What Exactly Is A Water Closet?

Something about the universal and slightly taboo nature of the bathroom lends itself perfectly to slang, idioms, and jokes. These pieces of language can transcend cultures and pass through the generations to such an extent that millions of people use them daily without really knowing what they're saying.

If you ever thought that, after Thomas Crapper patented the U-bend thus improving old fashioned toilets, he then turned his own name into a four-letter word, then according to Smithsonian Magazine, you've got the wrong end of the stick. That phrase, on the other hand, is actually thought to derive from toilet humor dating as far back as 315 A.D. when Romans used a sponge with a wooden handle to wipe themselves, says the British Association of Urological Surgeons.

Another such anachronism is WC, the abbreviation for water closet that can still be seen on signs for restrooms worldwide. Is it a powder room or a privy? The truth is many of us don't know exactly what WC means. So, if you've ever wondered what a water closet really is in the 21st century, then here's everything you need to know.

Water closets in modern design and real estate

According to Plumbworld, the first letter in WC initially stood for wash-down in the 1870s, before getting streamlined to water. The second letter has always stood for closet. The oft-cited reason is that once indoor plumbing became a must-have in the late 19th century, one of the most convenient places to put these new contraptions was in the closet, taking advantage of pre-existing doors and relatively small room sizes, explains Southend Plumbing.

Nowadays, we don't just put toilets in random closets, but the idea of the water closet persists. Believe it or not, it has come back into fashion. According to the National Association of Home Builders, home buyers in 2019 listed a water closet as one of the top five most desirable features of a bathroom. That's right — per Curbed, rather than signifying a separate room of the house, modern water closets are simply small rooms with only a toilet that are located within or adjacent to the master bathroom. This isn't something you see in too many cramped apartments though, it's an arrangement that requires space to spare.

So, what makes it worth sacrificing square footage to install a bathroom throwback?

Reasons to install a water closet in your home

There are two main compelling factors behind the resurgence of water closets in modern bathroom design. For starters, walling off the toilet creates the major benefit of privacy. HomeLight cites this as the primary reason that water closets appeal to homeowners, especially families who might have enough extra room in their home for a WC but not enough space to have a bathroom for every person. This extra dividing wall can make a shared bathroom much more comfortable.

Second, a main-bathroom-plus-water-closet layout has the added effect of containing the least hygienic part of the house behind a door. As detailed by The Classroom, this separates a lot more of the airborne nasties that can be thrown up into the air just to land on items regularly kept within arm's reach of the toilet. This includes toiletries and beauty tools that go onto your face and into your mouth — for example hand towels, facecloths, and, quite crucially, your toothbrush. Adding an extra barrier between the bacteria in your toilet and these intimate items is a pretty good rationale for adding a water closet to your home in our book!