What Is a Water Closet? Learn More About This Private Bathroom Design

Is the ultimate private toilet making a comeback in American homes? Learn the benefits of a water closet, plus installation and design considerations.

water closet toilet room in neutral bathroom

Paul Dyer

There are many names for a bathroom: the washroom, the loo, the toilet. But outside of the United States, you might see a bathroom designated as “WC.” Ever wonder what it stands for?

WC is an abbreviation for “water closet,” a term out of trend for decades that's now making a comeback in modern builds. This enclosed space houses the toilet separately from other bathroom components, like the shower, bathtub, or sink. It is becoming an attractive feature for many homeowners who want privacy and practicality. After all, the toilet bowl is truly the main feature of this space. Couples hoping to share a bathroom without any uncomfortable moments, large families hoping to maximize efficiency, and even tiny home enthusiasts hoping to make space for guests could find utility in a water closet. Here’s what they are and why you might want one.

What Is a Water Closet?

Have you ever wished there was a little more privacy where you do your business? Well, what you might have been wishing for is actually called a water closet. A water closet is a small room or enclosure with a toilet that's typically located within a bathroom. In historic homes, water closets may be completely separated by a wall or hallway from the other facilities, like a sink or bathtub. While some water closets have a small sink inside, this isn't always the case. To save space, modern water closets often have a sliding door entrance, half-wall, or shelving unit that acts as a separation between the toilet and the rest of the bathroom.

A water closet is a small room or enclosure with a toilet. Water closets are typically located within a bathroom and separated from the sink, tub, or shower.

water closet toilet room in bathroom

Emily Minton-Redfield

A Brief History of Water Closets

What’s old is new again, and water closets are no exception. These small spaces have a surprisingly long history. According to the British Association of Urological Surgeons, water closets got their start in the last 1500s, as indoor toilets and plumbing were being invented for the royals.

Before the connection between sanitation and public health was better understood, outhouses, pots, and communal privies were the norm. The concept of a water closet, an indoor space housing a flush toilet, became popular with the elite. But the bathroom and the water closet remained separate rooms with separate functions in the United Kingdom. In the United States, outhouses were common well into the 1950s, and a 2019 study found that many Americans still rely on them. Still, many upscale hotels and residences incorporated the European water closet model in the early 1900s when indoor plumbing became more popular and accessible in American cities.

Many homes now boast a modern spin on the W.C., with a “half-bath” concept that combines a toilet and sink. These guest baths or powder rooms are useful for ground-floor visitors, but they serve a different purpose than a water closet.

Benefits of a Water Closet

There are many good reasons to consider building or remodeling your home with a water closet in mind.


The separation of a water closet is largely useful for hygienic reasons. It keeps odors and germs isolated to one area, leaving tubs, showers, and sinks clean for use.

Multiuse Function

Water closets are ideal in bathroom suites, like a primary bathroom, allowing multiple people to use the bathroom at the same time. This means someone can use the toilet while someone else dries their hair, showers, or brushes their teeth.


For avid hosts or those with large families, a water closet is a huge privacy bonus. They afford an efficient use of the bathroom space. No more being locked out of the bathroom while your teen takes a long shower. Having discrete spaces ensures multiple functions can be performed simultaneously.

Historic Home Feature

If you buy a historical home, you may find that the plumbing and wall divisions are already designed for a water closet. In such cases, it may make more sense to spruce up the original floor plan with shelving or lighting rather than trying to knock down walls for a more modern look. You may find that older homes have a sink inside the water closet, and the entire space might feel cramped. But there are new design fixes to maximize tight spaces that might not have been available when the home was originally built.

water closet toilet room in bathroom

Gordon Beall

Design and Installation Considerations

If you’re looking to add a water closet to your current bathroom, there are some design and installation considerations to keep in mind.

It's important first to determine whether your bathroom has the space available to accommodate a water closet. Consider the room’s dimensions, how it would fit into the current flow of the space, and where the partition or door would fit.

Plumbing, ventilation, and electrical systems are what really make a water closet functional. Windows and/or exhaust fans are also a must. Well-placed lighting can exude modern luxury, while details, such as wall coverings, finishes, and water-efficient toilets, should also be in the budget.

Remember, any major changes to your plumbing will need to meet building codes and regulations. Check with local authorities and home contracting experts in your area before breaking ground on your new commode.

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  1. A brief history of the flush toilet. A Brief History of The Flush Toilet | The British Association of Urological Surgeons Limited. (n.d.). https://www.baus.org.uk/museum/164/a_brief_history_of_the_flush_toilet

  2. WP Company. (2019, December 12). It’s almost 2020, and 2 million Americans still don’t have running water, according to New Report. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/its-almost-2020-and-2-million-americans-still-dont-have-running-water-new-report-says/2019/12/10/a0720e8a-14b3-11ea-a659-7d69641c6ff7_story.html

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