It can sometimes look like bathrooms are the least thought-about spaces when designing a new home or renovating an existing building, but they are essential. An architect or renovator should consider every aspect of a bathroom, including the direction of the door swing.
A bathroom door should always swing in to align with the international residential code, as it’s the safest way for a door to swing. It also makes it easier to secure the door. The door can swing out in specific cases, such as in bathrooms for people with disabilities.
Whichever way your bathroom door swings, it is a detail that must be seriously considered. The way the door opens will have a major impact on planning the layout of the bathroom and the hall and landing too.
Why Should a Bathroom Door Swing In?
When you visit the bathroom at a friend’s house, a restaurant, or a commercial center, do you take note of whichever way the door swings? Thought not. It’s not the first thing on our minds when heading to the head.
Opening in is What Code Says To Do
The International Residential Code doesn’t state exactly that doors should swing in. However, it does mention here, R311.7.6 (click on section R311 and scroll down to discover the reference), that a door should not swing out over the stairs (source).
If you plan on putting a bathroom on the landing at the top of a flight of stairs, you must ensure that the door swings in to not pose a risk to staircase users.
I will rarely agree to swing a door onto a landing. I have only done it where there are exceptional pressures of bathroom space, and the door will not cause an obstruction when it is opened.
Opening in is the Safest Way for a Door To Swing
In most houses and apartments, bathrooms are located either on a landing or along a corridor. If a bathroom door opened into the corridor, it could pose a risk to anyone outside the bathroom making their way to another room.
Swinging a door out into a hallway could block access to anyone else trying to walk along it. It could strike someone and even cause injury if the person leaving the bathroom did so in a hurry.
A bathroom door that opens out in a residential building is unlikely to remain swinging for as long as a door swinging in either. I have seen how a bathroom door that is repeatedly pushed wide open for someone to pass puts huge pressure on the hinges.
Eventually, they will work themselves loose, and the door must be replaced. I have tried limiting the damage by installing a door-closing device (link to Amazon), either to the top of the door or within the hinge side. These devices prevent the door from remaining open or opening too far, but they are far from convenient.
Opening in Can Help Keep Bad Odors at Bay
It is also easier to keep the bathroom door slightly ajar to help dry the room after use without the door obstructing the hallway. Air movement through the house may open up the door too.
With the door opening inward, the air is more likely to filter into the bathroom and out through the vents and prevent potential cases of mold.
Opening in is the Easiest Way To Secure a Bathroom Door
While it’s not impossible to secure an outward-opening door with a privacy lock (link to Amazon), it does give you more options concerning how the door is secured.
For example, a traditional bolt would be a simple way to secure the door if you have an older property with cottage-style plank-board doors. If the door was opening out, then this would not work as easily and would require a specialist fitting.
Why Would a Bathroom Door Swing Out?
There are a few good reasons why a bathroom door may have to open out.
The bathroom may need to be adapted for wheelchair access, or the space might be too small to accommodate a door swinging in. A window, a radiator, and other obstructions might also mean there is no choice in which way the door should swing.
Opening Out Is the Preferred Access for Wheelchair Users
This is the number one reason why a bathroom door would swing out onto a landing or into a hallway.
Maximizing space is the aim of a wheelchair-accessible bathroom space. Therefore, having a door that opens out frees up a lot of room for a user to maneuver comfortably and safely.
An accessible bathroom door is also usually much wider than a regular one, so it will also need more room in the hallway. I’d recommend using a door-closing device, as mentioned earlier in the article, to keep the door shut when not in use.
When renovating an existing property for wheelchair use, the bathroom may have to be moved to accommodate not just the door but the additional space that will be required.
It is sometimes also recommended as an aging-in-place modification, as accessing a bathroom in an emergency is easier if the door swings out. For instance, if an injured person has fallen and is lying against the door, assisting them is much easier and safer if the door swings out instead of swinging in.
Opening Out is The Only Way To Ensure There Is Enough Room
In some cases, a bathroom door that opens out is the only option, especially when you are dealing with small spaces. In my thirty years of professional renovating and commercial construction, I have fitted numerous bathrooms in the space under the stairs for several clients.
It is a great way of getting that extra facility in a property. I grew up in a house with just one bathroom, and the queues after breakfast were legendary. If it is the only thing standing in the way of new convenience, do it!
What Are the Alternatives?
I have fitted pocket doors occasionally, and on rare occasions, I have swung a bi-fold door, which is a door split down the middle with hinges that hang on a rail. Both are complicated, insecure, and difficult to maintain. The bi-fold is spectacularly bad when it comes to privacy too.
A door that swings in makes for a safer space on your landing or in your hallway and is usually the most practical way for a bathroom door to swing. No door should open out across the top of a staircase landing. It helps concerning privacy and ventilation too.
A door that swings out may be preferable when modifying or designing a home for an elderly or wheelchair-using individual as it maximizes their access and personal safety. You would also fit a door that opens out if space within the bathroom is limited.
Simon Kellow is a master carpenter with over thirty-five years of experience in carrying out home renovations while running construction projects large and small. When he’s not in the office or fixing something in the workshop you can find him enjoying the great outdoors with his family.