Chinese Toilets – To Sit or to Squat?

If you have traveled a bit, you know that bathroom/toilet standards can vary – a lot, even within a country. So, how are Chinese toilets? Well, this requires a long answer because the standards span a very wide range.

To sit or to squat?

There are two types of toilet in China, the western style” throne” and the squat toilet. The squat toilet is basically a elongated hole in the floor, with footrests on each sides, and sometimes a splash guard at one end. The user squats down low. And I mean low, if you don’t want to splash all over the place. The squatting position seems to come easy to half of the world’s population but not to many Westerners.

Public Chinese toilet signMost Chinese consider the squat toilet more sanitary than something with a seat. And I have to agree that if the toilet is of questionable cleanliness it is definitely easier not to touch anything with just an opening in the floor. (I know this is usually not a problem for guys. Lucky them.)

One question I sometimes hear from people unaccustomed to this type of loo: which direction do you face?  You usually face the door. Sometimes the door even has some advertisement in squatting eye level to keep you entertained…

Why is there a waste basket next to every Chinese toilet?

Toilet paper is not thrown into the toilet but into a waste basket in the corner. I know, that does not sound very appealing. And it really does not look appealing. But it prevents the plumbing from getting clogged up.

Get used to bringing your own tissue. Most public restrooms don’t provide toilet paper. Or soap or hand towels for that matter. Or even warm water. If toilet paper is provided, it is often not in the individual stall but in the area in front of the stalls.

Where to go when out and about

You can find many public restrooms in Beijing, especially in the older Hutong neighborhoods. The reason behind that is that the old Hutong homes lack the plumbing for private toilets. For those Hutong  residents the public toilet is their toilet. You will occasionally see someone in their pajamas…

The newer Chinese public restrooms have regular stalls with lockable doors but the really old ones may just have low divider walls and provide no privacy.  Don’t be surprised that even if there are stalls with doors, some people don’t bother closing them when doing their business. The sense of privacy is very different than in the West.

How about toilets in restaurants?

Western restaurants usually have Western style facilities. Chinese ones usually don’t. Higher end Chinese restaurants sometimes have one stall with a Western toilet and others with squat toilets. Look out for the signs on the stall doors.

Even if the toilet looks Western, the plumbing often is not. A good rule is, if there is a trash basket right next to the toilet, use it for the toilet paper. Sometimes there is even a sign telling you not to throw paper into the toilet.

In the older areas of town, some bars and cafes don’t have restrooms. Instead you are pointed to the nearest public one.

And toilets in private homes?

Housing geared towards Westerners and newer homes in general have Western style facilities. At least on first glance. The plumbing is not always up to the same standards, so you may have to be careful with throwing a lot of toilet paper into the toilet.

Another word about plumbing: P-traps (that pipe with a P-shaped twist under the sink) are not always used, so strange odors may come out of the sink, especially with very warm weather. To avoid this, check the sinks for p-traps when hunting for apartments. It’s really is not fun if your own bathroom smells like a public one.


Chinese Toilets – To Sit or to Squat? — 6 Comments

  1. The part where you talk about squatting really low is key. Fortunately I am able to do that. Practice low squatting before you go so that you can get back up as well. There is nothing to hold on to to help yourself back up. Not squatting low enough can be an embarrassing mess.

    • If squatting is not an option for your or your visitors, look for toilets for the disabled. Those are usually Western style.

  2. Beware; if coins (or keys) fall out of your pocket into the tray of a squat toilet they can slide straight down the hole

    • Thanks for the warning, Martin. Hold on to your keys everyone. (Chinese coins are not worth much…)

  3. Don’t forget the electrical hand drying maschines in some toilets that help you to warm up your hands in the awfully cold Chinese winter. Sometimes the only reason my sister and I tried to find a toilet 🙂