A bathroom etiquette question

Dear Evil HR Lady,

My workplace is set up in such a manner that several employee offices and cubicles are located directly adjacent to a single stall bathroom (mine included).  I have furnished this bathroom with an air freshening spray to help cover up my own “permeations”.  It has been brought to my attention (and not missed by me at all) that an employee who unfortunately has colitis, does not use the air freshener at all when doing her business.  This has become a distraction to several people when it occurs as you can imagine scent wafts around the room.

I understand she may not realize the odor that emits from the restroom upon her leaving and also speculate that perhaps she does not like the type of air freshener that is currently in the bathroom.

In order to not single her out (she is not the only culprit) I would like to put up a polite sign in the restroom to ask that people use the spray when necessary.  Our customers also use this restroom so I would like to make the sign general and, as stated, polite enough for all.

What kind of wording would you recommend for this task?  I can’t really find any suggestions for this type of situation.

I’m going to say, right at the outset, that I’m not giving the definitive “this is what you should do!” answer, because I’m not sure. But, I will say, passive aggressive signs are not the answer–especially since customers use this bathroom.

My first vote would be to install one of those air-fresheners that goes over the door, and sprays every time the door opens or closes. (The bathroom at my church has this!) Another option would be have the boss remind all of the staff to use air freshener because of the employees that have to sit close to the bathroom.

Honestly, people are embarrassed by the odors they create, and they probably don’t realize that it’s wafting out of the bathroom area and into your cubicle. I think a one time request from the manager would probably do the trick.

As for customers? Well, you can’t tell customers things like that. Which is why I vote for the automatic air freshener. Problem solved and no hurt feelings or embarrassed people.

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13 thoughts on “A bathroom etiquette question

  1. Would you have a bit of a budget to install one of those slidy signs that say ‘vacant/in use’? You can get the cheaper ones that stick to the outside of the door and the person has to physically slide it to the proper position when coming in and out of the bathroom, and then there’s ones that somehow are inserted in the door so that there is a little handle on the inside of the door that the person can slide from the inside. A cheaper alternative would be do print up a ‘hotel-style’ door knob sign that says ‘vacant’ on one side and ‘in-use’ on the other & it can be flipped accordingly. This way, the door can remain shut all of the time with the fan running. Hopefully you have a fan & if you don’t, hopefully your manager would invest in one! With the fan, and the door shut & the overhead air freshener, it could work quite well:)

  2. There is this spray that you can find in boutiques or online called poopari. (Spell check) Yes, they come in all kinds like poopantor and girl like names… They are funny names for the spray. You spray it into the toilet before you go to the bathroom and it keeps the smell in the toilet. Yes, it works, I have it at home. Our flavor is lemon or citrus. Then you don’t have to worry about people spraying all kind of flavors in the bathroom.

      1. I am totally going to order these for my office! We have several offenders and it makes the bathroom so bad that I actually have to use the fast food place down the street because if I don’t my eyes will burn and I will get sick. 🙁

      2. I got this for my office mate, who is very concerned about leaving odors. It works really well. It is, however, pretty pricey, and I have found another product called “Fresh Drop” that costs less. There is always the risk that your coworker may not use this if she won’t use the air freshener.

  3. an exhaust fan that automatically comes on when the light switch is on would work best.. equally difficult to suggest to the non spraying people, a courtesy flush also goes a long way to keep offensive odors from lingering, as well as drowning out embarrassing bodily noises that accompany bathroom activities.some people may have sensitivity or allergies to the scented sprays.

  4. I think dbc hit the nail on the head with that last statement. It’s quite possible that employee, in addition to having colitis, has other health problems too, such as asthma or allergies to scents that make using this kind of spray unwise or even dangerous for her. Saying something to her would only embarrass her further, and no amount of passive-aggressive signs is going to enable her to use them.

    I’ve been in the exact same situation (fortunately with a temporary gastro issue that ended after a few months), and it was humiliating to be on that end of it. But the unpleasantness suffered by the people who sat around the bathroom was a tradeoff that had to be made in order for me to be able to avoid an asthma attack sending me to the hospital after using that spray.

    1. (And yes, I made constant use of the “courtesy flush,” but when you have that level of gastro issue, it’s just not enough.)

  5. I would be wary of automatic sprays, you risk creating issues for those who are sensitive to aerosols and perfumes. It’s all well and good to say “As far as I know, nobody in the office has this sensitivity”, but the bathroom is also used by customers.

  6. I oversee the facilities at our company’s buildings. I recently had a similar complaint about odors from the bathroom. We have exhaust fans in our bathrooms, however, I swear we do not adults that work here and simply do not think about how their business gets in other people’s business.

    My solution was to install occupancy sensors for the light and the fans in the bathrooms. The lights were set at 5 minutes and fans at 15 minutes. The only problem was the fan switch faced the doorway so every time someone walked by the fan came on. Now I had complaints about the fans coming on and the noise they created. I was about to have the fans replaced with ultra quiet fans when I came up with a cheaper solution. I put auto-close hinges on the doors. I set them to close the doors up to the door jam (not completely closed). If the door is closed, its in use. If its almost closed, its open for business.

    This switches and spring hinges fixed the errant fan turn on problem and also solved the odor problem. The door closing most of the way keeps the odors in the bathroom and the fan stays on automatically to pull the odorous offenses out of the building.

  7. For little money one can buy and install air freshener sprayers that operate on a timer. Every X minutes the device sprays for a couple of seconds. Only problems might be [1] spraying when the office is closed and [2] the need to replace aerosol canisters of air freshener from time to time. First time I saw one of these devices was in 1970, but it was used for bug spray.

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