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Difference Between Washroom and Toilet

A washroom is a public space containing a toilet and a basin. A toilet refers to either the plumbing fixture itself or any room, public or private, containing the fixture.

Difference Between Washrooms and Toilets: Overview

In context, it may be assumed that a washroom and a toilet are one and the same, as they are used relatively interchangeably today. Both are understood to be a place people can use to relieve themselves. 

Originally, however, the terms had different meanings, and they are often still used in a way that is more likely to imply something specific about the place they are describing.

Either way, it is important to note that the most distinguishing difference between the two is that a washroom is generally used in reference to a public place, while a toilet may be public or private. 

What is a Washroom?

Washroom Meaning and Origin

The term “washroom” is believed to have come into use in 1806, shortly after modern plumbing was developed. It was used in reference to a space that had at least one toilet and one sink. 

Since sinks were used for “washing” up, “wash” quickly became part of the name of these spaces, which became widespread in public areas due to the accessibility of water.

Additionally, due to the convenience of having a sink in the room, toilets tended to be installed in washrooms as well and it is uncommon to find a “washroom” without both a sink and toilet today.

However, it is neither necessary nor likely for a shower or bath to exist in a washroom alongside these two fixtures.

Washroom with white tiles, toilet, sink and bright lights

This is because, again, washrooms are generally public. You wouldn’t normally expect to be able to shower or bathe in most public spaces, after all.

Washrooms in Today’s Language?

Washroom is still used to refer to a room with a sink and toilet, just like it used to. In line with its origins, the word is also generally used to reference more public spaces.

However, don’t be confused if you hear washroom used in reference to a private, home bathroom.

While technically “improper,” and bathroom would be a more appropriate term than washroom in this context, using the words interchangeably to reference a room with a toilet is not uncommon, whether it be force of habit, a misunderstanding of meaning, or simply the changing of language over time.

Who Says Washroom?

“Washroom” is a term mostly used by Canadians, although it is not entirely unpopular in some parts of the United States, either, especially in big cities. After all, public washrooms would initially have been popularized in highly populated areas where it is common for many people to be out and about.

It should also be noted that outside of Canada, in the places where the word “washroom” is used, it may actually refer to a place more adjacent to cleaning something, like a utility room or an accessible showering/bathing space.

What is a Toilet?

Toilet Meaning and Origin

The word toilet was originally borrowed from a French word meaning small cloth. That word is “toilette”. It was intended to reference personal grooming, like makeup or dressing, since a toilette would often be used in hairdressing.

Over time, however, the word toilet came to be used for various things. First it was for the rooms that were dedicated to private personal grooming tasks.

Next, it became a euphemism for a room where one could urinate or defecate—that’s because in the past, it was generally seen as impolite to directly state that one needed to do such things. Thus, using “the toilet,” a private room, became an appropriate way to insinuate one was relieving themselves.

At some point, toilet came to refer to the plumbing fixture used for relieving oneself as said fixture began replacing other human waste receptacles like outhouses and chamber pots.

Toilet in Today’s Language?

Even today, “toilet” is still used to refer to the plumbing fixture.

In some places, it is also used in a manner that suggests one is going to any room with a toilet in it. What I mean by that is that saying you are going “to the toilet” means you are going to relieve yourself in the bathroom (or whatever you personally call the room where one does their business).

White toilet and sink with gray and black tiles on walls

Because toilet is used in reference to the appliance, it can be used to refer to either a public or a private room. This also means any room can be a toilet if it has a toilet in it, whether or not a tub or shower is present in the room.

Who Says Toilet?

Toilet is primarily used in Australia, Britain, South Africa, and western Europe.

It is also used in America and Canada, although usually in a very casual context.

That’s because while it is generally much more acceptable today to say that one needs to go relieve themselves than it was in the past, in these countries “going to the toilet” is often understood to be a bit blunt and crass since it directly suggests what you will be doing.

If you want to avoid potential rudeness, other terms for a toilet are usually understood across the board- like washroom, bathroom, or restroom.

Table of Differences Between Washrooms and Toilets

Contains a bath/shower?NoDepends (Some yes, some no)
Contains a toilet?YesYes
Contains a basin?YesYes
Public or private?PublicBoth
Different meanings in different locations?YesNo
Meaning in America?Not often used except regionally, but refers to a room with a toilet and sink/basinAny location that at least contains a toilet and sink


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