A water closet is a room that contains a flush toilet, usually accompanied by a washbowl or sink, and the term may also be used to refer specifically to a flush toilet. Speakers of British English may refer to such a room as a “W.C.,” referencing the initials for this term. The development of the flush toilet revolutionized human sanitation and contributed a number of interesting developments to plumbing and architecture as structures began to be built to accommodate such toilets.
Although people may think of the flush toilet as a relatively modern invention, versions of it actually date back thousands of years. The design allows people to eliminate waste and then flush it away through a series of pipes which lead, ideally, to a water treatment facility, although water closets may also empty directly into waterways. This is in contrast with outhouses, which store waste on site; incinerating toilets, which burn the waste; and other methods of waste disposal.
The 1880s marked the widespread introduction of the flush toilet, and the development of a variety of terms to refer to the device. Many people do not like to discuss human waste and ways of dealing with it in company, making polite euphemisms very common. “Water closet” is also a term that clearly separates a room with a flush toilet from a room with a tub or shower that has been designed for bathing and may be known as a “bathroom.”
Historically, toilets and tubs were often kept separate, with bathing and excretion being separated for hygienic and aesthetic reasons. Toilets, flush or otherwise, were often kept in small rooms known as closets to provide people with privacy. With the development of compact flush toilets, some architects began combining all of the devices that required plumbing in a single room, allowing people to bathe, wash their hands, and eliminate waste in a single room.
The water closet helped improve hygiene in many regions by moving human waste away from inhabited buildings and areas. When combined with sewage management systems, they also cut down on communicable disease by keeping human waste out of waterways. Flush toilets also allowed architects to install toilets inside homes without having to worry about odor issues, thereby keeping people more comfortable, since they no longer had to venture to a separate outhouse to use the bathroom or use chamber pots to relieve themselves indoors in inclement weather. Several variations have been devised, including squat toilets seen in some parts of Asia.