Is the government required to provide you with bathing facilities?

**** The information written here is not legal advice and the author of this blog is not your lawyer.  These posts merely contain ideas to help you plan and organize your legal research and identify potentially helpful sources of law. ****

It has been held that a criminal defendant who was not provided with soap, a comb, and other basic hygiene amenities in jail was entitled to a new trial because his dirty and disheveled appearance may have turned the jury against him.[i] That is an example of one of the two situations in which the government is required to provide any kind of washing facilities: those in which government buildings make toilets available to the public and those in which the government has custody of someone, as in the case of the jail inmate or when the person is in someplace like a county or state-run nursing home, etc… Other than in those instances, the public cannot expect that the law entitles them to a place in which to get clean or even to get supplies for washing or other personal hygiene functions.

In government custody situations, as the previous section demonstrates, regulations about the condition of hygiene facilities in institutions might come from the government agency of which the institution is a component or from the public health code. The standards that have to be followed when public restrooms or bathing facilities are available in restaurants, other businesses, or in government buildings are in state public health codes.[ii]

A clear and detailed example of standard public restroom requirements is in the Illinois public health code which includes specifics like, “Lavatories shall be provided and located within or immediately adjacent to all toilet rooms or vestibules. All lavatories shall be provided with hot and cold running water that can be tempered by means of a valve or combination faucet” and “A supply of bar, liquid, or powdered hand-cleaning soap or detergent in a dispenser shall be available at each lavatory.”[iii] The Kentucky public restroom regulations are also very detailed with statements like, “an adequate supply of toilet tissue shall be provided at each toilet facility at all times” and “hand washing facilities, including running water, soap, and individual cloth or paper towels, or other method for drying hands approved by the cabinet, shall be provided…The use of the common towel is prohibited.”[iv]

Oddly, even though there are no general legal requirements mandating public bathing facilities for people who don’t have homes, there are some circumstances in which the government provides hygiene supplies to members of the public who don’t need something as basic as a place to bathe and who aren’t necessarily financially needy. Notable examples of this are equipping drug users with clean syringes and dispensing condoms to teenagers.

The legal sources for these actions are public health regulations, made by state and county health departments, often in furtherance of the government’s interest in preventing the spread of HIV or other viruses, diseases, etc… It seems reasonable to ask why a government would make a law entitling members of the pubic only to such limited hygiene supplies and not just ordinary sinks and showers that are fundamental to fighting so many kinds of sickness. Lobbyists for the poor, and poor people themselves, can ask that question of lawmakers if bathing facilities are not available in a community.


[i] State v. Maisonet, 763 A.2d 1254 (N.J. 2001).

[ii] State health agencies’ Web sites are listed at http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/international/relres.html. Within each agency’s site, look for a link to “laws” or “regulations” or use their search tool for more specific terms such as “cleanliness” or “homeless” or “shelter,” etc..

[iii] Ill. Admin. Code tit. 77, § 895.50(g), (g)(1) (2007).

[iv] 902 Ky Admin. Regs. 10:010:2:7, 12, 13 (2006).

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