The minimum amount of clear space required in front of a bathroom sink or vanity to pass code is 21 inches. This means that from the front edge of the vanity counter to within 21 inches directly opposite, there cannot be another fixture, such as a toilet or a wall. If the vanity, vanity top or sink has an area that protrudes out further than the rest of the fixture, this is the point that the measurement starts from. While most bathroom vanities measure 21 inches deep, and vanity tops measure 22 inches deep, 18-inch vanities are available if a few extra inches are required to meet code.
While 21 inches of clear floor space passes building code requirements, it does not leave much room for some users. Bathroom occupants that have difficulty with mobility or who use wheelchairs or walkers may find that 21 inches is too small to navigate the space. Therefore, the recommended minimum for universal bathroom design or to meet the American Disabilities Act requirements is 30 inches of clear space in front of the sink or vanity. Any amount of space between 21 inches and 30 inches is also acceptable in bathrooms where space is tight.
The Bathtub Exception
Small bathrooms frequently display fixtures in a row, with the sink next to the door, the toilet next and a tub and shower at the end. This is not the only layout that works in small bathrooms, however. If you are changing the layout of the bathroom to better accommodate certain fixtures or users, keep in mind that placing the vanity opposite any area of a bathtub, including the end away from the water wall, will require additional clear floor space. While vanities on their own require a minimum of 21 inches to pass code, bathtubs require a minimum of 24 inches. The 30-inch space recommendation remains the same in this scenario.
Many homeowners trying to fit fixtures into a small bathroom overlook door swing as a component of clear space in the bathroom. While you may measure 21 or 30 inches out from the vanity with the door shut, if the door swings into the bathroom, it must not come into this clear space or interfere with the use of the vanity. If your vanity is located next to door to the bathroom, consider rehanging it so it swings into the hall; otherwise, install a sliding pocket door to ensure that your bathroom will pass code.