In case you never noticed, when you go into a public restroom, there is one specific constant that is always different than your home restroom. Not just the smell and the level of cleanliness — but the toilet seat looks different. Public restrooms typically have an open front toilet seat shaped like a horseshoe instead of the connected circular or oval types found in most homes. Whether there is a good reason for it is up for debate. In fact, the actual purpose is lost on many people.
One theory about the use of open front toilet seats in public restrooms is that they provide more comfort for a wider range of people. Although this is one possibility, according to the Toilet Museum website, imagining that this is the real answer is difficult. In fact, even if they were more comfortable to sit on — which is debatable — they would be inconsistent with the narrow stall design, lack of upkeep and other things commonly found in the public restroom.
Even the U.S. Uniform Plumbing Code can't explain why open front toilet seats are used in public restrooms. However, a legitimate answer to the question is, "just because the code says so." It may not be a satisfactory answer, but it is true. According to the Toilet Museum website, Section 409.2.2 of the Uniform Plumbing Code states that all water closet seats, except those within dwelling units, shall be of the open front type. But there is no explanation as to why this is the case.
Another theory behind the horseshoe seat mystery is the persistent messiness of the male while urinating. The Morning News website states that this is an often cited reason for the design, saying that it helps direct the urine into the bowl without getting it on the seat when men dribble while doing their business. The site also claims this is unlikely. If someone is not being careful, it's not likely that he'll accidentally hit the two-inch strip not covered by the seat either. Also, women's restrooms have the same seats.
One real possibility for the original design of the open front toilet seat is an increase in sanitation for the user. When people sit on the toilet, the open area is the area closest to the genitals. The open space keeps the genitals from easily making contact with the seat where disease is most likely to be spread. While there is no information saying that this is the certain reason, it seems to make more sense than the others.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line on this mystery is likely to be money. According to the Morning News website, cost effectiveness is the real reason behind the open front toilet seat design. Less material is used to make this type of seat, meaning it costs less to manufacture and perhaps costs less to purchase. Also, there is less area to clean on the seat, making the janitor's job faster, which also saves the company money in labor.