A urinary etiquette question

I know there are lots of other things to worry about, and this doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things. But this is a question that bothers me greatly, and I’d like to know what you think.

If you’re staying at someone else’s house, and you go to the toilet in the middle of the night, should you flush, or not?

(If you’ve only done a wee, I mean, I’m not a barbarian).

I used to think I knew the answer to this. I mean, wee’s just water, with some urea and salts dissolved in it. It’s mainly sterile. Some wee in the toilet never hurt anyone. I assumed most people wouldn’t be bothered by it.

Whereas flushing the toilet in the middle of the night could be really annoying. Some people’s toilets make a loud noise. Some people’s toilets are right next to someone’s bedroom. Some people are light sleepers.

As someone with insomnia, I can find it difficult to get back to sleep if I’ve been woken up. I’d a million times over rather deal with a bit of urine in the toilet in the morning, than be woken in the night by a flush. I always assumed most people felt the same.

Then a random pub conversation with my fastidious friend Jon revealed that he’s disgusted by urine. He thinks it’s really dirty. He would never, even in extremis, wee in a sink. He was disgusted to hear than anyone ever does that.

And thus, my assumptions lie in tatters.

I didn’t think there was much point subjecting Jon to a party political broadcast on behalf of the urine-is-not-a-hygiene-threat-party. Disgust is a fairly primal emotion, if the research is to be believed. He’s been brought up with this idea about wee being dirty – it’s something he viscerally feels. He can’t be logicked out of it. All I can do is respect his view on that, flush the toilet if I ever stay at his house, and remember never, ever to pee in his sink.

But this leaves a dilemma. I know for definite that my friend Abi couldn’t give two hoots about wee in the toilet, and is a light sleeper. So I should flush at Jon’s house, but not flush at Abi’s house. But what about all the other people, whose views I don’t know? What should the default setting be?

You can make an educated guess for people you know reasonably well, but what about people you don’t know well? It happens more often than you’d think that you are an overnight guest in the home of people you don’t know well. There’s your partner’s relatives or friends who you may stay with. You might stay overnight at a friend’s house, without knowing much about their housemates. In Tales from the River, we were sometimes staying with people we’d never met before. Is it urine in the toilet or midnight flushing that makes you the worse houseguest?

Ordinarily, I’d tend to go with the ‘fussier’ view as a default setting. By which I mean, most people seem to be more hygiene-conscious than I am. If I’m in doubt, I assume that I’m the weird one. On that reading the ‘polite’ option would be flushing. But that’s not a no-risk option as you might wake people up.

Am I the only person who stands in an unfamiliar bathroom at 3am pondering these questions?

So I’m putting it over to you, denizens of social media land. Which would you prefer?

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  • KtG  On October 16, 2012 at 1:28 pm

    I was always told by my grandparents not to flush a wee to save water and money.
    Also I never used to flush at night in my current flat because the toilet is next to my housemates room but then I felt a bit awkward that my housemates (who get up for work earlier than me) would be disgusted to find an unflushed toilet in the morning, perhaps we need to have this conversation…

    • matriarchalutopia  On October 16, 2012 at 2:33 pm

      Yes, in my own house I don’t flush for just a wee, for eco reasons. But I realise that seems a bit much for some people.

      As you say though, maybe we need to have the late-night flushing conversation.

  • Evidence Matters (@EvidenceMatters)  On October 16, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    I don’t want to disturb people so: i) in my own home I leave a couple of buckets of water I’ve recycled from washing machine/dishwasher (I explain to people what it’s for); ii) staying elsewhere (in a private home) I tend to ask if it’s OK if I put a couple of buckets of water in the bathroom for use (this is OK with family but more awkward with people I don’t know that well as it can seem as if I’m criticising their plumbing – it also becomes more awkward if somebody has a pumped lavatory such as Saniflo in which case the pump will still be triggered); iii) I flush in hotels which feels a little unkind on any room neighbours.

  • wee  On October 16, 2012 at 6:48 pm

    wee in the sink of course, no noisy flush and no obvious wee.

  • matriarchalutopia  On October 16, 2012 at 7:59 pm

    Further replies from twitter:-

    A. Flush every time! But not because it’s disgusting. For example, I don’t flush when home alone because it saves water. But in someone else’s house? I don’t want them looking at my liquid output … Never!

    B. anyone who visits me better flush!

    C. I’ve always operated under the mantra: ‘If its yellow; let it mellow. If it’s brown; flush it down”.

    D. Depends whether asparagus has been on the menu.

    E. I voted in favour of leave, though there are change factors such as bathroom location & smelliness of wee

    >> This suggests we need some sort of decision-tree, including location of bathroom and what you’ve eaten recently. Who’d have thought this was such a complicated question?

    F. opinion is ask how noisy the cistern is before retiring, or try it out yourself and make your own judgement.

    G. amused that you are asking *all* of your tweeps whether it’s OK to leave wee in the loo – just ask host, surely?! … .. or start another poll? (1) Ew! Never initiate conversation about wee or toilets! (2) Just ask before bedtime (3) Other

    >> Ha, good thinking! I guess I was hoping for a definitive answer, and thereby avoiding mildly awkward bedtime conversations with hosts for the rest of my life.

    How about we encourage hosts to discreetly make their preferences on the matter known. Perhaps a small card above the cistern? We could have logos for various options – a picture of asparagus and someone holding their nose…

    I may be thinking about this too much now.

    • __clare__  On October 16, 2012 at 8:24 pm

      Logo based decision tree gets my vote. Put a couple of buckets of grey water in there as well for good measure and it’ll be like being on the crystal maze. AUTOMATIC LOCK IN for anyone leaving asparagus wees.

  • Ani  On October 16, 2012 at 9:01 pm

    I’m a non flusher, but I developed a system with my dad when I stayed with him for a while. A piece of toilet paper was left on the lid if one of us used the toilet in the night. Then the first person in of a morn would know to flush or what ever they felt comfy with.

    • matriarchalutopia  On October 16, 2012 at 9:14 pm

      A signalling system! I’m glad to hear that everyone has given this matter some thought:-)

  • Conor McBride (@pigworker)  On October 16, 2012 at 10:04 pm

    My bro lives in the arse-end of nowhere with a pumped artesian well for water. Never mind the sound of the flushing itself, emptying a cistern in the night is sure to start the bleeding pump and wake the entire house up, barking dog and all. Yellow; mellow.

  • Chrissi  On February 26, 2013 at 4:13 pm

    I’m now left worried that guests in my house are spending indecisive hours in my cold bathroom, fretting about whether they should flush the toilet or just leave the wee there. I think I’m going to make a sign that reads ‘Don’t be afraid to flush, I’m probably passed out drunk’

    This never worries me. I have my own insane problems centered around using tampons with the little tube applicators. Some people have no bin in the bathroom, and those little buggers do not like to flush. Do I sit there and wait for them to absorb enough water to flush once? Do I do a double-flush and live in fear that they thought I did a stubborn poo? Do I wrap it in tissue and attempt to smuggle it to a bin and then hide it under stuff like some kind of menstrual-ninja? Oh god…

    • matriarchalutopia  On February 26, 2013 at 5:00 pm

      Haha, this is one of the reasons I used non-applicator tampons!

      But I love that I am not the only person who worries about this sort of stupid thing. There’s something very human about the fact that we stand there thinking about it, knowing that it’s stupid…

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