What Is a Water Closet?

A water closet, or "W. C." in Europe, can be many things depending on where you go and whom you ask. Traditionally, a water closet -- a residential feature dating back to the 16th century -- was nothing more than a tiny room or stall with a toilet and maybe a door. Over the centuries, the water closet has evolved to include both simple and elaborate bathroom designs; a water closet also is a specific plumbing fixture.

One Room, Many Incarnations

The interior of a modern water closet.

The modern water closet, commonly known as a powder room, consists of a toilet and a sink. In U.S. home design, elements of old-world thinking regarding the placement of the water closet still exist -- a discrete placement in a hallway on the first floor near the home's entrance. But some full bathrooms feature water-closet elements within them, such as a partition separating the toilet from the sink and the bathtub area, or a door separating the toilet and sink from the larger bathroom area.

Plumbing Fixtures

Some manufacturers use the term "water closet" for the toilets they produce, referencing that the fixtures can be used in both residential homes and public buildings; public restroom stalls most closely resemble the old water closets. The Americans With Disabilities Act compliance guidelines also refer to toilets designed for use by those with physical challenges as water closets.

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