Ah, the holidays. The turkey with all its trimmings, the smell of freshly baked cookies and the anticipatory fear of staying at your aunt's house with the poor plumbing. Leaving behind the comfort of your own bathroom — especially when you need to poop — can trigger panic, fear and awkwardness. Whether you're bunking up with relatives or simply hanging out at a friend's home for longer than is comfortable for your digestive system, experts have advice for navigating your biggest bathroom dilemmas. To poop or not to poop? Is that wipe actually "flushable"? And which guest behavior is beyond the pale? Here's the etiquette, and health concerns, involved.
The CIA has nothing on a woman who has just started her period while staying at her new boyfriend's parents' house for the Thanksgiving holiday. Here's how to handle your business without leaving a trace.
What experts say:
"When in someone else's home, it's best not to flush feminine care products like pads or tampons as they can clog pipes," says Dr. Kyle Staller, a gastroenterologist and the director of the Gastrointestinal Motility Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital, who recommends throwing the soiled items in the trash, ideally wrapped in the packaging or a separate bag. "Some restrooms have disposal bins specifically for these items. If in doubt, it's polite to ask the host about their preferred method of disposal."
But we all know the horror of discovering that there's no trash receptacle in our host's bathroom. Myka Meier, founder of Beaumont Etiquette, recommends that hosts anticipate these concerns before their guests ever arrive.
"As a host, try thinking of what a guest will need before they do. Additionally, try to think what would make a guest most comfortable in your home," she says, adding that if you opt for an open trash can, make sure it has a bin liner. If it's a closed trash can, make sure it has a foot handle for guests to open the lid without using their hands.
If you have a designated guest bathroom, stock the cabinets with anything you think guests may need. While it could totally depend on who is staying, things you may wish to keep stocked include tampons and maxi pads. "If you leave sanitary products out, leave them discreetly in a cupboard or closed closet," Meier suggests.
Using the toilet
Everybody's gotta go at some point — especially when Aunt Karen's green Jell-O mold is on the menu. But what's the etiquette when your stomach is rumbling and you're in a crowd of people?
What experts say:
According to Staller, there's no point in trying to tamp down those biological urges. "Regarding upset stomachs, it's considerate to let your host know discreetly if you're unwell," he tells Yahoo Life. "Trying to suppress your body’s natural needs will not only be uncomfortable but may be a losing game. A sympathetic host may direct you to a more private bathroom."
Will you feel embarrassed? Probably. But poops happen, and the important part (once you're no longer in distress) is to exercise basic consideration for your host and whoever is the next person to use the facilities. Even if it means breaking out the toilet brush (or sheepishly asking your host for a plunger in the event of a clogging issue), do your best to cover your tracks. That also goes for misfired pees and lifted toilet seats.
"Simple etiquette includes leaving the toilet seat as you found it, wiping the seat if necessary and ensuring the bathroom is tidy after use," says Staller.
"A general rule of thumb is: If you make any sort of mess, you should clean it entirely yourself," Meier agrees. "Toilet seats should always be put back down if you put them up at any point."
And now a word on those so-called flushable wipes you use to remove your makeup or clean up your baby. If you've yet to hear a horror story involving these babies, consider yourself warned that they can do a number on your host's (and your) plumbing.
"While they're marketed as 'flushable,' these wipes can still cause plumbing issues, especially in systems that aren't designed for them," says Staller. "Toilet paper is designed to dissolve in water and break apart, but wipes are often more cloth-like and may cause issues anywhere from the toilet, to the house plumbing, to the septic system in those houses that have one." He recommends guests avoid flushing them in someone else's home and putting them in the trash instead.
"If you are unsure if the septic tank is strong enough, then don't flush anything," recommends Meier. "Instead, wrap it well in toilet paper and put it in the bathroom garbage can."
Can I use someone else's razor if I forgot mine? Is it unsanitary to pee in my host's shower, or just gross? How can hosts make their guests' lives easier?
What experts say:
When it comes to using a razor, consider it a BYO situation.
"Never use someone else's razor, it's unsanitary," says Meier. "Hosts typically do not provide razors for guests so guests should bring their own." If you're really unsure whether you can use something in someone's bathroom, she suggests just asking them first — or making a run to the nearest drugstore to pick up toiletries.
If there are items you'd like to have on hand during your travels, like tissues, makeup wipes, Q-tips or dental floss, it's best to bring them with you. As for makeup wipes, Meier recommends bringing your own and avoiding using the host's towels to remove makeup, since mascara and eyeliner can leave stains.
Post-shower, Meier recommends that you always clean up after yourself, especially if you leave hair in the drains or on the side of the shower wall.
And if you're thinking of peeing in your host's shower, just don't. Meier's rule of thumb is to avoid doing anything intentionally unsanitary in someone else's bathroom.
Meier says hosts can do several things that make things easier, and more hygienic for guests, like providing liquid shower gel or an individual bar of soap for them to use along with hand and bath towels. "Showers should be stocked with filled bottles of shampoo, conditioner and body wash," she says. "While some guests bring their own products, they may forget them or unexpectedly need them."
Children are known for their propensity to create a mess, and those still in diapers are no exception. But if you're considering tossing your baby's used diaper in your host's kitchen garbage, think again, our experts say.
What experts say:
Dirty diapers should be properly disposed of by wrapping them in a sealed plastic bag before discarding them in a trash bin, says Staller, noting that some households use specialized diaper disposal bags that minimize odor. "Because babies tend to make a lot of dirty diapers, the best option is to communicate with your host about the best strategy for handling dirty diapers," he adds. "Some may not care and others may prefer that you take your baby’s presents home with you."
Meier agrees about checking with the host, but also suggests that guests stow some garbage bags in their luggage just in case.
"Buy rolls of small garbage bags that are sold specifically for diaper changing on the go," says Meier. "When you have a dirty diaper, put it in the garbage bag you brought and only then dispose of it in a communal garbage can."