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Best Toilet Instructions in Costa Rica

I was traveling with my family for six weeks in Guatemala and Costa Rica. In Guatemala, it’s clear that one should not put anything in toilets except what they were made for. But in the more heavily visited Costa Rica, was that true too? As someone from the United States, where people flush lots of things, I read the signs closely to be sure.

Which of the signs below is most effective in communicating to users what belongs in the toilet and what doesn’t? Why?

1. At Monteverde Extremo Park, where our daughter bungee jumped.

Toilet 1


2. At a mineral hot springs in La Fortuna, Costa Rica.

Toilet 2


3. At a lodge and spa in Arenal, Costa Rica.

Toilet 3


I will wait a couple of days for you to pick which you think is best and tell why. When I judge them, I think about the purpose and the audience. What do you think about?

It’s good to be back!


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

12 comments on “Best Toilet Instructions in Costa Rica”

  • Definitely number 1. I couldn’t even finish reading #3 with the font, the rhymes, the archaic words…

  • I’m choosing sign #2. It is clear, straight to the point, and easy to read. Also, the message is in both English and Spanish (Spanish speakers need to be reminded of this message too). Lastly, the icons and graphics offer visual communication that catches the readers eye and complements the text. The visual also assists those tourists that cannot read either language.

  • From the options, #1 is the best, even if it isn’t perfect. #2 uses the term paper towels where they probably mean any paper, so I picture Bounty or Viva. The graphic is a good attempt, but it still doesn’t work quite right. To me it says the toilet doesn’t go in the trash but the others do. #3 is an attempt to be cute and attract attention, but it misfires by being too hard to read and understand!

  • I find #2 the most effective. The text is short, with text in bold to draw the attention to the main message. The use of graphics is smart since our mind works better with images than with words.

  • #1 because it tells me what I should do and why. The missing “why” makes #2 less effective. #3 is cute and was a fun read (more like a puzzle–trying to figure it all out), and that is the very reason it is poor–the message should be clear and easily understandable.

    In the end, the BEST would be #1 in both English and Spanish with the cool visuals from #2.

  • Thanks for your votes, Alex, Jennifer Ann Elizabeth, Dinah, Jeff, Camilla, Tommaso, John, and Eliza.

    I agree that the wording in Number 1 is excellent. It’s clear, direct (with soberness, as Tommaso said), and complete. As John said, it gives the why–simply, unlike Number 3.

    But Number 1 needs to be in Spanish too, like Dinah’s preference, Number 2. After all, this IS Costa Rica. As Dinah noted, Spanish and visuals meet the needs of everyone.

    Like Camilla, I do like the short text and graphics in Number 2–except for the arrow pointing from the toilet to the toilet paper, which Jeff pointed out. He also mentioned the problem with Number 2, which is the phrase “paper towels.” “Paper products” or simply “paper” would be preferable.

    Like Eliza, I agree with John. His comments express my views clearly and concisely.

    Thanks for participating, everybody!


  • Agree with Mr. Held…verbiage from #1 with graphics from #2 (no pun intended!). En ingles y espanol por favor.

  • Hi Deborah! Good point. Number 2 is the only one that offers guidance, with its graphic.

    I’m guessing that the creators of the signs wanted to answer the question “Should I flush this item or put it in the trash?” For that reason, they focused on telling readers to put it in the trash.

    Nice to hear from you!


  • Dear Lynn,

    Welcome back!

    I’ve read all this with great interest but one question keeps popping up in my head: where are you supposed to throw your used toilet paper?

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