Office Bathroom Smells and Other Issues

Q. We have a problem in our office. More specifically, we have a problem with the shared bathroom in our office. We have a coworker who uses the bathroom and leaves behind a terrible smell. There is bathroom air freshener available for use. We work in a doctor’s office and patients also use this bathroom. How do we address this with the coworker?


Anonymous Coworker
North Carolina

A. Shared restrooms in office environments can easily become a flash point for trouble. Even though it may not be the case, the best first step in dealing with this predicament is to assume that the person is unaware that he/she is causing a problem. Consider how you might broach the subject without causing embarrassment to the person or to you (if you are the one elected to raise the issue). First, ask your manager to have the issue of care for the common restroom brought up at the next staff meeting. Create a list of appropriate dos and don’ts for staff to follow in using the restroom. Those dos and don’ts, which can be posted in the restroom as a reminder to staff and information for patients, could include points such as these:

  • * Define the way the toilet seat and lid are to be left after use. (Interestingly, I have had some women recommend leaving the seat up so a man is sure to use the toilet with the seat in the up position.)
  • * Spray with air freshener after every use.
  • * Ask everyone to wash hands after each use of the facility.
  • * Clean up the sink area after yourself. Wipe up any excess water and wash away any soap residue in the sink.
  • * Make sure there is an adequate – and frequently replenished – supply of air freshener, toilet paper and paper towels.
  • * Turn out the light as you exit the restroom.

If a staff meeting does not resolve the smelly problem, then a more direct approach is necessary. Either a person who is a good friend of the culprit or an office manager will have to speak to him or her directly. “John/Jane I just wanted to remind you of the importance of following the guidelines for using the office restroom. That includes making sure you use the air freshener before you leave it.”


You might also adopt some practical solutions as well. There are other air freshener products on the market, including those that can be dispensed directly into the bowl, pre use, or that automatically dispense a squirt of freshener on a regular basis. An exhaust fan that works in conjunction with the light switch could also help clear the air.

Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers’ questions in The Boston Sunday Globe’s weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of “The Etiquette Advantage in Business” and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book “Essential Manners For Men” was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of “Essential Manners for Couples,” “Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf,” and co-author of “A Wedding Like No Other.” Post is Emily Post’s great-grandson. His media appearances include “CBS Sunday Morning,” CBS’s “The Early Show,” NBC’s “Today,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and “Fox News.” Follow Post: @PeterLPost.

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