All Your Bathroom Questions, Answered

Alena Jaffe
Here at the Refinery29 office, we're a pretty open bunch. We don't shy away from "impolite" topics like sex, politics, and money, and we definitely aren't afraid to get silly in front of one another — just check out our Snapchat. That being said, the ladies' room at our HQ still makes the crop of us feel fall-down-the-subway-steps awkward. After all, like every shared restroom, the chance of scoring a solo trip is virtually zero, and certain bodily functions we usually prefer to do without an audience (pooping, we're talking about pooping) are just a flimsy stall wall away from our coworkers and, ahem, our execs.

Since remodeling our current situation into something luxuriously private isn't an option — we already asked HR — we interviewed fellow R29ers to figure out exactly which ladies' room situations proved the most excruciatingly uncomfortable, both at work and out on the town. Next, we teamed up with Charmin Ultra Strong Toilet Paper, an absolute bathroom must-have, and two of our favorite etiquette experts, Elaine Swann and Diane Gottsman, to help address our wackiest, most-pressing questions. Read on, and thank us by sparing a square next time we're in need.
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Alena Jaffe
Is it ever okay to talk stall-to-stall with your coworkers or boss?
In a setting as cramped (and echo-y) as the ladies' room, it's best to respect what little privacy you've all got, and keep through-the-partition chatter to an absolute minimum. "Pause your conversation unless your boss specifically asks you a question," says Gottsman. Get back to the gossip only once you're both washing your hands, and even then, be mindful of the fact that you're in a shared space. After all, nobody likes a sink line.
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Alena Jaffe
How much primping in front of the mirror is too much?
Before you start any serious cosmetic endeavors, size up the scene. At work or the gym? Feel free to whip out your makeup bag, as long as you're willing to move aside as soon as someone needs to wash her hands. We repeat: Sink lines are the absolute worst.

The rules change a bit if you're at a restaurant or bar. "It's just not the place to reapply your entire face or to pull out a curling iron," says Gottman. After a quick touch-up, get back to your friends and, more importantly, your jalapeño poppers.

One last rule all R29ers agree on? Save any sort of hair removal (yep, tweezing counts) for home. Even the unruliest brows can wait a few hours.
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Alena Jaffe
What's up with tipping the bathroom attendant?
It's usually the attendant's job to not only dole out the paper towels and mints but also to keep the entire bathroom clean — never an easy task on a rowdy Saturday night. That's why Gottsman suggests tipping a dollar or two during your first trip and again if a new attendant takes over. At the very least, remember to smile and say a quick "thank you." As one wise R29er put it, "Avoiding eye contact because you don't have any singles won't actually make you invisible."
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Alena Jaffe
If you see a coworker skip washing her hands, what's the right move?
Before you call her out, remember that when people feel ashamed, they tend to act offended, which doesn't exactly bode well for her covering for you next time you space on an important meeting. Instead of putting the perpetrator on the spot, Swann advises letting HR know you've noticed a few people breezing past the sinks, which will hopefully lead to a general health and safety email reminder. "Everyone will get the message and shape up, but no one will feel humiliatingly singled out," she explains.
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Alena Jaffe
Okay, so you've clogged the toilet in a public restroom. What should you do next?
We 100% get that slinking off is temptingly easy, and we're indeed guilty of doing it when the restaurant was intimidatingly cool or the waitstaff exceptionally good-looking. Unfortunately, most establishments check their bathrooms on a fixed schedule, meaning your mess could go unattended for entirely too long. Swann's fix is to alert a staff member or receptionist, without necessarily copping the blame. "Let them know you've noticed one of the toilets is out of service, but don't feel the need to admit it was your doing," says Swann. Fessing up doesn’t actually help anyone — it's a harmless lie of omission.
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Alena Jaffe
What's the best way to get toilet paper when you realize (a little too late) that your stall is all out?
While some might feel mortified at the thought of shoving a hand beneath the stall to grab a sheet of Charmin Ultra Strong Toilet Paper, a few brave R29ers actually champion it as an odd-but-easy way to forge a friendship. And you know what? They're right. Asking a small favor of someone is actually proven to make her like you more — counterintuitive as it may sound. Plus, Swann says there's nothing impolite about breaking the whole "no stall talk" rule to make your request. So go ahead — it makes for a solid meet-cute anecdote.
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Alena Jaffe
How long should you wait before re-knocking on a locked bathroom door?
Even when patiently standing outside a restaurant's only bathroom — the cross-your-legs-and-pray method of not peeing in your culottes right on the verge of failing you — Swann says you should wait 10 minutes before making your presence known. And yes, we acknowledge that can feel like several centuries.

At that point, a few light raps should do the trick. Still nothing? It might be time to flag down a staff member to make sure everyone inside is all right. And if an entire group of girls tumbles out, it's well within your right to pull out your iciest stare.
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Alena Jaffe
If you're in a clear stand-off for some number-two privacy, how do you determine who should leave first?
Again and again throughout our investigation, we were asked what to do when you and your faceless opponent are both waiting for the other person to get up and leave so you can poop in peace. The answer is exceedingly simple: "Handle your business, and walk out of there with your head held high," says Swann. "Wash your hands, smile at yourself at the mirror, and don't apologize for something that's natural." Call us crazy, but that sounds pretty empowering.