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Difference Between Washroom and Bathroom

Washroom mainly describes a public facility containing toilets and basins. Occasionally, it can refer to a private space, but in this context, the room may also include a shower/bath. It is seldom used in the US. Bathroom mainly describes a private facility containing a toilet, basin, and bath/shower.

Difference Between Washroom and Bathroom: Overview

Typically, both washrooms and bathrooms contain sinks and toilets. Additionally, they can both be used to describe public or private places, although this differs by country and dialect.

The main distinction between a washroom and a bathroom is the difference in facilities they contain. In a washroom, there is only a sink and toilet. On the other hand, in a bathroom there is both a sink and a toilet, but there will also be a shower and/or bathtub.

What Is a Washroom?

Origins of Washrooms

From the beginning of its usage in 1806, the term ‘washroom’ has referred to a space containing both toilets and sinks.


Once the public lavatory came into existence, people started using ‘washroom’ to describe them in places such as stores, schools, and other buildings.

The term came from the expression ‘washing your hands’, as well as from the root of the word ‘lavatory’, which means ‘place for washing’.

The meaning of ‘washroom’ has stayed consistent throughout history, specifically referring to a room found in a public space.

The main exception is in the United States, where the word was replaced by ‘restroom‘ during the prohibition era as washrooms started being combined with powder rooms.

Modern Use of the Term

A washroom is still used to refer to a room with a sink and toilet that is found in a public space today.

While it is uncommon, this word can also sometimes be used to describe a private room in the home, although this application may slightly change the meaning of the word.

When ‘washroom’ is used to refer to a private room, the room may also contain a shower and/or bathtub. This is not the case when the word is used to describe a public room.

Overall, ‘washroom’ is most often used to refer to a public space, but there can be some variations depending on what country you are in.

Use of the Term ‘Washroom’ Around the World

In Canada, the UK, and European countries, the word is widely used to describe public areas containing toilets and basins. Sometimes, it is also used to describe private rooms in the home with sinks and toilets.

Americans don’t typically use the word ‘washroom’ anymore. It has since been replaced by the term ‘restroom’, as was stated previously.

Use of the Term 'Washroom' in the United States

However, it is said that the term ‘washroom’ gained popularity in the United States, starting in Chicago, so some individuals there may still use it.

What Is a Bathroom?

Origins of Bathrooms

In early centuries, activities such as using the toilet or getting oneself ready were done in different places. So, ‘bathroom’ originally referred to rooms where strictly bathing occurred.

One of the earliest dictionary definitions of the word ‘bathroom’ is from the year 1902. It states that it is a room containing the necessary appliances to bathe oneself.

Bathrooms were originally public facilities. For example, in ancient Rome, people in the rich class would gather in bathrooms to bathe similar to the way we use public pools today.

However, over the course of history, bathrooms became private places in the home. After the plague hit Europe in the 16th century, people stopped using public bathrooms to avoid the spread of infection.

A couple of centuries later, bathrooms came back as private rooms found in the home that contained bathing appliances, sinks, and toilets.

Modern Use of the Term

Nowadays, the word ‘bathroom’ is generally understood to be a room that contains a bath or shower, and also a sink and a toilet, and it is more often used to refer to a private room in a home.

Modern bathroom design with neutral colors and wood element

The term can still sometimes be used to refer to a public lavatory. However, when the term refers to a public space, it means a room with a sink and toilet. Essentially, it is used as an alternative term to ‘lavatory‘.

An important distinction to keep in mind is that this word may not be used interchangeably with ‘lavatory’ in every country.

Use of the Term ‘Bathroom’ Around the World

As I mentioned, sometimes ‘bathroom’ is used as another word for ‘lavatory’. This is common in America, as well as in Canada. Americans and Canadians also use ‘bathroom’ to describe a private, in-home room containing a bath/shower, toilet, and sink.

In British countries, ‘bathroom’ is virtually always used to mean a room in the home containing a bath or shower, along with a sink and toilet.

In Australia, the term is used to refer to a room that is exclusively used for showers and/or bathtubs. In some cases there is a toilet, but this is not common.

Table of Differences Between Washrooms and Bathrooms

Contains a bath/shower?NoYes
Contains a toilet?YesYes
Contains a basin?YesYes
Public or private?PublicPrivate (modern use), public (past use)
Different meanings in different locations?YesYes
Meaning in America?Not often used in America. Exception: Chicago where it means a public facility with a toilet and basinA private room with a shower/tub, sink, and toilet; another word for a public lavatory

If you found this article interesting, you may also enjoy reading about the Difference Between Washroom and Toilet.


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