The ADA-Compliant Restroom

05/30/2018 |
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Restrooms can lead to serious confusion when it comes to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility, ADA compliance and universal design.

The ADA Compliant Restroom
Does your bathroom meet ADA requirements?

Jon Villwock“The most basic and least expensive way to determine if a restroom is accessible is to review the American with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) and the American National Standards Institute’s standard (ICC/ANSI A117.1),” says Jon Villwock (pictured at right), lavatory systems and washfountains product manager at Bradley Corp.

To assess your building’s restrooms for ADA compliance, “Grab a tape measure and conduct a walkthrough to evaluate any changes that might need to be made,” says Villwock.

How to Handle ADA Complaints - Free Checklist from BUILDINGSGet Access Now

According to the 2010 update to ADAAG, the basic ADA guidelines for a single-user restroom are:

  • 30-inch by 48-inch access to the sink (the door can’t swing into this rectangle). The measurement starts from the point where a person has 9-inch vertical clearance for their feet and 27-inch vertical clearance for their knees.
  • The center line of the toilet must be between 16 and 18 inches from the side wall.
  • A clear circle of at least 60 inches around the side wall and 56 inches from the rear wall to allow a wheelchair to turn (the door cannot swing into the minimum required area for wheelchair-accessible toilet compartments).
  • A toilet seat height of 17-19 inches.

For multi-user restrooms, the ADA compliance guidelines follow the same principles, but include additional elements.

Read Next: 5 Common ADA Bathroom Compliance Mistakes
(and how to pay for your updates)

George Spear, product manager at Moen, offers this information about sinks, stalls, and doors:

Sinks & Faucets

This single-user restroom has been designed according to the ADAAG
This single-user restroom has been designed according to the ADAAG.

To meet ADA guidelines, sinks shouldn’t be mounted higher than 34 inches from the floor, and they should have a knee clearance of 27 inches high, 30 inches wide, and 11 to 25 inches deep. You also need a clear floor space and insulated pipes under the sink.

Faucets should be lever-operated, push, touch, or electronically controlled. They should be usable with one hand without the need to tightly grasp, pinch, or twist the wrist. Users shouldn’t have to exert more than 5 pounds of force to use the faucet to meet ADA requirements.


ADA compliant urinals should be stall-type or wall-hung at a maximum of 17 inches from the floor.

Water closets must be 17 to 19 inches from the floor (measured from the floor to the top of the toilet seat). Like faucets, flush valves shouldn’t require tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist.

Grab bars should be at least 36 inches long on the rear wall or 42 inches on the side wall and should be mounted 33-36 inches above the floor. They need a gripping surface of at least 1.25 inches, mounted at least 1.5 inches from the wall. They should be able to withstand at least 250 pounds of pressure.

What Makes a Good ADA-Compliant Product?

The key to ADA compliance is choosing well-made, durable products that are easy to use and require minimal physical effort. Jon Villwock, Bradley Corp.’s product manager for lavatory systems and washfountains, recommends some features to look for when choosing ADA-compliant restroom products:

Sink Areas

Consider solid-surface lavatory systems with fully integrated sinks at various heights. Only one bowl in a multi-bowl sink needs to offer minimum knee and toe clearances, so these multi-height lavatory systems combine an ADA-compliant sink with higher sinks. An added benefit of these fixtures is that the solid-surface finish is durable and can be repaired. The continuous bowl is also easier to clean than a row of individual sinks and eliminates crevices for microbes to hide.  

Lever, paddle, and infrared faucet controls make turning the water on and off easy. Lever-handle faucets are useful when only one hand can be used. Infrared-controlled and capacitive-sensor controlled faucets are the most universal, offering touch-free, easy activation. Durability is key, as is ease of cleaning.

Faucets, Dispensers, Grab Bars and Mirrors

Faucets and soap dispensers must meet ADA reach range and mounting height requirements. A 48-inch-high limitation is required for all accessories (except those mounted over obstructions), including lavatory fixtures, which are up to 20 inches deep. When the reach depth is over 20 inches deep, a reach range of 44 inches applies.

The ADAAG states that mirrors need to be mounted with the bottom edge of the reflecting surface no higher than 40 inches above the floor, with the top edge at a minimum of 74 inches from the floor. A full-length mirror in the restroom fulfills the ADA requirement for mirrors if it’s not possible to mount the mirror at 40 inches above the floor.

Keep in mind that a trash can on the floor, for example, is a barrier when it comes to someone in a wheelchair reaching for a dispenser mounted above it. A better solution is a recessed trash receptacle or combination paper towel dispenser/trash receptacle. A wall-mounted hand dryer is a good choice because it eliminates waste. Look for a dryer that meets the ADA protrusion requirement (it can protrude no more than 4 inches from the wall).

Feminine product vendors should also be taken into consideration. Restroom products provider Bobrick offers the only fully ADA-compliant napkin/tampon vendor on the market. It operates easily without tight grasping, pinching or twisting of the wrist and also satisfies the ADA 4-inch protruding objects requirement.

The ADA emphasizes grab bars to maintain balance and prevent falls. Look for sturdy, easy-to-grip models. Also, toilet tissue dispensers can’t control delivery or limit paper flow. Look for dispensers that hold enough toilet tissue and deliver it in an easy-to-grab fashion.


To ensure compliance with ADA door clearance requirements, doors should open with minimal force and have handles that are easy to grab with one hand. Doorways should be at least 32 inches wide with the door open at 90 degrees.

There are many other ways to make your restrooms, and the areas around them, more accessible and to ensure ADA compliance, Spear points out.

“Hallways and walkways should provide at least 80 inches of clear head room,” he says.

He also points out that drinking fountains and water coolers should provide a spout height of no more than 36 inches, with a spout at the front of the unit and a parallel water flow, to comply with ADA bathroom requirements.

Additional considerations include increasing lighting; incorporating objects that are wider, longer, and flatter to grasp or push with a smooth range of motion; and providing adequate support systems and barriers.

“Making these improvements will require a significant amount of planning and preparation, but the reward of having a space that’s compliant and can be enjoyed by all is worth the effort,” Spear says.

How to Handle ADA Complaints - Free Checklist from BUILDINGSGet Access Now

(Previously published on 12/15/2009. Last updated on 5/30/2018.)

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