Water Closet vs. Lavatory – What’s the Difference?

Are you trying to work out whether there’s a difference between calling a toilet a water closet or a lavatory?

Well, this article will explain all there is to know about the two phrases.

Water Closet vs. Lavatory – What’s the Difference?

Water closet and lavatory are both words to refer to a toilet. They both refer to any room that has a toilet inside (i.e. a bathroom or public toilet). Both words mean “toilet,” according to English dictionaries, meaning they are synonymous.

Here are some examples showing you the two phrases in action:

  • I would like to use the water closet before we leave! I’m not sure I can hold it.
  • Why is the lavatory all the way on the other side of the building?

Most native speakers use them interchangeably. However, it’s worth noting that neither phrase is particularly common in conversational English. Most speakers instead say “toilet” or “bathroom.”

In the rest of the article, we’ll look at the two phrases a little closer to clear out any doubts you may have,

Water Closet

A water closet is a room containing a toilet. In modern English, you’ll almost never come across it. However, you might see the abbreviation (WC) in some establishments.

For example:

  • I’m just going to the water closet. Do you mind saving my seat before I get back?
  • Where is the WC in this place? I’d like to use it!

According to The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of “water closet” is “a compartment or room with a toilet.”

From this definition, it’s clear that “water closet” refers to a room with a toilet in it.


“Lavatory” is somewhat synonymous with “water closet.” However, there’s a key difference.

Traditionally, a lavatory is a wash basin inside a toilet room. Therefore, it’s correct to say that a “lavatory” is a sink. For instance:

  • I would like to wash my hands in the lavatory.

This meaning is not all that relevant today. Most native speakers don’t even know about it.

Instead, “lavatory” is interchangeable with “water closet.” Most people use them in the same way, although “lavatory” is perhaps more common in modern English than “water closet.”

The definition of “lavatory,” according to The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “a room with conveniences for washing and usually with one or more toilets.”

As you can see, the definition here implies that a lavatory is a wash basin. You may also use it to refer to the room in which the wash basin is inside (i.e. the toilet).


“Lavatory” and “water closet” mean the same thing. There are no grammatical differences when used informally.

“Lavatory” also means wash basin, making it slightly more specific. After all, “water closet” only means toilet.