How to Use a Squat Toilet in China

Squat toilet

Matt Perreault / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Squat toilets still reign supreme in China. Sure, the "western" toilet has made plenty of inroads, 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 have to use one at some point.

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.

How to Use a Squat Toilet
TripSavvy / Melissa Ling 

Squat Toilets Defined

Using a squat toilet is a little like peeing in the woods, 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 helps the process.

Being Prepared to Squat

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.

  • Packing tissues is key. Before you even leave your hotel, make sure you've got portable toilet paper with you—lots of public restrooms don't provide any. Wet wipes and hand sanitizer are also good to have. Even if there's a sink, there may not be any soap or towels.
  • Carry a few coins (1-2 Chinese Yuan) for public restrooms that charge a fee.
  • Get into the practice of "preventative peeing" by going to the toilet before going out. This is a good way to avoid getting caught in a place that won't have a quality toilet. If you're with a group, take the reigns and make sure everyone goes before you leave the house.
  • 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.

The Moment of Truth

If you find yourself waiting for a public restroom, just keep in mind some of the ways queues in China work.

  • First, check the lock. If it's red, then the room is 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.
  • 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. Plus 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 bags or 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.

Positioning Yourself

Once you've found yourself in a squatty potty, it's really not that bad. Many argue it's actually healthier to go this way than sitting down. But if you're not used to it, squatting can be really difficult if you don't know how to get into position, stay there, and use the toilet correctly.

  • Face forward and try to let your pants down while ensuring that the ends aren't touching the floor (hopefully you've rolled your cuffs.) 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, and aim for the potty. Just like that.
  • One key piece of etiquette: no paper into the potty. Chinese plumbing in public restrooms generally doesn't handle wastepaper. If possible, put anything other than #1 or #2 in the basket. Try as hard as you can, though, NOT to look at the basket, as it's usually open and teeming with things on which you'd rather not lay eyes.
  • When finishing up, unroll your pants, wash your hands, and out you go, you accomplished squat toilet user.

A note on the trough. 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.

How to Help Kids Use a Squat Toilet

Oh yes, here's the moment of truth. Your newly potty-trained 3-year-old needs to go and the only place is a squat toilet.

  1. Pants down at the side: Help take your child's pants down before the squat begins.
  2. Foot placement: It's important to get your child to straddle the toilet before squatting.
  3. 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 or hands but this may become uncomfortable for them.
  4. 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.