Before you went to the “restroom” or the “bathroom,” you went to the “water closet.” That is what the “WC” means on certain toilets or rooms that contain one.
In the past, the terms for each room were specific instead of being generic. Someone when to the “bathroom” to take a bath because that’s where the tub happened to be. You would go to the “restroom” to rest or get ready for your day, so there may have been a sink, a mirror, or other necessities.
Then you went to the water closet, the “WC,” to use the toilet.
Why Were the Old Bathrooms Called Water Closets?
Although there isn’t one “accepted” version of why water closets were given their name, there is one common version that is often told. In the late 19th century, when indoor plumbing began being installed in homes, people had to make room for the fixtures that were going to be used. One common place to install a toilet was a remodeled clothing closet.
Since it was the one place in the home that had indoor water, it was called the “water closet.”
For modern building codes, the WC designation is also important to know.
Urinals Are Not Classified as Water Closets
In the United States, toilets are still referred to as water closets. This differentiates the fixture from other bathroom items that can be installed, such as a urinal, that are approved to dispose of human waste.
It is important to note that the reference is to the toilet only for the building code. A “water closet” would be installed in a “bathroom,” even if there is no tub installed in that room.
In certain countries, such as Germany, the toilet is sometimes kept in a separate room from the rest of the bathroom or restroom. Some homes in the United States have adopted this design as well. This is technically a “water closet” as well because the toilet is kept in a separate area, but still contained within the bathroom itself.
WC is still used frequently today, but as a synonym for a toilet instead of a specific location or designation. If it is found on the toilet itself, then this designation is usually intended to meet a building code requirement.