Making public restrooms can sometimes be ironic work. On the surface it would seem that meeting one of people’s most basic needs is a simple task. A room, a toilet, and maybe a sink are all that’s really required. Dig a little deeper however and it’s easy to find discontent with the standard restroom layout. People’s needs might be simple but their feelings on restrooms are often complex and diverse.
We here at Green Flush saw one such example of this on the topic of gender neutral (aka unisex) restrooms and how they are perceived by women. We sought to understand that perception and this is the story of what we found.
Up until a few months ago we held the opinion that unisex restrooms were the best choice for virtually every situation with light to medium visitation. There is even an article on our blog about the multitude of benefits provided by unisex restrooms. In short, they generally cost less and are more efficient in serving visitors than restrooms divided as “Men’s Room” and “Women’s Room”. We would explain this to customers but a funny thing kept happening – they still wanted the men’s/women’s option. It didn’t make much sense until we started talking to women about their restroom preferences. The thing that became apparent was that many women are not keen on using restrooms that are also used by men and furthermore do not like seeing urinals.
Urinals might seem like a minor issue, but they provide significant benefits. Urinals save water. They also keep men from urinating in the toilet which can result in urine being left on the toilet seat by less considerate users. These benefits are meaningful, but it’s still important to respect and consider the opinions of women who don’t like urinals. “Rest”rooms are supposed to be places of peace and the presence of something offensive whether that is odor, uncleanliness, or a urinal can degrade the experience. This dilemma led to a survey that asked women about their thoughts on urinals and unisex restrooms. Here are the results of that survey:
118 women responded to the survey which was mainly comprised of seven statements that women could respond to by checking one of the following options: “definitely disagree”, “disagree”, “slightly disagree”, “slightly agree”, “agree”, or “definitely agree”. There was no neutral option available to respondents.
Perhaps the most telling information gathered from the survey was that the large majority of women prefer “women only” restrooms. Two thirds of respondents “agreed” or “definitely agreed” that they “prefer to use restrooms that are only used by women.”
This is a significant preference when deciding between women’s/men’s rooms or unisex restrooms. Here at Green Flush, we have often heard from country clubs and golf courses that their whole reason for installing a restroom is to please the female visitors. In situations like these, it seems that going with the gendered restroom is the most appropriate.
It also seemed important to use the survey to find out what it is about urinals that some women tend not to like. Based on prior conversations, there seem to be three characteristics of urinals that women have reported disliking – offensive odor, visual unattractiveness, and spatial consideration (is the urinal too close to the person sitting on the toilet). From the survey, the most significant of these was odor with about 3/4 of women at least slightly agreeing to the statement that “urinals often have a strong and offensive odor.” While odor is the biggest complaint, it is also arguably the easiest to handle through regular cleaning. Spatial consideration and visual unattractiveness were still significant to many of the respondents. To help in this regard, the urinal could be hidden behind a divider or at least placed a decent distance away from the toilet assuming the room is large enough.
While many women do have complaints about urinals, the majority of women surveyed (59%) support having urinals in unisex restrooms. Many of the women came to the defense of urinals by freely adding that urinals save them the frustration of sitting down on a toilet seat that men have urinated on. They also appreciated the water conservation benefits of the urinal. In response to the statement “knowing that urinals help the environment by conserving water makes them more acceptable,” 85% of respondents at least slightly agreed. Placing signage in the restroom explaining the water savings of the urinal could potentially help some people react more positively to the presence of a urinal.
The results of the survey were telling and did suggest that a few small changes could have significant impact, but by no means did they present a clear, best option for restroom planners. The larger decisions such as whether to go with gendered or unisex restrooms still require discernment. Hopefully this information will aid in that discernment to provide the best restroom for the situation and the budget.