PHLUSH Design Principles

February 1, 2009

PHLUSH Public Restroom Design Principles

Working Goal: Cost effective public restrooms that provide maximum function in minimum space and are safe, accessible, available, attractive and easy to maintain.

Cost Effectiveness

  • The high cost of not having public toilets can balance the cost of providing good ones.

Maximum Function in Minimum Space

  • Save space with single door direct entry stalls rather than “gang toilets”.
  • Increase capacity and solve gender parity issues by making stalls unisex.
  • Think public comfort station ie a place the public feels comfortable making short stops rather than an interior room for rest.


  • Site restrooms to benefit from natural surveillance by the community.
  • Apply Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) in location, layout, lighting, surface, materials, fixtures and hardware.
  • Protect users, especially children, from inappropriate contact with strangers in “gang toilets” by providing individual direct entry stalls.
  • Design doors to ensure privacy with safety: full length with a 1.5 – 2” gap at the bottom and a lock that authorities can open from the outside in emergency.
  • Activate surrounding area with retail, information kiosks, food carts, street performers, bus stops, or parking pay stations.


  • Adhere to standards of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • Choose unisex stalls to accommodate families and opposite sex caregivers.


  • Place sinks outside of stalls so users do not tie up toilets while handwashing.
  • Make the flow of users more efficient by using unisex stalls.
  • Plan for restrooms that can function year round and 24/7.
  • Use directional signage to restrooms, signs on facility listing hours, number to call for maintenance, etc. and print and web-based information to complement signs.


  • Focus on restrooms as positive attractors, incorporating historical artifacts, artwork, and text in design.
  • Involve users in restroom design and aesthetics as well as function.
  • Give the community opportunity to take pride in and responsibility for restrooms.

Ease of Maintenance

  • Use unisex stalls so individual toilets can be cleaned or repaired without closing facility.
  • Choose vandal-resistant hardware and make surfaces graffiti resistant.
  • Lower risk of in-stall vandalism by putting sink and trash bin outside in the open.
  • Install tap for power washing and utility cupboard for supplies.
  • Establish monitoring and evaluation plan for maintenance.

PHLUSH Design Principles for Public Restrooms (original 2 page pdf) were drawn up in response to inquiries from Portland urban planners, architects and designers. American Restroom Association Director Mary Coakley helped us state the working goal on the basis of her experience designing San Diego’s award-winning South Kellogg Park Comfort Station.  The design principles were  approved by the Old Town Chinatown Visions Committee and the Old Town Chinatown Neighborhood Association in June 2008.

Additional information is found in short PHLUSH fact sheets Single User vs. Multi-User Toilet Rooms” and Legal Non-Discrimination and Gender Neutral Restrooms.  

More on Toilet Design Research

Going Public: Strategies for Meeting Public Restroom Need in Portland’s Central City. Prepared for the Office of Mayor Tom Potter, Relief Works/PSU, June, 2006. 40pp.

Public Toilets for Old Town Chinatown: A Report to the Community. PHLUSH, February 7, 2006, 34pp.

“La Jolla Shores Public Comfort Station” – Nomination document for APWA award winning restroom by designer Mary Coakley, 2006

Publicly Accessible Toilets An Inclusive Design Guide. Gail Knight and Jo-­Anne Bichard, Royal College of Art, Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, 2010.

Improving Public Access to Better Quality Toilets: A Strategic Guide.  Communities and Local Government (UK), March 2008.

Our Mission Through education and advocacy, PHLUSH helps local governments and citizen groups to provide equitable public restroom availability and to prepare for a pipe-breaking seismic event with appropriate ecological toilet systems.

Our Vision Toilet availability is a human right and well-designed sanitation systems restore health to our cities, our waters and our soils.

Public Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human (PHLUSH) was founded in Portland, Oregon and today collaborates with groups across North America.

PHLUSH is a member of the World Toilet Organization and a partner in the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance.

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