There are a lot of different English words that have very similar meanings. Sometimes the words are formed as compounds of two different words, and they sound as though they have completely different meanings. Two of these words are bathroom and restroom.
People use the words bathroom and restroom often interchangeably, but they do have slightly different meanings. However, Americans use the term restroom when they want to be polite. A bathroom usually has a bathtub or shower, a sink, and a toilet, while restrooms typically have only sinks and toilets.
I came to the USA from Spain when I was 26 years old. So these words and many other were confusing to me. Even today, it isn’t totally clear. So, I thought this was a good moment to learn the difference between a bathroom and a restroom.
What Is the Difference Between a Bathroom and a Restroom?
As stated, people often use these words interchangeably. Many feel that asking to use the restroom is more polite than asking to use the bathroom. To understand the subtle differences, you need to look at culture and what these terms mean.
One of the sources of confusion is that both words are compound words. Bathroom implies a room with an apparatus for bathing, while restroom implies a room where you can rest. When the word bathroom was formed, it always included an area for bathing. People didn’t have showers back then. Today, it still refers to a room where you can bathe, but it may contain a freestanding shower and no bathtub.
Bathrooms Are in Houses
In addition to having an area to bathe, a bathroom will have a sink or basin and a toilet as well. They usually are associated with the bedrooms in the house. However, if you have a room with a toilet and a sink but no tub or shower, the correct term is powder room, even though it is also called a half bath -more on this below.
Restrooms Are in Public Places or Businesses
Restrooms are rooms with toilets and sinks, but no bathtub or shower, typically in a public place or business. Some public restrooms actually have spaces to sit and rest, while others are just a toilet and sink.
Some people considered it impolite to ask to use the bathroom, so they’ll use the term restroom even when they are in someone else’s house. Technically though, aside from politeness, you wouldn’t ask to use the restroom in someone’s home; you would ask to use the bathroom or the powder room.
What Is a Powder Room?
In case having two words that are used interchangeably isn’t confusing enough, another common term is the powder room. People use this term to describe rooms in private homes and in public places.
A powder room is also called a half bath or a guest bath. It is different from a bathroom because it has a toilet and a sink, but no bath or shower. It is usually found on the first floor of a house so that it is easy for guests to use.
The name powder room is rooted in history. Back in the 1700s, when people went out, they wore a powdered wig. These high society wigs were a part of social life and daily wear, and there was a room devoted to powdering them while people were out. At the time, they didn’t have plumbing, so getting ready was more about getting dressed up than it was about showering and cleaning oneself.
Once these downstairs rooms for guests had plumbing, the name stuck. People changed the phrase from powdering the wig to powdering the nose. This was a euphemism for going to the bathroom, as Americans don’t like to talk about it.
Should You Call it a Bathroom or a Restroom?
Restroom is a North American term, and it is proper to refer to public restrooms using this word. However, in recent years, bathroom has become more common. If you are at someone’s home, and you are uncomfortable using the word bathroom, you can ask to use the powder room. You should not ask to use the restroom at someone’s private residence.
There are other words that people use for this room, such as the lavatory, the water closet, the latrine, the WC, the loo, and more. Some of these are specific to particular countries, but they all mean nearly the same thing. The key is to make sure that you are using the term that is appropriate wherever you are.
So much to learn, like what does 2.5 bathrooms mean? And why the Military refers to the bathroom as “The Head.”
Toilet, Bathroom, Restroom, Washroom – What’s the Difference?
What we have said so far mostly applies to North America. This video from Slow Easy English goes over the difference between toilet, bathroom, restroom, washroom, and more. People from different countries use these words differently. Watch the video to learn the different ways people from various countries use these words.