Dib: That's it? That isn't so bad! [looks inside] No! Nooo! Oooh! Naaa! Oooh! Oh!
Let's face it: Cleaning messes other people made really, really sucks. Unless you're a Neat Freak, you'll probably dread it when you need to go and mop up after someone else. Combine this general annoyance with the disgusting, germ-filled, smelly nature of bathrooms, public or private, and you get this trope: A character being forced to go and clean toilets, much to their misery.
A character who has to do this usually isn't high on the authority ladder. In fact, they're often seen as the lowest of the low, the one who gets to be demeaned and given the worst jobs. Maybe they're just The Unfavorite or the Boss's Unfavorite Employee, and everyone else gets the better chores- if they even get chores at all. Or, maybe this is a punishment, a way to keep people in line while also keeping the toilets clean. The bottom line? It's not something the people with power are going to be doing, and that's what this trope signifies.
The cleaning might not be shown on screen, but if it is, expect them to be having a horrible time. Otherwise, their disgusted reactions outside the bathrooms are often enough to sell the trope. Exaggerated examples might put the character in protective gear, such as a hazmat suit. It's not always Played for Laughs, but if it is, it's pure gross-out comedy mixed with a little Schadenfreude; the audience knows how disgusting these bathrooms are, and they see the character's comedic suffering at the same time. If they deserve this fate, then the disgust is also mixed with a little karma. Sometimes, a character who's really desperate to avoid doing something will reference "cleaning bathrooms" as something they'd rather do, the joke being that they Would Rather Suffer.
In works involving militaries, this might cross over with latrine duty. As a matter of fact, many militaries in real life have this as a punishment, explaining the prevalence of it in fiction.
Mucking out stables, kennels, or zoo exhibits is often depicted similarly, although the disgust factor may be slightly less extreme when it's not other humans' wastes being cleaned up.
The Disgusting Public Toilet is a common setting for these scenes. In some cases, this may be combined with Intentional Mess Making, where a character deliberately destroys the bathroom just to force someone else to clean up after them. It can also overlap with Toothbrush Floor Scrubbing and Kids Hate Chores.
Truth in Television as anyone who's had to scrub toilets can attest. However, as this is such a common job in real life, No Real Life Examples, Please!
- Beetle Bailey: Subverted in one strip when Sarge gave Beetle the choice of cleaning the latrines or cleaning the mess hall. Beetle immediately volunteers for latrine duty, which surprises Killer. Beetle tells him that Killer didn't see the last food fight.
- In The Iron Giant, Gen. Rogard threatens to make Kent Mansley "chief inspector of subway toilets" after he brings out the army for what they thought was a false lead on the giant robot (which was actually disguised as one of Dean's art installations).
- Subverted in Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Vacation when Hamton Pig and his family take a long car trip to Happyworldland and stop at a gas station for relief. Papa, Mama, Uncle Stinky, and Hamton all don full-body hazmat suits, each with a tank of sanitizer on the back, and charge into the restrooms. There, the Pigs are so fervent about their cleaning that soap suds ooze around the door frames.
- Downplayed in the first Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie. Greg accidentally pees on Rodrick because the latter startled the former while he was peeing. Susan, the boys' mother, makes Greg clean up, partly as punishment but mostly more of a "you made this mess, you clean it up" kind of deal.
- Jarhead: In one scene, Swofford is assigned latrine duty at the base. It is showcased to be heavy and disgusting work, in the desert's incessant heat, with Swofford barely able to hold back a desire to puke from the smell even with the gas mask he's wearing. The latrine's container for the feces also has "Abandon all Hope" written on the side.
- Letters from Iwo Jima has private Saigo chosen by his commander to dump out the "poop pail" that his squad has been using while hunkered in their bunkers on the island. The commander urges Saigo not to lose the pail, "or you will carry out our poop with your hands." As Saigo emerges from the bunker, he sees the enormous American fleet poised to invade and drops the pail in astonishment. Poor Saigo then has to fish the pail out of a ditch as the naval shelling starts. Viewable here at the 1:00 minute mark: .
- In Rags, one of Charlie's chores is to do the bathrooms. Though not shown on screen, he's shown walking out with the plunger at one point, looking disgusted. Later, as A Taste of Their Own Medicine, Arthur and Andrew, Charlie's tormentors, are the ones cleaning the toilets- and are shown hunched over a single toilet, looking miserable as they scrub it clean.
- Big Nate: In the first book, Nate says he's heard that students are forced to clean the toilets in the men's room in summer school. He then says he hopes this isn't true because the toilets are "totally disgusting".
- Ciaphas Cain: A squad of repeat offenders jailed for their behavior on shore leave is punished by Cain with relatively light sentences (so as to maintain his popularity, there's plenty of commissars who'd have shot the lot at the first offense). One is apparently such a repeat customer that he can joke about it.
Cain: Hochen, Nordstrom, Milsen, Jarvik... and the inevitable Gunner Erhlsen. Tell me, Erhlsen, are you planning to make latrine orderly a full-time career?
Erhlsen: "We serve the Emperor as our talents direct."
Cain: Where you're concerned he delegates to me.
- Zigzagged in Viktor Suvorov's The Liberators. When a soldier undergoing punishment in the glasshouse is sent to do work during the day, the worst thing is considered going to some general's estate and clean out all the sewage. When he is sent to clean the glasshouse's toilets during the night, it is likewise a punishment; for one thing, he loses sleep, and for another, once he returns to the cell, all the people wanting to go to the toilet might beat him up out of envy. However, if he is sent to clean them during the day, it is considered the best reward, because he doesn't lose sleep, it's relatively easy work compared to things like unloading tank shells, and it only takes a few fours; the rest of the time he can merely pretend to work.
- The plot of Isaac Asimov's Strikebreaker is centered around a person whose duty is to manipulate the controls of the human waste recycling machinery. He isn't actually in contact with the sewage, but the mere association is enough to make him an untouchable in the colony's Fantastic Caste System. The person is a member of a family which is raised from birth for that duty, and no local will perform that job for anything.
- House of Anubis: Victor's most common punishment for the kids is toilet duty. With toothbrushes. It's something they dread, and though in most cases they have to just do the House toilets, one case ended up with every resident punished- and forced to clean every bathroom in the school.
- iCarly: In "iOwe You", Sam gets a terrible job at a gross fast-food joint. Her boss orders her to go and clean out the toilets- the men's toilets, to be specific. She was utterly appalled by the mere idea of it, angrily asking if one of the male employees could do it instead. When forced into it, she gains a look of apprehension as she nervously approaches the bathroom door. Then a fat, burping customer walks out, scaring her even more.
- Power Rangers Operation Overdrive: In "Lights, Camera, Dax", Dax, encouraged by Rose, disobeys Mr. Hartford's orders by auditioning for (and accepting) a movie role. In the end, both are punished by being made to clean every toilet in the Hartford estate... of which there are over forty.
- Scarecrow and Mrs. King has Amanda and Francine pose as housemaids to snoop around a suspect's home. Amanda offers to take the more difficult downstairs rooms, while Francine takes the upstairs rooms, which includes a full-size bathroom. Francine's face drops as she's handed a bucket with sanitizer and a bowl brush, as she's never had to do this work before (she's had servants for that).
- Tour of Duty: One episode features Percell being put on latrine duty as punishment for an infraction. The officer overseeing this delights in making this already horrible task even worse, berating and mocking Percell as he's burning the waste in the drums, and even taking a dump in one of the toilets before Percell's had a chance to put the drum back under the hole. When it's all said and done, Percell walks back into the barracks to get cleaned up and the other soldiers recoil from him due to how bad he smells.
- In the parody Break Up Song "One More Minute" by "Weird Al" Yankovic, the narrator sings that he's rather clean all the toilets in Grand Central Stationnote than spend one more minute with the girl he broke up with.
- Brought up in the JT Music rap, "Rapture Rising"
"In a utopia, who's gonna wanna scrub the toilets? / The people in Apollo Square got no other choices"
- One of the labors of Hercules had him cleaning out the extremely filthy Augean Stables. He made it less disgusting by having two rivers do it for him.
- Polandball: One of the many Running Gags of the comics is depicting Poland as an unwilling plumber, always being forced to clean toilets under Britain's orders, much to his own chagrin.
- Questionable Content: When Raven starts working at Coffee of Doom, one of her tasks is to clean the bathrooms, causing her to cry, "N-no! Not the Cave of Twenty Asses!"
- Mr. Kornada refuses to do this as part of his community service after he'd already refused to work the cash register.
Kornada: What could be worse than this?
Manager: You have lived a sheltered life, haven't you?
- He does change his tune upon having the notable properties of Chlorine Trifluoride explained to him.
Robot Officer: You do not need to fear the cleaning agent chlorine-trifluoride. As long as you do an exemplary job, understand and follow all safety procedures, never take shortcuts and always work with and have the trust of your fellow employees, you will be fine. Do you wish to transfer?
Kornada: Is it too late to request another opportunity to clean the bathrooms?
- Mr. Kornada refuses to do this as part of his community service after he'd already refused to work the cash register.
- In Yu-Gi-Oh! Season 0 Abridged, Tristan claims that he has plenty of dignity despite working at the fast food place called "Burger World". This is immediately undercut by the manager informing him that an old lady made a mess in the bathroom. When Tristan asks if he can use a mop this time, the conversation goes as follows:
Manager: What does this look like, a mop store? Use your shirt like always.
Tristan: Thanks, Obama.
- In Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, Dr. Robotnik regularly has Coconuts scrub his toilets, a job Coconuts deplores, while assigning Scratch and Grounder to capture Sonic. This is despite the fact that Coconuts is smarter than Scratch and Grounder and sometimes sees through Sonic's plans, whereas Scratch and Grounder rarely succeed in capturing Sonic. Throughout the series, Coconuts tries to capture Sonic by himself in often unsuccessful attempts to get on Robotnik's good side to get off janitorial work and become head of the Super Special Sonic Search and Smash Squad.
- Biker Mice from Mars has Lawrence Limburger fail to secure all of Chicago as a Plutarch mining colony. The Plutarch regent declares You Have Failed Me and sets Lawrence to cleaning the Plutarch spacecraft's bathrooms, which are huge and filthy, as a punishment detail.
- Darkwing Duck: In the episode "Heavy Mental", Major Synapse uses the threat of latrine duty to keep his "psychic squad", two ditzy hippies, in line. He never specifies just exactly what that entails, only that he'd hate to have the job. They never press it, even when the alternative involves being exposed to a potentially dangerous invention.
- In the Family Guy episode "Baby Not On Board", Stewie was furious about having to clean the bathroom at his new job at Mc Burgertown and refused to clean it a second time. However, his disgust to go back was understandable. note
Stewie: No! No! It was literally only on the floor. All right? There was no attempt to get near the toilet. It's like they just... Pressed their buttocks against the wall. The only part of the floor that didn't have poo on it was the part that had baby on it.
- Fanboy and Chum Chum: In "The Janitor's Apprentice", Janitor Poopatine tries to punish Fanboy and Chum Chum for making a mess at the cafeteria by making them clean the school. He takes them to a filthy bathroom and Fanboy is terrified that they might have to clean the toilets. Poopatine wants them to refill the soap dispensers... which someone threw into the toilets.
- Frankie Foster from Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends has been shown to hate scrubbing toilets on several occasions:
- In "The Trouble With Scribbles", Bloo opens the door to the room that houses the Scribbles, the first imaginary friends created by babies. When Bloo gets the Scribbles to do chores for him, Frankie finds out and likes this idea, making one of them scrub the toilets. When humans decide to adopt the Scribbles at the end of the episode, having found out how useful they are, only one Scribble remains. Frankie hopes that it's the toilet-scrubbing Scribble, but to both her dismay and Bloo's delight, it's the Scribble that blows raspberries.
- In "Setting a President", Frankie becomes the new President of Foster's when she wins the election against Mr. Herriman. As part of her position as President, she makes a fair chore list, which includes having Bloo scrub the toilets, a job they both deplore.
- Futurama: In "Roswell That Ends Well", Fry's grandfather Enos is introduced being ordered by his commanding officer to clean the latrines until they are clean enough to eat off of — "Because I intend to!"
- Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.: For the first half of the second season, the Leader is being held prisoner by Hulk and his team inside his own ship on the way back to Earth. Among other things, they force him to clean toilets.
- Invader Zim: At the end of "Gaz, Taster of Pork", Dib falsely assumes Gaz failed Shadowhog's test to undo her curse and begs to be punished instead as it's his fault she was cursed. Shadowhog agrees at Gaz's request and decides that Dib must clean his toilet. Dib doesn't think it's so bad... until he looks inside.
- Phineas and Ferb: Inverted in "Ready for the Bettys", when Candace and Stacy were tasked by the Bettys to do various chores for them. The only one that makes Stacy happy is cleaning the toilets. Played straight with Candace, who is not happy with the way the Bettys treated them and the toilet cleaning chore was the last straw for her.
- Regular Show: At the end of "Temp Check", Benson shafts Rigby with three months of toilet duty for hiring Doug as a temp so that he didn't have to do any work. We don't get to see any toilet cleaning, but Rigby offers Mordecai a way to make an easy ten bucks, implying that he's trying to foist the job onto him.
- The Simpsons:
- Zig-zagged in "Marge Gets A Job": when Mr. Burns appoints Marge as his new personal assistant, Smithers is assigned to "where the action is": cleaning the nuclear plant's urinals. Being Smithers, he's actually proud of his work... until Homer uses the urinal five seconds after he finished cleaning, prompting a despairing Big "NO!" and instantly trying to make things right with Burns.
- In "Bart Gets Famous", Bart becomes Krusty's personal assistant and thus is ordered to clean his toilet:
Krusty: Right in here, boy: it — ew! I don't know what I was thinking last night. This'll take you a couple hours.
- Star Trek: Lower Decks features a sci-fi equivalent when Mariner is punished for her attitude by having to clean out the holodeck's bio-filters, which Ransom confirms are used mostly for obscene things.
Ransom: I've got her emptying [bleep] out of the holodeck's [bleep] filter!
[cut to the ready room]
Freeman: ...Ugh. People really use it for that?
Ransom: Oh, yeah. It's mostly that.