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Q. Dear Umbra,

What, in your opinion, is proper flushing etiquette when using public lavatories? Or, indeed, those belonging to your friends? At home we follow the if-it’s-yellow rule, but only occasionally am I bold enough to do this in a public restroom; in general it feels rather antisocial unless I am so fantastically hydrated that you can barely tell I’ve peed. Any thoughts?

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Urines truly,
Ms. Peebody

A. Dearest Ms. Peebody,

restroom signIt’s not polite to leave your urine unflushed in a public lav, nor is it polite to do so at the house of a friend, unless the friend also regularly follows the if-it’s-yellow rule. Urine is a bodily excretion, and none of us should be made to suffer too much viewing (or potential splashing) of other people’s bodily excretions. It’s one thing among immediate family, if all the family members are in agreement. Non-related housemates might also agree to a general low-flush rule.

In reflecting on this question, contemplate other excretions, and the general public politenesses that should surround them. For instance, it’s not considered OK to exercise until one is drenched with sweat and then go directly to a coffee shop, still dripping. It’s not OK to repeatedly blow a very boogery nose into a cloth hanky when out and about, so that others must think about the sopping wet cotton. Ear wax is not for public view. I could go on, but I think we all have active imaginations, or even memories of times when a fellow human has been less than polite.

At home, we are often living with people whose bodily excretions are more pleasant to us, and we can amongst ourselves set our own rules for what is and is not OK. (Young children, I have learned, carry their own set of rules, which other people are oft forced to follow. One such rule: it is perfectly acceptable to barf on others.) Do whatever is appropriate in your own home — and make sure that you have either a low-flow toilet or some water-saving devices installed, so that when you do flush you’re using as little water as possible.

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The good news in this sort of icky situation is that some public places are starting to use dual-option toilets, in which you can choose how much water your particular excretion requires in order to be whisked away. Sightings of such smart potties have been reported in airports, hotels, and of course Europe.

One final note: I always support peeing outside if, again, the location does not bother anyone else — and is not, say, a treasured national landmark. Pee is good for plants.