016 [8 favorites]

I once considered removing the outside doorknob on my shared bathroom to keep a housemate from closing the door when he left the room.
posted by Bruce H. at 1:26 PM on October 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Every home I've lived in, including those with large families and multiple roommates, have had a door open when not in use policy. A closed door indicates that the room is in use, especially if the locks are wonky or absent. It's also far less confusing for guests.
posted by quince at 1:27 PM on October 24, 2016

public area (living room, downstairs hallway) = door closed
private area (bedrooms, upstairs hallway) = door open
posted by noloveforned at 1:30 PM on October 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm a "open when not in use" person, and so is my wife, but we've had enough guests over to the house who close it when they're done that it's clear to me the two of us got lucky about having the same preference there. I agree about the utility of an open door being a clear signal to everybody, regardless of their personal preference for open- or closed-style door management, but I'm sure closed-style folks have some thoughts about their preference too.

I've never interrogated my closed-style friends about it (partly because I don't want to ask right when they've finished in case they'd feel on the spot about bathroom stuff, and then I always forget about it), but I think I'll start quizzing folks out of context and see if they've got any specific justification for the praxis beyond "that's how I've always done it".

I think the core thing in a practical solving-a-problem sense is to recognize that having everybody in the household be on the same page about it will be useful. You don't need to convince anybody you're right, or be convinced someone else is; just get it out there as a little quality-of-life thing, talk about why closed-when-empty is an annoyance, see if they've got specific reasons they prefer/need that, and see if you can all agree on one method so everybody is both giving and receiving the same signals.
posted by cortex at 1:30 PM on October 24, 2016

At some point, starting when I was in high school, my mother decided that the downstairs half-bath door needed to be closed at all times. This runs contrary to the other bathrooms in the house and went against what we were doing my entire life up until that point, which was door open when not in use.

What it means in practice is that people (EVEN MOM, the tyrant behind this madness) will barge in on you if you're not careful to lock the door every time because the bathroom is just always assumed to be empty.

It's a bad, dumb, and problematic policy. Door open when not in use is the only thing that makes any kind of sense.
posted by phunniemee at 1:30 PM on October 24, 2016 [9 favorites]

I would be so frustrated in a house with always closed bathroom doors. How do you know if somebody's in there? I don't want to KNOCK...what if they're in the middle of something? I don't want to be rude or intrude upon someone's bathroom time.

Door open when not in use. UNLESS there's a good reason, like a dog that will eat the trash or a cat that will destroy the shower curtain, or a child that might fall headfirst into the toilet or something.
posted by Elly Vortex at 1:30 PM on October 24, 2016 [9 favorites]

The only time I've had a default closed bathroom door there's been a clear reason for it: the door blocking the airvent, or the hallway, or keeping the dog out of the toilet, or the line of sight between the toilet and the living area. But these were all exceptions to the general "door open" rule. If your housemate grew up in or just moved out of a house that was an exception, they might have forgotten the rule. Or maybe they had a different rule. It Doesn't Matter.

Whatever their reasons for closing, it's not at all offensive to suggest establishing a household "open" rule for your convenience - but given that there can in theory be reasons for closing hte door, be sure to propose it as a possible change to the way things are, not a correction to the way they're Doing It Wrong.
posted by aimedwander at 1:32 PM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

You could propose a nearly-closed-but-not-latched compromise, but only if the doors are hung well and the house level enough that it stays where you put it and doesn't rely on the latch to not swing open again.
posted by aimedwander at 1:34 PM on October 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

I grew up with "always closed" but I think that was because the toilet had a permanently-open small window and we didn't want warm air flowing out of the house constantly. My current apartment is usually-closed because the door blocks the hallway. In a new place I will probably close it automatically.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 1:36 PM on October 24, 2016

The door should be open when not in use, in a household with several people. The door should be a tiny bit open if the fan is on for important ventilation reasons, with the light off.

If the door is closed, the fan is on, and the light is on I will assume that it is occupied. I don't wish to have to tour the house and count the occupants, to determine if anyone is actually in there.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 1:38 PM on October 24, 2016

I've noticed that in places where the door is always closed, the bathroom is basically guaranteed to be freaking freezing in the winter from the lack of air exchange, even if there's a furnace vent in the bathroom. In my current house, there isn't even directly heat in the bathroom and if someone leaves the door shut it becomes a walk in fridge. The same is true with cooling in the summer from fans or AC. Feels like a humid 110f port-o-crap at a music festival.

I don't know if i would start a war over this, but i'd definitely lay out my reasoning. I'm firmly pro-open-door.
posted by emptythought at 1:41 PM on October 24, 2016

Definitely door open, or at least cracked open, when not in use.

If you live with non-family members who are private about smells, a bottle of poo-pourri (it works and it smells nice), and a box of matches in the bathroom (light a spark and kill that fart) are good ways to deal with poop smells.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:51 PM on October 24, 2016

My bathroom door is left open in part because the bathroom is one of the cats' favorite rooms. I also have a cat-proof tp holder and I keep the toilet closed, so there's no fear of cattervention in the facilities.
posted by janey47 at 1:52 PM on October 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think there are plenty of reasons why the door should or shouldn't be left open or closed at any given time, but all of the mystery of an unexpectedly closed bathroom door can be quickly solved by simply knocking. If someone is in there, they'll let you know. This doesn't have to be difficult.
posted by gyusan at 1:53 PM on October 24, 2016 [8 favorites]

Open when not in use, except for our half bath where the door opens into the hallway.
posted by noneuclidean at 1:54 PM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I grew up with closed doors, but have moved on to open doors because my cats do not like closed doors are they have a much, much stronger preference than I do.
posted by jeather at 1:56 PM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

We have been closed doors for years because of pets (except when we go on vacation and I am paranoid something will happen and then I deliberately leave the flushable fountain available to them). We generally have an understanding that if you want to shit in the dark, you lock the door, and if the light is on you knock even if it's probably just a hairstyling situation or whatever.

I try to remember to leave them open when we are having a party, just so nobody suffers in case they are shy.

If a roommate opened a formal complaint and insisted on a household policy for bathroom door-opening that was not moisture-related and acted like I was some kind of freak for closing the door, I would take it poorly. Put in locks if it's that big a deal.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:58 PM on October 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm a door open when not in use person myself. One neat thing I saw in Japan was that the outer doorknob to the washroom would have an indicator when it was locked (there would be a thing on the doorknob that was green when the door was unlocked and red when it was locked). That way you could tell at a glance if someone was in the room even if the door was closed. I have seen doorknobs like that here in Canada and will be getting them in my new house.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:05 PM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Door open when not in use*.
Toiler cover down when not in use.

*except in winter; door is closed but not shut - automatic fan has short direct circuit to roof so cold air is blowing in when fan not in operation
posted by porpoise at 2:10 PM on October 24, 2016

An additional reason not to keep them routinely closed is that you want steam to air out after a shower to help prevent mold and moisture damage to wallpaper (if applicable). Also, most HVAC systems (at least in the US) are designed with the intent that doors remain open when the room's not in use, so keeping a bathroom door closed may mean that it's frigid in the winter if it lacks a vent or decreases the efficiency of the HVAC if it does (while admittedly keeping you nice and warm while you pee).
posted by Candleman at 2:15 PM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have five kids. I keep all bathroom doors closed at all times, except if someone has been using the shower and the room is full of steam.

90% of the time - even in the day - you can tell if the bathroom is in use because the light is on. The rest of the time we knock first.

When you've had toddlers for a while, this becomes the only way to handle things, short of putting a baby gate in the bathroom doorway. You don't want to find your kid playing in the potty, drinking the cleaning supplies under the bathroom sink, or spreading toothpaste on the walls.

So for those of you who say "it doesn't make any sense," perhaps you haven't raised multiple kids?
posted by tacodave at 2:17 PM on October 24, 2016 [5 favorites]

I've always gone by "open when not in use" but have a known households that are the opposite.

At one relative's place the bath tub room (contains bath and sink only) is always shut because we keep the windows open to air it and don't want cats escaping. But that room isn't used as often as one with a toilet would be.

In my own house it's all internal doors open all the time because Cats. Even the wardrobe sliding doors, which I prefer closed, get prised open by kitty paws on a regular basis.
posted by kitten magic at 2:23 PM on October 24, 2016

I visited friends recently who explicitly communicated that the custom in their house was bathroom door open when not in use. This tells me that door-closed is common enough for the question to arise. It also tells me that this is an OK thing to bring up explicitly with roommates so you can all agree on a household custom -- but that it should be approached as "Let's come to an agreement about this" rather than "Leaving the door closed is weird."
posted by snowmentality at 2:27 PM on October 24, 2016

A lot of people are mentioning knocking - are locks on the bathroom doors not the default where you're from?

I grew up in an all doors closed at all times household (lest we hear the cry of "were you born in a barn?" from dad) but no-one ever got walked in on because the bathrooms all have locks. Of course that led to a very uncomfortable situation when I was visiting a friend who had an open door by default household and I walked in on her mum using the toilet (their bathroom did have a lock, she just didn't lock it!).

When I moved in with my boyfriend, it took quite a while for me to get out of the habit of closing every door behind me all the time (drove him nuts) but having lived both ways, if everyone locks the bathroom door when its in use, its not an issue but open door when available is better.
posted by missmagenta at 2:32 PM on October 24, 2016

I'd keep my downstairs half-bath door closed all the time if my cat didn't need to get to her litterbox inside.

A closed door keeps smells contained without the annoying sound of a bathroom fan.
posted by homodachi at 2:36 PM on October 24, 2016

'Open when not in use' is an American norm. In Germany we have bathroom door locks that actually work (!) and use those when going potty. Bathroom door stays closed when not in use and leaving the loo door open feels weird and um, unhygienic. I don't want to be looking at a toilet bowl when sitting down to eat...
It took me a while to figure out the American rules when I moved here. Both approaches make sense to me.
posted by The Toad at 2:50 PM on October 24, 2016 [7 favorites]

Our open when not in use policy is so ingrained that more than once, we've had a guest close the door behind them and the rest of us just use the alternate bathrooms until someone realizes hours later that there isn't anyone in there. Some day, maybe we'll learn to just knock, but that day hasn't come yet.

So that policy is definitely the default here, but I'd have to expend a lot of energy to think of some sort of reason to consider it a moral high ground to leave bathroom doors open when not in use. It's totally just a preference thing.

(People who close the bathroom doors behind them are morally bankrupt monsters, but not because of that.)
posted by ernielundquist at 3:18 PM on October 24, 2016

In Germany we have bathroom door locks that actually work (!) and use those when going potty.

In the U.S. I have lived in homes built from the 1890s through the 1990s, and while newer homes usually have locks on all bathroom doors, older ones (which are usually shared/rentals) have retained original fixtures (including doorknobs)* but the keys for bedroom- and bathroom-door locks are often long gone.

*this is a thing we like, since our indoor history is shorter and older buildings that are historic-but-still-habitable are 'romantic' in a weird way
posted by psoas at 3:22 PM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

A closed door keeps smells contained without the annoying sound of a bathroom fan.

Which is why it's such a bad idea! You want the smell to escape so that the next occupant doesn't choke on the trapped odors! #teamopenwhennotinuse
posted by masquesoporfavor at 3:25 PM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

The issue could be solved by throwing money at it: y'all could install the type of bathroom locks that show from the outside whether the door is locked.
I would have thought these were more or less universally used in developed countries... but I guess not!
(The thread was really confusing me until I came to this realisation...)
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:34 PM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Doors closed, mostly to keep dogs and, more recently, a toddler out of the bathroom. Though I do try to remember to leave the door to the first floor half bath open when guests are coming over so as to clearly indicate its availability.
posted by audi alteram partem at 3:48 PM on October 24, 2016

Closed always because I got used to it during a stupid feng-shui phase. Have stayed closed because of pets.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 3:53 PM on October 24, 2016

I default to doors open, but my cats have a litterbox in the bathroom.

I've had one apartment where we kept the bathroom door closed as the default, but the door was in the way if it was open and it was easy to tell if someone was in there because the lightswitch was outside the bathroom.
posted by bile and syntax at 4:00 PM on October 24, 2016

Too-Ticky, those are common in public places, especially busy coffee shops and the like, but almost never seen in homes.
posted by Sara C. at 4:12 PM on October 24, 2016

I'm a doors open when not in use person, my husband is a doors closed all the time person, so our bathroom door is usually in a completely random state of flux at all times. :) I personally think it's a personal preference thing more than anything else. I also think that even if you ask your roommate to change his habits, this can be a really automatic thing/hard habit to break, so try to factor in whether you want to have to keep reminding/being annoying vs. just knocking on the bathroom door.
posted by rainbowbrite at 4:14 PM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, also! When I read this question title, I thought it was going to be a question about a roommate who left the door open WHILE USING the bathroom, so count yourself lucky that this isn't the issue. :)
posted by rainbowbrite at 4:15 PM on October 24, 2016 [7 favorites]

Keeping your bathroom door shut all the time is a good way to get yourself a moldy bathroom.
posted by prize bull octorok at 4:18 PM on October 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

Closed because if I don't the cats play with the toilet paper. Locked door means it's in use. Just trying to open the door while it's locked isn't a big deal.
posted by theichibun at 4:25 PM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Closed or slightly ajar. Who wants to look at a toilet? Also, the place where I'm living now has its bathroom mirror angled oddly so if the hall light is on and you glance at the mirror, it looks like a hooded figure is following you.
posted by betweenthebars at 4:47 PM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everybody. Clearly, both options exist in the world as real choices made by real people. I just had never heard of the doors closed when not in use policy before.

As to talking personally to the person versus bringing it up at house House Meeting that a couple of commentators asked about, we had previously decided that we would bring issues like this to our monthly house meeting so that no one is hearing something 5 times from 5 different people, each with slightly different desired outcomes.

I knew about the great over/under toilet paper debate, but I had never heard of this issue before.
posted by hworth at 5:35 PM on October 24, 2016

Growing up, we had one bathroom. This bathroom was never locked when showering or taking a bath, because someone else might need to come in. The other person would knock; if you were in the bath, you pulled the opaque shower curtain closed or, if you were showering instead, hoped they didn't flush.

Because we didn't lock the door, we obviously left it open to indicate that it was available.

Then I lived with a family that had always had 2-3 bathrooms - and they kept the doors closed when not in use, and locked when showering/bathing/otherwise occupied. At first I was so confused - what if someone needed to come in? Of course, that never happened - there were two other toilets.

And so, the great divide seemed to be on not whether your bathrooms had locks, but how many you had.

(litter boxes throw off this pattern)
posted by jb at 7:01 PM on October 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Definitely seems like a "equally valid option" thing. I think culture plays in here too -- in the US I'd say "open doors" is by far the most common thing I've seen. In Japan I've never seen anyone leave the toilet door open (although here the toilet has its own little room, which is very small so the door often opens out into the hallway, and having the door block the hallway would be annoying).
posted by thefoxgod at 7:06 PM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

are locks on the bathroom doors not the default where you're from?

Not in the 1850's farmhouse where I grew up, but we improvised some hook and eye latches as my sister and I got older. And I find it a little rattling when someone knocks when I am in the bathroom (this may be because I live alone) so I always opt towards visual cues, either door open or nice visible "occupied" signs on locks. My SO closes the bathroom after he's taken a dump because I have no vent fan and smells might otherwise waft into the house, but otherwise the bathroom door is always open. Useful for dissipating steam after showers. Useful for keeping bathroom warmer. I don't even close it when I am in there because I live alone.
posted by jessamyn at 7:16 PM on October 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think there is an Ask vs Guess element here, too. I am from a Guess culture and would only knock on a closed bathroom door if I was about to pee my pants. Other folks in this thread are like "why bring it up? just knock!" and I bet they are Ask types.

If my roommate left empty bathrooms closed it would raise my blood pressure.
posted by hungrytiger at 8:50 PM on October 24, 2016

Thirding this is totally cultural. I grew up in Europe and we not only always kept the bathroom door shut but also the toilet seat down. When I moved to the US it really bugged me that visitors to my house left the door open after using the bathroom. I'd go and shut it after them.

I'm less obnoxious now but I am raising my American kids my way. The door is always shut and the toilet seat is down.
posted by Dragonness at 10:43 PM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Chiming in with cultural, but also generational - growing up in the UK bathroom door was always shut, but now in most houses it's open unless there are child/pet reasons for it to be shut.

And I'm also confused about 'no lock because old house'. All the loos in old houses in the UK I've been in (oldest 16th century, but the indoor plumbing was rather newer than that) have had locks - often a bolt, bought cheaply from a DIY shop.
posted by Vortisaur at 11:06 PM on October 24, 2016

I don't remember what the policy was when I lived with roommates, but I do remember that I became pretty religious about locking the bathroom door when I was using it. It's very possible that they work under the assumption that everyone locks the bathroom door when using it, so closed-but-unlocked is acceptable to them.
posted by Aleyn at 11:52 PM on October 24, 2016

Default is open when not in use. However, we had to start keeping our hall bathroom door closed all the time once the dog and cat decided that the bathroom rug was a great place to pee.
posted by SisterHavana at 12:09 AM on October 25, 2016

As a kid the bathroom had two doors, one with a lock the other that led into my parents's bedroom did not. I think once or twice we locked the door when the other door was behind a dresser and the rule became that it was to be open when not in use. Also the handle started to fail.

Now my parents live in another place and my Dad has memory issues and the Mom keeps the bathroom door closed all the time. Not sure why though.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 6:08 PM on November 4, 2016

I think it makes more sense just to leave doors closed. Get everyone in the habit of knocking on a closed door and you'll have much less chance of getting walked in on. Plus, you don't have to worry about walking in on guests who aren't used to locking the door.

Everybody wins!
posted by Space Kitty at 10:26 PM on November 29, 2016

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