How To Use a Squat Toilet

If you travel overseas enough, you will eventually run into a squat toilet.  "What is a squat toilet?" you ask.  They come in many varieties, but essentially, it is any toilet which requires you to squat instead of sit in order to conduct your business.  From my experience, they are very popular in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and South America.  Don't be afraid, though, once you get the hang of them, they are not that bad, and actually offer a much more sanitary experience that a lot of public sit-down toilets.  I know that as a guy, I have gone into many bathrooms, even here in the U.S., looked at the toilet and thought, "Man, I'm glad I don't have to sit on that!"  Women, however are not as fortunate, so they might especially appreciate the squatter.  Sara, raised in Taiwan, much prefers the squat toilet to the sit-down variety in a public situation. So, what is the best strategy for using this toilet?  If you have ever camped in the woods (without a bathroom nearby), you probably have your own technique.  However, if you are new to the game, here is where to begin.  First, bring your own toilet paper.  Most squat toilets do not have any because most of the locals do not use it.  Yes, that's right, the left hand was created for something after all (sorry to all of you lefties out there).  Check local customs, but in many countries it is very offensive to offer to shake hands with your left hand for this very reason. Once you enter the stall, you will notice an oval bowl built in to the floor.  You will want to position your feet on either side of the bowl, drop your drawers and squat, being careful not to let your pants hit the ground, but making sure they are out of firing range.  Try to position yourself over the bowl as much as possible for accuracy.  I have found that maintaining this position can be difficult unless you relax.  Rest the backs of your thighs on your calves so you are not straining too much.  Then, let nature take its course. You might notice a small trash can inside the stall.  If it is present, this is the receptacle for the toilet paper.  The plumbing in many countries cannot handle toilet paper and you will clog the pipes if you flush it.  I was in South America and managed to clog up our hotel toilet.  I wasn't confident in my Spanish, so I asked my roommate, Gary, to see if the maid could help.  She fixed the problem, but became a bit irritated the following day when I did it again.  "Otre vez (again!?)," she said as she shook her head. Speaking of flushing, sometimes you might find that there is no way to flush.  Look for a hose or a bucket of water with a ladle to accomplish the same thing.  You might also just have a trench with constantly flowing water.  Whatever you encounter, just go with it.  Remember, it is all part of the adventure. On a side note, if you have ever been to Vegas and walked down the Strip, you will inevitably be handed paper advertisements for local entertainment.  Most people just throw them away.  In Asia, from time to time, you will be handed advertisements that are really packs of tissues.  If you see someone handing them out, don't avoid them, grab as many as they'll give you.  They make excellent emergency toilet paper and are easy to carry around in your pocket. I found a video that is quite informative and entertaining if you would like visual details on what to expect from the whole squat toilet experience.  We also have a companion post on some of the more memorable bathrooms that Sara and I have encountered over the years.  The main thing to remember is that the whole point of travel is to see and experience new things.  It's all about your attitude.
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  • This needs background music. BTO’s “Takin’ Care of Business” comes to mind.

  • paradiserain

    It is very common in China, I do not understand why you are so interested to introduce a common-sense squat toilet to others

  • Sara

    Yes, I can see why this article would be completely pointless in a country like China, and many others. However, in the US, it is very uncommon to see a squat toilet in public restrooms. I personally have never seen one here. So for those that have never seen a squat toilet, we thought a proper introduction could be beneficial. It’s cool to hear feedback from a different culture. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  • Sheree

    paradiserain what may seem like common sense and self explanatory to some may be quite new and overwhelming for others. As a recently arrived foreigner to China I certainly didn’t know the ins and outs of squatter use and had to teach myself. Perhaps if I had read this article it would have made things a bit easier. For example I took one leg of my pants completely off which proved quite difficult and I have been told by my husband that I was facing the wrong way on the squatter.

  • deb

    anyone who has ever used a squat toilet will let you know that they will NEVER be found to be as clean as those pictured.

  • michelle

    Thank you.. wish I had’ve read this before we went to Vietnam. Coming fom Australia we do no have squat toilets at all(- unless you’re in the bush of course.) The hose still baffles- & worries me a bit- as I oftenwonder if you could inadvertantly spread germs via the water & find yourself with a nasty bladder infection?? I do however think theyre good- basically hygenic, just dont like having to stand in a deepish puddle sometimes!!

  • nyc girl

    A tip — pull the waist of your pants down to just above your knees and then squat. This keeps the crotch of your pants high up and out of the way.

  • newbie

    I spent 2 weeks in China this time last year and i struggled with the squat toilet, i couldn’t co-ordinate myself enough. Didn’t have the balance or the ability to relax some muscles and tense others, which is silly I know but maybe it had something to do with not wanting to step in other people’s pee. I was in Xi’An musuem and was so relieved to see 6 cubicles, 3 of which were sit down toilets. hurrah. or not. all the locals still used them as squatting toilets – hence pee allll over the toilet seats. almost worse. I was so sure I was going to get a bladder infection from that trip, holding on for so long until we got back to the apartment. oh well, as you say, all part of the experience. 🙂

  • ricochet

    Some things are best discovered while still in the planning stages of a trip. If you are likely to be using squat toilets, pack accordingly.
    Trousers should be cinched in at the ankle or straight leg style. Wide leg or flared trousers can be difficult to keep off the floor when squatting. They can however be rolled up. Very tight jeans can also be hard to squat in. Test all clothing in the privacy of your own home before packing. That includes the scarf, floaty top, poncho, anything that has a tendency to slip forward when you bend down.
    For females a skirt is sometimes easier to manage and can offer more privacy when peeing behind buses on the side of the road.

  • Joan Schmelzle

    I must say your illustration is much fancier than the hole in the ground with foot placings to the sides of the hole that I was “lucky” enough to use in 1961. And it is also much nicer than the one I found after lunch at a recommended restaurant in Lyon in 2001–not much had changed except I was 40 years older and luckily there was a sink near the hole that I could grasp to help hold up my older body. You could also find them in the “pay public” toilets in San Gimignano at least in 2006. Go to one of the bars for a gelato and be much more comfortable with the necessities.

  • sherwood lunsted

    Three years in Libya: The locals wipe with their left hand. The most dirty toilet in Costa Rica, and the poor people sold a couple squares of toilet paper at roadside toilet. In Vietnam, military built a toilet that became a mess after a couple of months…use whatever to wipe.

  • Steve Phelan

    As a former Peace Corps volunteer, I have seen my share of strange toilets, and I collect toilet soilet stories. But the strangest one of all came from a roommate who was a volunteer in India.

    His girlfriend (later wife) was visiting him in his village, and needed to use the bathroom. She was directed to the outhouse, which was on top of a mound, with steps up. She sat down, but soon noticed what she at first took to be a small earthquake. When she looked down the hole, she saw a pig leaping up and down, apparently eagerly awaiting dinner. The outhouse backed up onto the pigpen and was open in the back. She said she was constipated for days afterward.

    This is not a “friend of a second cousin” story. Carol told the story with great relish, and I believed her completely. I suggested that if she had been male, she would have been constipated for months, not days.

  • tabbie

    1967–France. The squat toilet was a 2-3 inch diameter hole a 4ft square ceramic floor. There were ceramic “shoe prints” a couple feet from the hole. For men, it was fine. For a teenage girl like me, not so good. I still haven’t figured out how to do a number 2 in a squat toilet.

  • Sally Williams

    Some more hints: Straight skirts work better than full skirts in “indoor” squats. There are many places where a tree is preferable to the squat and a full skirts is helpful. . Ever wonder why so many women in the netherlands where rubber boots! Wear the plastic slippers some squats supply. Wet wipes work better than TP. In fifty years of worldwide travel, I have never seen a squat that looks like the squat pictured.

  • Laurence

    France – 2010
    Squat toilets are still in use in the motorway rest areas. The main difference from those described by Tabbie is that they are now made of stainless steel! You’ll still find the old ceramic design in some bars, though… In both cases, the state of them will depend on the frequency of cleaning, so it’s always an “experience”.
    A couple of years back, I was properly instructed by a friend on how to use them: small job, face the hole; big job, turn your back to the hole. In terms of target accuracy, it does help (especially that French squat toilets indeed have a very small hole)! Another thing I found was that for a wee, I try and stand as close to the wall as possible so that I can both squat and lean forward slightly: with my knees touching the wall, I don’t have problems with balance, and the wall tends to be cleaner than the floor.
    Oh, and keep the waistline of your jeans just above your knees when you pull them down: they will be much easier to manage!

  • I have a squat toilet in my apartment, much easier to clean up.

  • Hmm, I can’t say I’ve ever seen one of these before. I feel a whole lot better now though in case I ever happen to stumble across one.

  • Aku

    During travelling, and come across sit down toilets—— very often than not , the toilet seat may not be clean. Next time, when you travel on plane, try to pick two or three toilet seat cover sheet ( disposable). This will be most handy and useful and safe when come across dirty ( or clean , but suspect to be dirty) toilet seat.

  • carol

    in the late 1960’s my friend took me to a cappucino joint outside Rome airport, and i went into the ‘restroom’ and there was a tiny sink, way up high, about 4 feet or so .. and the only other thing in the room was an enormous gunnysack (burlap) filled with sawdust. No doors, or extra rooms, or holes on floor .. I stared at the sawdust and looked at the height of the sink, ‘mission impossible’ I said, and left. Then I asked my friend to stop, again, out by some trees and bushes. Whew!

  • carol

    last week, in Shanghai, near the Bund, I wandered into a Natural History Museum – the one with mummies, stuffed yaks, etc. Went to the ladies room: it was the running-trough type, 5 stalls or so all with doors, inside, a common bathroom-tiled-trough, about 12: high on both sides, and 10″ across. I grabbed a quick photo and continued on my way!

  • Veronica

    I had to use a squat toilet when on holiday in France one year. It was a square toilet with a hole and places for feet. I had to use it as I needed a number 2 and didn’t fancy the tree in the woods option! I was wearing a long A-line skirt and heels which I discovered worked well for this type of toilet. I lifted up my skirt and held it over one leg, away from the floor and found that my 3.5 inch heels aided any balancing issues. I definitely would not have used it had I been wearing pants for fear of an accident.

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  • Jenny

    It is all about attitude
    if you can widen your perspective on toilets the rest will be easy
    so go for it!

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