Who keeps clogging the toilet, and why?
March 14, 2008 12:57 PM   Subscribe

[ToiletMysteryFilter]Why would someone clog a public toilet with paper every day?

I work in an older building in NYC. The offices do not have individual bathrooms; there is a restroom for each gender, and each office has keys.

After I arrive at work, I go to use the facilities. For the last several months, every day, sometime between 9:30 and 10:00, the left-most stall has a great deal of toilet paper in the bowl. It is usually in a distinctive layout - it looks like it was being used to prevent contact with the seat, as well as wadded up and tossed in the bowl. I am estimating 1/5th to 1/3 of a roll is used per visit. It also looks as if there is urine in the bowl. If there is feces in the bowl, it is completely covered and not visible. Attempts to flush the toilet usually result in blockage and overflow.

I suspect it is the same person every time for two reasons. One: it's the same approx quantity and dispersal of paper every time. Two: It's about the same time every day. If I'm there before 9:30 or so, the toilet is empty. Between 9:30 and 10:00 it is plugged.

So why do I care? It's mildly inconvenient for me - only one other stall and the urinal is usable - but I would imagine terribly frustrating for the cleaning staff. For a couple weeks a plunger was left in the restroom, but that's disappeared.

I had thought about just leaving a note - something along the lines of "Hi, please stop putting so much toilet paper in the bowl".

The only thing that prevented me from leaving a note right away: there are a lot of different folks from various countries in the building. From previous Metafilter threads, I have ascertained that not everyone has the same toilet practices - is there some cultural/regional thing that I should be aware of here?

A couple years ago, we were finding water all over the floor of the bathroom, and it turned out that a couple men in the building were observant Muslims who used the sinks to wash before prayer. Obviously this is a slightly different condition, but if there's some cultural practice at work, I'll just bite my tongue and deal with it.

Before this started, I was talking to another tenant in the building, and he told me that someone was clogging a toilet on his floor daily. He described a similar condition. About 2 months later, it started on this floor.

Anyone have any clue as to what's going on here?
posted by dubold to Human Relations (31 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Put a note. Use cursing. Jesus christ, that's just not acceptable - that's the kinda of shit (heh) I did as a little Bart Simpson miscreant when I was six.
posted by notsnot at 1:01 PM on March 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Do you have toilet seat covers? If not, add them in that stall only and see if the behavior changes. I don't think you are dealing with a vandal, but instead a germophobe with an OCD about going to the bathroom. Notice: same stall - the last one in the room, so presumably the least used; same time frame - after work has begun but before the rush to the bathroom after the first coffee during working hours; and same strategy.
posted by parmanparman at 1:04 PM on March 14, 2008

Sounds like whoever was doing this on the other floor got caught or embarassed by a note, so switched the restroom he frequents. Is this still going on on the other floor?

Go in one morning before the cloggage and leave a note. If that doesn't work, set up surveillance. An elaborate sting operation would be interesting, but likely not practical.
posted by yellowbinder at 1:06 PM on March 14, 2008

Second the germaphobe theory. The large amount toilet paper would be used under the mistaken belief that it would somehow protect him from germs.

If that's the case, your note probably won't work. Maybe have the note say "Hey, toilet paper clog guy, could you use some other bathroom?" Also, make sure to submit it to Passive-Aggressive Notes.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:07 PM on March 14, 2008

Response by poster: parmanparman: it's not the last stall in the room, but the first one. Presumably a high-traffic stall, which made me question germophobia.

I don't work for the building and don't have the power to install toilet seat cover dispensers.
posted by dubold at 1:11 PM on March 14, 2008

Best answer: I have no idea what people get up to in bathrooms, but seriously, put up a note. We had to do this once in the bathroom where I worked, when someone was refusing to flush the toilet. In a few instances "it" was left over the weekend (the cleaners worked Monday to Friday) and you can imagine what it was like to be the first person to use it on Monday. It was a single-room stall and the stench was unbelievable.

People who have to clean washrooms as part of their job deserve way more than they're probably getting paid. (Full disclosure: For a while I cleaned hotel rooms. Oh, god -- the stories.)
posted by loiseau at 1:12 PM on March 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: but if there's some cultural practice at work, I'll just bite my tongue and deal with it.

You shouldn't. Respect for cultural practice does not extend to allowing unsanitary treatment of common spaces, particularly when it's out of step with the cultural norm for the locale. Or to put it another way: respect for cultural practice is a two way street.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 1:41 PM on March 14, 2008 [8 favorites]

Set up a sting to catch the secret poorly trained pooper, then apply swirly.
posted by BobbyDigital at 1:44 PM on March 14, 2008

Nthing the OCD. Putting up a note isn't going to help-- or perhaps, it will just shift the problem elsewhere. The person is sick and probably hates him or her-self for doing it, but can't stop. We had a homeless woman who used to do this at a 12-step meeting I used to attend. There wasn't much to be done.
posted by Maias at 1:44 PM on March 14, 2008

This isn't confined to just your office. I've seen the same paper-clogging at every office I've worked in, from NYC to DC to Cleveland to Chicago. It often appears to only be paper in the toilet, and lots of times enough paper has been put in to absorb all of the water in the bowl.

I thought it was some sort of OCD behavior, since theres often no waste in the toilet.
posted by BigVACub at 1:48 PM on March 14, 2008

Perhaps there is a visually impaired person?

Sometimes the amount of content in the bowl can be handled by one's home toilet but not other toilets. We had a similar problem with a low-flow toilet once and a blind person where I worked. She had no idea that she was causing a problem. My boss sat down with her nicely and explained what was happening, and she was embarrassed but was glad someone told her. No problems after that.
posted by red_lotus at 1:54 PM on March 14, 2008

burnmp3s: Maybe have the note say "Hey, toilet paper clog guy, could you use some other bathroom?" Also, make sure to submit it to Passive-Aggressive Notes.

I am beginning to think no one knows the definition of "passive agressive" anymore.

I have found notes about these things usually work. It did in the case I mentioned. I think even private embarrassment is embarrassment enough for most people.
posted by loiseau at 1:57 PM on March 14, 2008

A note may or may not help. I once shared a (workplace) restroom with an unknown someone who would wipe her boogers on the walls (yes, I know, ewwwwwwww). Notes (ranging from the polite onward to the YOU NASTY IDIOT, QUIT WITH THE BOOGER WIPING!) did not work. But when the business next door moved, they took the Boogie Woogie Booger Girl with them, thankfully.

Would the building management be at all responsive to helping out by installing a paper seat cover dispenser? What you have now is not only unpleasant and more work for the janitors, it's a HUGE waste of TP. Maybe if you presented it as a cost-and-environmental issue building management might put a seat cover dispenser in.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 1:57 PM on March 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

^^ Pardon, "aggressive".
posted by loiseau at 1:57 PM on March 14, 2008

it's not the last stall in the room, but the first one. Presumably a high-traffic stall, which made me question germophobia.

I cannot for the life of me remember where I saw this, but I recall reading in some article that when bathroom usage patterns are tracked, it's actually typically the first stall which is the least frequented.
posted by desuetude at 2:44 PM on March 14, 2008

Really? I read the opposite, that the first stall is the most often used. Curious.
posted by agregoli at 2:45 PM on March 14, 2008

Regarding the use of the stall. My office mates [one day we had this discussion about it, it started off with why isn't there a fan in there] and I tend to use th one closest due to the fact the layout of the TP holder, FP bin and TS holder are better placed in the stall, which allows more room.

I'm in the camp of try the toilet seat covers and if it doesn't stop put up a note. Then if it still doesn't stop try to determine who it is, however proceed carefully.
posted by redfusion at 2:59 PM on March 14, 2008

This guy may not realize there is a "blockage and overflow" problem. If you're going to leave a note, leave a decent one that explains the problem. Maybe that will get him to cut back a little or otherwise shift strategies so as not to cause trouble and potential embarrassment.

If that doesn't work and it's really bothering you... you're an engineer, right? And if you can't figure out how to do this, maybe your engineer friends can. Combine a small motion detector and transmitter in a unit that fits inside a toilet paper roll and leaves room for the thinger that holds to roll. It would be best if you could put it inside the thinger (spool?) if it moves when the toilet roll is used. Keep a receiver on your desk. Ideally, connect it to your PC and have it keep track of how many spins you're getting on the toilet roll. (This would be interesting in and of itself, I think, tracking the crapping habits of the local creatures. Just don't get caught or they'll think you're the one with the problem.)

After you figure out who it is, kill him. No, don't kill him. But you can see the problem here - what do you do once you know who it is? "I know you're in there and I know what you're doing with all of that toilet paper!" Are you just going to embarrass the hell out of him (and yourself) for something he may not be willing or able to change? If it's an obsession, do you think he's going to change a lifetime shitting routine for you, or is he just going to shift to another toilet and hope the loon obsessed with toilet paper doesn't track him down again?

So try the nice, explanatory note, and if that doesn't work, live with it.
posted by pracowity at 3:12 PM on March 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Take a picture of the state of the toilet and stick it on the door along with a polite note.
posted by missmagenta at 3:56 PM on March 14, 2008

Once in a while Good Morning America (I think--is that the one with Matt Lauer?) does Germ Week, and one time they had a guy on saying it's the first stall that gets the least use. But maybe everybody saw that episode and now it's the first stall that gets the most use!

I wonder if the toilet clogger is putting a bunch of TP in there in an effort to prevent backsplash? Sounds like major overkill, though.
posted by Enroute at 3:57 PM on March 14, 2008

Usually in these kind of buildings all the men's room keys are the same and all the Women's rooms keys are the same , so that if one floor's bathroom is out of order people can go to different floors. This is the same person that stopped up the toilets on the other floor and has now been scared off to your space. Put up a note, and he will move on to be some other floor's problem.

This is some kind of OCD thing - if he could go without doing it, he would. It can't be enjoyable to fill a toilet with TP dailey.
posted by readery at 4:18 PM on March 14, 2008

Alternative idea if you're up for a polite confrontation: camp out in the other stall between 9:30 and 10, and see who the hell it is! Then decide how to confront, or drop anonymous note in office perhaps?
posted by Asherah at 4:37 PM on March 14, 2008

This is some kind of OCD thing - if he could go without doing it, he would. It can't be enjoyable to fill a toilet with TP dailey.

I've known lots of people who have bizarre toilet rituals in public bathrooms, including using TP as a seat cover and 'the hover'. None of them had OCD.

Lots of people treat public bathrooms in ways they would never do at home, that doesn't mean they're mentally ill, 99% of them are just inconsiderate assholes.
posted by missmagenta at 4:56 PM on March 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

I would place a note saying that I already know the identity and workplace of this person, and if the stall is left in the same condition again, this person is going to get a wonderfully scatalogical singing telegram routine in front of their entire office.
posted by Jazz Hands at 6:38 PM on March 14, 2008

Is it possible that it could be a disgruntled employee or tenant? Several years ago some of the bathrooms in our building suffered a rash of clogging/flooding. It started with toilet paper, progressed to paper towels, and, finally, adult incontinence products. Usually several toilets at the same time with the material packed so tightly and far into the bend that the plumbers said the person had to be pushing it in manually or with a tool. It turned out to be a woman who felt she was exacting revenge on various coworkers and managers for myriad perceived slights.
posted by weebil at 6:38 PM on March 14, 2008

Or, find out who it is on the sly, find out their name and then post a sign:

" Hey, Ed Johnson of Wickets International.....(stop with the psycho toilet paper towers,,, what do you think this is, Close Encounters of the Turd Kind?"
posted by Jazz Hands at 6:43 PM on March 14, 2008

Seconding inconsiderate asshole. If someone was truely OCD, they'd probably realign their schedule to not even poop in public. Even if it is OCD, that's not acceptable behavior.

Funny story- I work for a company that's sort of increasing its profile with different products. With those products to sell come new/more salespeople. And ever since they arrived, the bathrooms have been terrible. Toilet stuffing, vile (and I'm no prude) language, boogers, and my favorite, the pile of used paper towels in the hallway outside the bathroom. Seriously, the door just isn't that dirty.

I would proceed this way, YMMV:

1) A couple of polite, hey in case you didn't know, notes taped in the stall.
2) Stern notes.
3) Investigation. Find out definitively who it is.
4) Note explaining that you know who it is, and if they don't stop, you will take further action that will probably be embarrassing.
5) Send a letter to the president/boss of the employer of the pooper explaining what has happened, who the person is, and how gross it is.
6) If all of that doesn't stop it, I would get up a good head of angry steam and just fucking yell at the guy in the hallway until he cried.

or I'd shit at home.
posted by gjc at 9:04 PM on March 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's the property manager's job to deal with this crap (no pun intended). But don't assume the cleaning crew or maintenance staff have told the building manager. They're usually low totem-pole, low-paid, don't-rock-the-boat, kinds of folks. So word may not yet have filtered up to the boss.

Notify. Request a specific resolution, such as seat covers. If possible, have the complaint letter/call come from whoever signs your company's rent checks.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 12:06 AM on March 15, 2008

Response by poster: alright, taped up a note this morning a little after nine.
posted by dubold at 6:39 AM on March 17, 2008

On the behalf of the scat-curious everywhere, please update when there is news. Thanks!
posted by 8dot3 at 11:49 AM on March 17, 2008

Response by poster: day two with no egregious payload. the note is still up. Hopeful that perhaps this has solved the problem, if not the mystery.

and before someone else suggests it again, I'm not setting up surveillance or cameras to try and trap this person - apart from being legally questionable, I don't think it would be the kind of sitcom hijinks I want to experience first hand. It'd probably be an an unpleasant stakeout, to say the least. I'll leave loitering in the bathroom to the distinguished senator from Idaho.
posted by dubold at 12:40 PM on March 18, 2008

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