Introduction: Auto-reset Occupied Indicator

About: I've been working as a speech/language pathologist in long term care for about 40 years, most of that with folks who have communication problems or swallowing problems. Educating patients and their families h…

This is my first Instructable. Please go easy on me!

Airplane bathroom doors are elegant. They offer privacy and a certain amount of security, and they let everyone know the room is vacant or occupied. Commercially available VACANT/OCCUPIED slider signs work well, but sometimes people forget to reset them. An inconsistently accurate bathroom sign is no more useful than no sign at all. This automatically resetting bathroom sign solves the problem of being disturbed while using a single-person office bathroom. In most small offices, there is no gentle way to know whether someone is using the toilet without knocking on the door first. Some don’t knock loudly enough to be heard over the exhaust fan; some don’t answer loudly enough to be heard by someone standing in a noisy hallway. There is no way the bathroom user can be as anonymous as the person knocking. This bathroom status indicator also addresses the inconvenience of explaining to strangers and co-workers that you will “…be out in a minute!” The operation of the sign lends itself to a variety of construction approaches and materials. It could be made of polished wood and brass with a leather thong or thin chain, or you can modify it to work with things you might have lying around. I made one with a piece of bakery string, a disposable coffee cup (with a lid) and a 3"X5" filing card. In most office settings, it will work dependably even though it is made of cardboard and paper. In my experience, people are surprisingly gentle with this thing; this card stock version was used daily for years before it needed replacement. It is flexible enough to be used on other doors, too. It could announce that a fitting room is in use. In one place that I worked, a storage room was sometimes commandeered by a woman who wanted some privacy during breast pumping. When the multi-purpose room was being used as a conference room, this sign gave others who were looking for a meeting area a heads up. In a nursing home setting like the one I work in, an office was repurposed as a physician's exam room for new employees. The signs and instructions were modified accordingly.

Step 1: Parts and Equipment

To make an auto reset vacant/occupied sign, you will need:

1) One 8 1/2" X 11" sheet of white card stock. I wanted the letters on the "VACANT" sign and the "OCCUPIED" sign to be white with a black outline. I also wanted the "VACANT" sign background to be green, and the "OCCUPIED" sign background to be red. That meant that with my printer, the card stock had to be white. If you do not want to use my printable templates, choose the colored card stock that fits your needs.

2) About 12"-18" of string. It needs to be thin enough that you can close the bathroom door on it without hurting the door or the string (see the video).

3) One 8 1/2" X 11" sheet of white paper for the instruction illustration.

4) A computer with a printer. I wanted the sign colors to support the words "VACANT" and "OCCUPIED" so for me a color printer was important.

5) tape or glue.

Step 2: Print, Cut and Fold the Swinging Sign

This sign is based on the Forbes Super Deluxe Tuckbox Template Maker ( The site lets you create a box template from your printer. I added the words and colors using Microsoft Word.

I selected the dimensions for the "VACANT" indicator sign so that it would only partially obliterate the "OCCUPIED" indicator. I thought that would help people who had never seen an assembly like this better understand its function. Print the "VACANT" box from the template on one sheet of white card stock. Make sure you print the sign in landscape mode without scaling or adjusting the size. Cut on the solid lines, except where the diagonal lines cross. That is where you need to punch or poke a hole for the string. Fold on the dotted lines. Put glue on the blue flap. Form the template into a box but leave the two closing flaps for last. That way you can insure the blue flap with the crossed diagonal lines sticks to the other flap with crossed diagonal lines. Match up the holes. Tie a knot in the string that is bigger than the holes, or tie the string to something bigger than the hole (like a toothpick). The knot or the toothpick should be inside the box to help keep the box from falling off the string. The sign needs some weight to insure it swings properly and covers the "OCCUPIED" sign. I filled my box with shredded paper from the office shredding machine, and glued the box closed.

Step 3: Instructions Sign

Operation of this device is simple, but is harder to explain to the uninitiated than I originally thought. At one point the instruction sheet was a wordy, confusing essay that took too long to read. I finally opted for this picture which I think is worth a thousand words.

Some newcomers are still confused though. If you can come up with a haiku or compact lesson plan that fills the bill, please let me know.

Step 4: Print and Cut the Signs

Print and cut out the "INSTRUCTIONS" picture and the "OCCUPIED" sign on one sheet of paper or card stock. These signs don't get handled much; they are not under much stress. I think card stock looks nicer, but paper does the job fine. If you decide to make your automatic reset VACANT/OCCUPIED sign out of brass, wood, leather or other very classy material, please take a picture of it and post it!

Step 5: Assemble and Hang the Swinging Sign

This shows how the sign looks when the room is not in use. One end of the string is inside the "VACANT" box. I used rubber cement to fasten the other end of the "VACANT" box string to the bottom rear of the instructions picture. Mount the instructions sign near eye level on the door. Make sure it is close enough to the non-hinge edge of the door that someone using the toilet can take the box in and close the door on the string (see step 6).

Step 6: Mount the Occupied Sign

This is how the door looks when someone is using the toilet. The INSTRUCTIONS sign will have the VACANT sign dangling from it. Mount the OCCUPIED sign where it will be behind the VACANT sign after the door is opened (see photo with step 5).

Step 7: View From Within

This is what the user sees when the bathroom is in use (see pic step 6). Whoever is outside will see the OCCUPIED sign.

First Time Author Contest 2018

Participated in the
First Time Author Contest 2018

Paper Contest 2018

Participated in the
Paper Contest 2018