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‘Yelp for bathrooms’: San Francisco techies invent app to find and rate public toilets

Two men pose for a portrait.
Aridam Kumar, left, and Gurbaz Dhillon, right, created The Bathroom App, which helps people find public restrooms around San Francisco. | Source: Justin Katigbak/The Standard & Coutesy Ardam Kumar

A duo of San Francisco software developers have put their heads together to make a restroom locator app that they say is a cut above the competition.

Their app, simply called “The Bathroom App,” is currently in the early stages of development and open for beta testing, but it has features competing apps don’t—including a filter that allows users to search by what amenities a bathroom has. Is the restroom gender-neutral? Does it have a changing table? Tampons? The Bathroom App’s got answers.

The app, which is free, also lets users filter by the type of facility the bathroom is located in, whether it’s a shopping center, a restaurant or a standalone public restroom.

“I want to create a Yelp for public bathrooms,” co-creator Gurbaz Dhillon told The Standard.

Dhillon said he had issues finding public bathrooms when he first moved to San Francisco in October. Finding a public bathroom he could use for free was a matter of luck.

“Walking around the city, you go to a business, and they’ll say, ‘We don’t have a bathroom,’ and you go to the next one, and then maybe you have to go to the next one,” Dhillon said. “Especially if you don’t know the neighborhood, it’s a panic situation.”

Co-creator Aridam Kumar remembers walking with Dhillon along the Embarcadero in early 2021 and not being able to find a bathroom, wishing one would magically appear before them.

A phone shows a web browser featuring photos of a bathroom
The Bathroom App currently has about 600 restrooms listed, 450 of which are in San Francisco. | Source: Justin Katigbak/The Standard

“We joked about having an Uber for bathrooms,” said Kumar, who is a product manager at a San Francisco-based tech company.

The idea came back to them, last year and the two got to work. Dhillon even quit his job as a product manager at the education technology company Age of Learning to devote himself full-time to building out The Bathroom App.

By October, they had an app with 600 bathrooms, 450 of which are in San Francisco. They built out the list through a combination of scouring the internet for toilets in police stations, firehouses and parks and pounding the pavement. On the weekends, they walked into San Francisco businesses to ask if their restrooms were open for public use and added them—about 200 in all—to the app.

READ MORE: Beloved San Francisco Dive Bar in the Running for America’s Best Restroom

Dhillon and Kumar assert that the Bathroom App, which they anticipate will be ready for prime time around late February or early March, is better than competing apps, such as Flush or ToiletFinder, due to its current feature set as well as other aspects they plan to add. In the works are the ability for users to create accounts and save their favorite bathrooms, add and edit bathrooms, leave reviews and ratings, and add a map view. Currently, the ratings are from the developers and are based just on cleanliness.

They also plan to take the crowdsourcing aspect to the next level.

While other toilet locator apps allow users to add bathrooms and can tell you if you need to make a purchase to use them, the Bathroom App aims to include additional information, including where exactly inside a building the bathroom is and if you need a code to access it. The app will let users update that information and inform others if a bathroom is no longer open.

A close-up shot shows a bathroom locator app on a computer screen.
The Bathroom App aims to include additional information, including where exactly inside a building the bathroom is and if you need a code to access it. | Source: RJ Mickelson/The Standard

Right now, the Bathroom App works on desktops and on your phone but only in browsers until the app is live. Dhillon and Kumar hope to have the app available for Androids and iPhones by the spring.

In its current form, the app is not without some bugs. When I tested it and plugged in my Outer Richmond address, the nearest bathroom showed up as being 4.5 miles away—in the Tenderloin. I had selected the “male” gender filter for bathrooms and had to unselect it to reveal closer options, including bathrooms at tennis courts in the Sunset and at the Anza branch of the San Francisco Public Library.

READ MORE: Behold the Beauty of SF’s Most Controversial Bathroom. It Comes With a Catch

Kumar described the app’s current iteration as “version zero.” The goal is to have “version one” with the ability for users to create accounts and leave reviews and ratings by the time it’s available in app stores.

Other apps, like Flush, didn’t appear to have further description information on its San Francisco listings other than the name of a building and an address when I tested it out Thursday.

ToiletFinder, however, is more feature-rich, with potty seekers able to make changes to bathroom listings and even notify developers that a toilet no longer exists.

Indeed, this feature was on display when The Standard tested the three, with the bathroom at the now-closed Target at 1690 Folsom St. not showing up on ToiletFinder but still appearing on The Bathroom App.

A man stands in a bathroom.
Gurbaz Dhillon stands for a portrait inside a public bathroom at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which shows up on The Bathroom App. | Source: Justin Katigbak/The Standard

“It’s a problem that needs to be solved,” Kumar said. “Our priority is to get users on the platform and giving [that kind of] feedback.”

Both competitor apps also have more bathrooms listed. ToiletFinder claims on its website to have 150,000 bathrooms listed. At least several hundred currently appear on Flush.

ToiletFinder and Flush did not respond to The Standard’s requests for comment.

In addition to building mobile apps, the duo hopes to expand the app to other cities in the Bay Area and Southern California. They also would like to cover Chicago, which users have asked for, as well as Vancouver, where Dhillon and Kumar are from originally.

“There’s way more bathrooms than you think,” Dhillon said. “There aren’t too many regular public bathrooms in San Francisco, but they’re out there in places like businesses and restaurants.”