Squat toilets still reign supreme in China. Sure, the "western" toilet has made plenty of inroads in recent years, and you'll find them in big city hotels, major restaurants, and airports around the country. However, there are still lots and lots of "squatty potties" in China, and likely as not, you'll venture into one.
But don't fear! Using a squat toilet is simple. There are a few tricks to the trade, but with a little preparation, you'll be able to do your business with confidence. But preparation is key. While adapting to squat toilets is not as hard as it seems, it's good to know what you're getting into before you (have to) go.
What Is a Squat Toilet?
Great question. Have you ever peed in the woods? A squat toilet is a little like that, only with walls, a door (sometimes), and a ceramic hole in the ground that flushes. Sometimes.
Supposedly using squat toilets is good for your system. The mechanics are just as their title implies. By squatting to do your business rather than sitting on a toilet, gravity only helps.
How to Use a Squat Toilet in China
- Pack Tissues. Before you even leave the hotel, make sure you've got portable toilet paper with you. Lots of public restrooms don't provide it. Wet wipes and hand sanitizer are also good to have. Even if there's a sink, there may not be any soap, and probably no towels either.
- Plan Your Business, Part 1. "Preventative peeing" or going before you go is a good way to avoid getting caught in a place that won't have a quality toilet. Pretend your group is made up of five-year-olds and make sure everyone goes before you leave the house.
- Plan Your Business, Part 2. If you're going to be out and about, think about where you'll be and try to plan some pit stops in between. In big cities especially, international hotels, upscale restaurants, and shopping malls will have clean washrooms with most of the amenities (toilet paper, Western toilets, soap, and towels). These can be great places for relief. Places to avoid using the bathroom include large markets (especially outdoor markets), street-side public bathrooms (though they're improving), and tourist spots.
- Hand Off Your Bag. If you can, have a friend hold your bags while you use the washroom. There are generally no hooks in there, and you'll need your hands to balance, dig around your purse for tissues, and hold on to the door if the lock is broken.
- Queuing Up. If you find yourself outside the comfort of your hotel, don't panic. It won't be unbearable. Just keep in mind some of the ways queues in China work. First, check the lock. If it's red, then it's occupied. Green means free but always knock. When waiting at the loo, its best to line up in front of a particular stall rather than hang back for the next one to open, which can create a free-for-all. Just stick to one door and keep your eye on it. Many times, doors have pictures or signs indicating Western or squat-style toilets. If you happen to get a non-Western toilet, you're better off just rolling with it than re-queuing.
- Pants Check. Don't panic, but some washrooms in China can be rather wet. Whether from the splash effect or an overeager toilet cleaner running amok with a mop, your squat toilet stall floor might endanger your dry trousers. If it's looking wet, roll your pants up. Pro tip: if you see other Chinese locals rolling up their cuffs, be sure to do so too. They know something you don't.
- The Squat. OK, so you've found yourself in a squatty potty. It's really not that bad and many argue it's actually healthier to go this way than sitting down. However, if you're not used to it, squatting can be really difficult. Here's a primer. Face forward and try to let your pants down while ensuring that the ends are up (hopefully you've rolled) and not touching the floor. There are grooved places for your feet on either side of the toilet. Try to get somewhere in the middle, feet flat on the floor (you don't want to fall in) and aim for the potty. Just like that.
- No Paper Discard in the Pot! Chinese plumbing in public restrooms generally doesn't handle wastepaper. If you can remember, please put anything other than #1 or #2 in the basket. Try as hard as you can NOT to look at the basket, though, as it's usually open and teeming with things on which you'd rather not lay eyes.
- Finish Up. Out you go, you accomplished squat toilet user. Unroll your pants, wash your hands, if you can, and find your friends waiting for you outside.
How to Help Kids Use a Squat Toilet
Oh yes, here's the moment of truth. Your newly potty-trained three-year-old needs to go and the only place is a squat toilet. Here's what to do:
- Pants Down at the Side. Help take your child's pants down before the squat begins.
- Foot Placement. It's important to get your child to straddle the toilet before squatting.
- Support Your Child. Squat in front of your child while holding her around the back under the arms so that she feels comfortable. You could also stand and hold your child's arms/hands but this may become uncomfortable for them.
- Hold the Pants. If possible, especially for girls urinating, hold her pants away from her (maybe even take them off) so she doesn't get them wet).
Expert Tips & Tricks
- Using a squat toilet is really not that bad once you get the hang of it. And isn't it better than hovering over a public toilet seat?
- A note on the trough. Yes, there are still places with troughs in public bathrooms. In these types of public toilets, there are usually door-less stalls facing up to a long trough with water running down from one end to the other. Folks back up and squat over the trough and everything floats away. These types of toilets are going the way of the dinosaur, but they're still out there. Consider yourself warned.
- China's reputation for horrible public bathrooms used to be well-deserved, but the government has done a lot to improve the state of the facilities. You'll often find public toilets rated with stars. There's a lovely 4-star public toilet on the Sacred Way outside of Beijing, for example.
- Have a few coins (1-2rmb) with you for use in public restrooms. There's usually a charge and toilet paper will be given with the fee.
- Try not to freak out about the squat toilets. Likely as not, you won't have to use one and if you do, it's all part of the experience.