Rules for Sharing a College Bathroom

Some Public Rules Can Make a Private Place a Little More Pleasant

(Shannon Fagan / Getty Images)

Whether you're living in the residence halls or in an off-campus apartment, you'll still have to deal with the inevitable: the college bathroom. If you're sharing a bathroom with one or more people, chances are there's going to be some funkiness before too long. So just what can you do to prevent a place no one wants to think about from turning into the issue everyone needs to talk about?

Below is a list of topics that should be covered in a discussion with people you share a bathroom with.

And while some suggested rules are included, it's important to make sure everyone's on board and adjust, add, or eliminate rules as necessary. Because with everything else you have going on in college, who wants to be dealing with the bathroom all the time?

4 Issues When Sharing a College Bathroom

Issue 1: Time. Just like all other areas of your college life, time management can be a problem when it comes to the bathroom. Sometimes, there's high demand for the bathroom; other times, no one uses it for hours. Figuring out how to allocate time in the bathroom can be one of the most important issues. After all, if everyone wants to take a shower at 9:00 in the morning, things are going to get ugly. Make sure to discuss what time people want to use the bathroom to shower at night or in the morning, how long each person wants or needs, if it's okay to have other people in the bathroom while it's being used by someone else, and how other people can know when someone else is officially done.

  • Ideal Time Rules: Create a schedule during the busiest times for when each person can shower, etc.
  • Realistic Time Rules: Have a general understanding -- e.g., Marcos usually gets done by 8, Octavio usually gets done by 8:30 -- of when people come in and out and plan accordingly.

Issue 2: Cleaning. There is nothing grosser than a nasty bathroom.

Well, maybe a ... no. Nothing grosser. And while it's inevitable that a bathroom is going to get dirty, it's not inevitable that it will get gross. Try to think about ​cleaning the bathroom in three different ways. First, the daily yuck: Do people need to rinse the sink out (from toothpaste, say, or from bits of hair from shaving) after they use it? Do people need to clean their hair out of the drain every time they shower? Second, think about the short-term yuck: If you live off campus and don't have cleaning services coming every week, how often does the bathroom need to get cleaned? Who is going to do it? What happens if they don't? Is cleaning it once per week not enough? Third, think about the longer-term yuck: Who washes things like bath mats and hand towels? What about cleaning the shower curtain? How often do all of these things need to be cleaned, and by whom?

  • Ideal Cleaning Rules: Have a schedule of who cleans the bathroom, when, and what specifically needs to be done. Also, have general rules for things like cleaning up hair and rinsing out the sink. Have each person assigned to take a shift doing a quick 15-minute clean-up every other day.
  • Realistic Cleaning Rules: Ask people to leave the bathroom like they found it and generally clean up after themselves. Have an agreement in place that when the bathroom reaches critical nastiness, someone puts on crazy music and everyone cleans it at once so that many hands make light work.

    Issue 3: Guests. Most people don't mind guests all that much ... within reason, of course. But it's no fun to go wandering into your own bathroom, half asleep, only to find a stranger -- particularly one of a different gender -- there unexpectedly. Having a conversation and agreement about guests is especially important to do in advance of any trouble. Talk with your roommate(s) about a "guest policy" of sorts. Clearly, if someone has a guest over, that guest is going to need to use the bathroom at some point, so get some rules in order. If a guest is in the bathroom, how should other people be notified? Is it okay for a guest not just to use the bathroom but to do other things, like use the shower? What if someone has a frequent guest; can they leave their things in the bathroom? What if the person who has the guest isn't in the apartment or room?

    Is the guest allowed to just stay and hang out (and, consequently, use the bathroom)?

    • Ideal Guest Rules: Always notify roommates in advance when a guest is coming over. Talk about when they're coming, how long they'll stay, and if/when they need to use the bathroom for things like the shower. Make sure everyone's on the same page before the guest arrives.
    • Realistic Guest Rules: Have a way to indicate that a guest is using the bathroom, whether it's a casual hook-up guest or someone's parent. Don't let guests just hang out (and have access to the bathroom) if their "host" isn't home. And no being alone with a romantic guest in the bathroom. That's not just gross -- it's tacky in a shared environment.

    Issue 4: Sharing. Darnit, you ran out of toothpaste again. Will your roommate even notice if you just take a little squirt this morning? What about a little shampoo? And conditioner? And moisturizer? And shaving cream? And maybe sharing a little mascara, too? Sharing here and there can be part of having a healthy relationship with the people you live with, but it can also lead to major problems. Be clear with your roommates about when and if it's okay to share. Do you want to be asked in advance first? Are some things okay to share from time to time, only in an emergency, or never? Make sure to be clear, too; you may not even consider the idea that your roommate would "share" your deodorant one day, but they may not think twice before doing it. Make sure to talk, too, about general use items -- like the hand soap, toilet paper, and bathroom cleaners -- and how and when those should be replaced (as well as by whom).

    • Ideal Sharing Rules: It's okay to borrow things like toothpaste and shampoo in an emergency. Always ask in advance and never assume it's okay unless someone says so. Create a small bathroom budget for replacing things like toilet paper and hand soap so that when things run out, they can quickly and easily be replaced.
    • Realistic Sharing Rules: It's okay to use my toothpaste or shampoo if you really need some, but replace your own as soon as possible. And it's only okay if your "sharing" doesn't leave my own supply empty. Keep replacements of things like toilet paper and hand soap around so that they are always available; when the replacement is used, buy another one when everyone next goes shopping for household items.