We've all been there; you walk into a bathroom and it is completely empty. You are then left with the daunting decision of which stall to spend your stay in.  Everyone has a different approach to making this decision.  People are super passionate about this topic and have strongly held beliefs.  I surveyed 80 people to determine how they choose a toilet stall.

My participants prioritize these things (the larger the bar the higher the priority):

Most of these are self evident.  No one wants to be in a stall where a homeless person was just washing up and no one wants to be crammed into a stall with no leg room, but what I'm interested in is the idea of perceived cleanliness.  What stalls do people think are the least used.

So I dug a little deeper and there are some common theories and each one illustrates a different world view. (that sounds like an exaggeration but its NOT)

People are Lazy  

Therefore the first stall is the dirtiest and should be avoided  since it takes less steps to get to.

People are Smart

Everyone assumes people are lazy so they bypass the first stall and take the last stall, making the last stall the dirtiest. So it's better to use the first stall or a middle stall. (this was my logic)

People are Really Smart

People assume everyone thinks the first stall is the most used so most people go to the last stall so therefore the first stall is the cleanest (confusing I know) and the last stall is dirtiest.  So they use the first stall.

People Obey Rules

The cleanest stall is the handicap stall because people respect the fact that it should be reserved for handicapped people.  So they use that one.

Scenario 1:  Simple bathroom

This layout is straightforward but makes some people anxious due to lack of choice.  There is a 33.3% chance that you are going to get the most used stall. *shudders in disgust*

You can see that the majority of people choose stall A.  The reasons listed were; extra space, furthest away from the door (so it's cleaner) and most private.

You need room to move around without touching the door and walls or being pushed against the toilet when you open the door.

I would have picked C on this one... not to brag but I think outside the box... or should I say stall? I think outside the stall. Ok, let's stick with box.

Scenario 2 Larger Bathroom

In this example people prefer to use the first stall.  This is primarily because of the wall next to the stall.  And again the last handicapped stall is popular!  People walk all the way to the end of the bathroom to enjoy the extra space and distance from the door.  

I think I'd go for B.  A bit more room but not in the ever so popular handicapped stall.

Some people think that using the handicapped stall without being handicap is insensitive, what if a handicap person comes in while you're using it?  Before this survey I never considered this... but now I will forever feel guilty for using the handicapped stall. #insensitive

Scenario 3 Complex Bathroom

This set up has the most dramatic majority.  C is the winner by a windfall (pun intended). People like being in a corner.  They don't like being next to the sinks and this one feels secluded for the long haul with extra space to boot.

Coming in second place is A (second place is the first loser).  This is my choice as well.  Something about the location makes me think that when people are hurrying into the bathroom they will walk right passed it.  I imagine people with full bladders sprinting in and diving into C or D.

But now we all know, if we chose B we would be getting the least trafficked stall. And the stall with the least traffic is conceivably cleaner.

What we've learned

  • The first and last stalls are used most.  
  • The handicapped stall is used frequently.
  • People look for the cleanest, largest and most private stall.

The majority of us have a similar set of criteria when selecting a stall, so perhaps the best method is to undermine your logic.  Use the smallest stall that's least private and that way you'll get the least trafficked stall.