When we first moved overseas, we were surprised by how many things were different. Even so, no one prepared us for the biggest culture shock of all: Not all restrooms are created equal. Outside of tourist areas, restrooms often lack a couple of major items, namely: shower stalls and toilets. Of the two, the more interesting one is the squat toilet.
Few things in life are as disconcerting as walking into a bathroom with an urgent need to pee and finding no toilet there. Holy $#!T! What is that porcelain thing? It sort of looks like a urinal … but it’s on the floor.… what do I do now? That, my friends, is a squat toilet. But squat toilet, Chinese toilet, Asian toilet, squatty potty, no matter what you call it, it's not a porcelain throne.
If you're easily offended, this post may not be for you. But this is one of those travel tips you really can't live without, and Mama's not going to tell you what you need to know.
What is a squat toilet?
A squat toilet is different than the Western toilet you might be used to. There's no toilet seat, just a hole that you squat over to “do your business.” If you’re lucky, the area is tiled and the toilet is on a platform, with places marked out for the feet. If you’re not, there’s a hole in the middle of the floor and the place smells like an overused outhouse.
If you're lucky enough to be in a nicer public place, the washroom may have an attendant. The attendant’s job is to keep the place clean. If the place doesn’t offend your nose, you can thank them for mopping regularly. So If you see a tip tray, please show your gratitude.
Toilets differ – anything from the usual sit-down type to a hole in the ground. We’ve also read that some bathrooms in China are nothing more than a row of pits separated by nothing but low walls – as in, no cubicles or doors on Chinese toilets. Privacy isn’t a given in some places.
Well, many medical authorities say squatting is the best position for elimination. They also claim that using squat toilets may help to prevent hemorrhoids, hernias, and multiple lower-intestinal issues. So maybe it’s not as bad as it might seem.
How do you use a squat toilet?
Sometimes, a western toilet bowl is nowhere to be found. If you plan to visit the Middle East, Africa, Asia, South America – or even parts of Europe – you need to be prepared. So here's how to “go” in other countries.
Grab the toilet paper
Lots of public restrooms don't provide toilet paper, which is why we recommend carrying your own. Bring some from your hotel or buy some at a convenience store.
If you have forgotten it and you're in a restaurant, you might find a roll of it on the table. They use it like paper napkins. It's cheaper.
You can sometimes find a large toilet paper dispenser near the sink. If so, grab what you need or dig it out of your bag before entering the stall.
Sometimes, there's a charge and an attendant will hand you toilet paper for the fee.
Get on line
Depending on where you are, there may be one line for the bathroom, or single lines in front of each toilet.
If there’s one line, check all the door locks. If one is green, it’s available for use.
If people are lined up in front of the stalls, check the doors. Many restrooms have both Western and squat toilets, with door signs indicating the type of toilet inside. So choose a line and stick with it.
Priority: Figure out how to keep your clothes from coming in contact with the wet floor. (Eeeeew … what made it wet?) You can either
- Strip off everything from waist down. I think it's easier to take everything off, if you can. If there's no hook, you can hang it around your shoulders.
- Move it all to knee-level. With the second option; I just pull everything down enough to expose the necessary parts, then fold up my cuffs. I find that squatting with all that bunched-up fabric is uncomfortable.
Whatever you do, pay attention to your pockets, so you don't end up with a wet phone and dirty wallet.
Get into position
Yeah, you need instructions. The first time I used it, I didn’t know I had to step up. That is one mistake you don’t want to make.
- Step up onto the platform.
- Turn around so you are facing the door.
- Then carefully place one foot on the ribbed spots on each side of the toilet.
Balance and lower
You won't want to sit down on that cold, wet, porcelain thing to relieve yourself. You'll need to either hover or squat over the hole.
Even if Mama told you it's more sanitary, I recommend NOT hovering. At last in my experience, it's harder to aim accurately. It's also too easy to sprinkle all over your shoes and clothes.
How to do the Asian squat.
If you're not used to squatting, here are a few tips:
- Stand on the porcelain; the spots reserved for your feet will keep them far enough apart.
- Lean forward slightly as you squat, keeping your center of gravity firmly over the balls of your feet.
- The wider your legs are, the easier it is to get low and balance.
- Rest your hands or forearms on your knees all the way along to help keep your balance and your backside dry.
- If you have bad knees, spreading them further apart may help. You can also try bracing your hands against the side walls.
Tip: You can also purchase a small portable device that lets women pee standing up. See it here.
Want to know how to use a squat toilet without peeing on yourself? Pee gently, even if it’s urgent. Don’t let it out full force, because it WILL splatter.
While spreading your knees may help you to balance, if you’re a woman, pressing your knees together usually directs the pee down. If you open your legs, chances are that the pee is more likely to spray a wide stream all over the place.
Men have it so much easier.
To clean up you'll need to use water, which you'll find as either a bucket or a spray hose.
- When using a bucket, dump the water onto your back side and splash upwards with the other hand.
- Refill the bucket from the nearby tap as a courtesy to the next person.
- Use your left hand to direct the water and help clean the area. Don't reach around for this. Putting your hand between your legs is the only way you will keep your balance.
The hose is far easier. Think of it as a bidet.
- When using a spray hose, grab it with your right hand and turn on the faucet to a low flow. Full force hurts.
- Spray closely and gently to avoid baptizing yourself, the floor and the nearby walls.
Did you know that toilet paper has only been around since the 1800s? So no, it’s not a necessity.
To be honest, no matter what I do, I’m often a tiny bit damp when I leave the stall. It doesn’t bother me when I remind myself that it’s only water.
- Wait a few moments to allow everything to drip.
- Squeegee off any excess water with your left hand.
- If you see toilet paper or paper towels nearby, use one or two squares to dry off. If the paper is still dirty, you need to rinse some more.
- Throw ALL paper in the trash. Don't try to flush it. Many plumbing systems can't handle it, and it can lead to a hefty repair bill.
If you can't deal with the water routine, you can buy purse-sized wipes for that purpose at convenience stores.
Tip: Amazon offers eco-friendly bathroom wipes that are safe for sensitive skin. Buy them here.
Stand up and dress
- To avoid walking out with a wet seat or feet, keep a good hold on the hem of your clothes, and pull everything on in one smooth motion as you start to stand up.
- Remember to fold your cuffs back down before you leave.
Always flush, whether it’s solid or liquid.
Newer facilities often have a modern flush handle. If all you see is a bucket with a scoop, here's how to flush a squat toilet:
- Fill the scoop with water from the bucket and dump it into the basin. Repeat until everything has gone down the hole, trying not to get it on the surrounding floor.
- If you see a brush, brush any “skid marks” from the porcelain as a courtesy to the next visitor.
- If you’ve left any footprints, be nice and rinse them off the toilet.
- Remember to refill the bucket for the next person.
- Then go wash your hands. Better yet, use hand sanitizing wipes. Get travel-size packs on Amazon here.
Important travel tips for using a squat toilet
- Carry small change for tips and entry fees, as many places charge a fee to use the restroom. In Europe, €0.50 is often the going rate. In Malaysia, some places charge 2 RM (about $0.50).
- Locate your toilet paper before you squat.
- Keep your hands free. You will need your hands to undress, balance, clean up, and dress. If you have a purse or bag, that may present an issue. If you’re on your own and there is no hook, hang it around your neck or grip it with your teeth.
- Be mindful of your sunglasses. If you move too suddenly, they will fall off and land on the wet floor – or worse.
- Again, be sure nothing falls out of your pockets. Especially your phone!
- Carry hand sanitizer. This is a lifesaver, because a lot of restrooms have no soap and there's no way to dry your hands. You’ll also find that many public restrooms don't have heated water, even in mid-winter.
Did you notice that all cleaning is to be done with the left hand? This is super important! In many parts of the world, people reserve the left hand for bodily hygiene. They consider using it for any other purpose to be unsanitary. So don’t touch your food with your left hand.
Tip: Be sure to use your right hand for eating and taking things in non-Western countries, especially food. If you take something from a food tray with your left hand, you may see the entire tray promptly dumped in the trash.
How to avoid using a squat toilet when you’re traveling
- “Go” before you go. The best way to avoid getting caught with your pants down over a hole is to make sure everyone goes before you leave your hotel or the airport.
- Plan pit stops. Your best chance of finding decent facilities is in big cities. Look for international hotels, upscale restaurants, nicer-looking bars, tourist bureaus, and shopping malls. They are more likely have clean washrooms and Western toilets.
- Avoid using the bathroom in large markets (especially outdoor markets). They were installed for locals, who are used to squatting.
How to use a Western toilet
Believe it! Squat toilets are so common in some parts of the world that some folks have no clue how a flush toilet works. They need to be shown.
Rule #1: Back up to the toilet and SIT on the seat. Don’t laugh. It must be pretty widespread, as there’s even a Chinese guidebook that mentions footprints on toilet seats.
Rule #2: Use toilet paper.
Rule #3: And oh, by the way, some people need to learn how to flush, as well. I also found this sign in a toilet stall at the Bali airport:
Watch this video on how to use a squat toilet
Grrrl Traveler is one of our all-time favorite bloggers; we watch her videos all the time.