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OK so for anyone that's travelled beyond North America and Western Europe you know what I'm talking about.

Left: Romania, last year. Right: Turkey, last night. squat toilets

They start popping up in the Balkans and of course they're everywhere by the time you get to Turkey and become totally unavoidable no matter how patient you are or how long you can hold on when you're anywhere between about India and Japan.

Asian toilets AKA squat toilets - Do you know how to use one if you have to?

Seems simple. There's the grippy bits on the sides and the hole in the middle. I wonder which direction I should face...

So let's give it a try...

Trousers down just like at home...

Squat down like the name says...

But now my trousers seem to be blocking an important thoroughfare! How the hell is this supposed to work??!!

There's no way to keep one's balance in a position where your weight is not over your feet and when your weight is over your feet so are your pesky trousers.

Now I'm pretty sure the locals don't remove their trousers because there's almost never a hook and the floor is often flooded. Exiting with wet trouser cuffs or socks wet from the toilet floor surely can't be socially acceptable!

And I'm completely utterly sure they don't wipe the porcelain and sit down making believe they're in the west because that would be dirty!

Well I'm here to say that after plenty of trips to plenty of countries with plenty of oriental eastern Asian toilets I've used both of these unsatisfactory workarounds but I still want to know one thing...

What on earth is the proper way to use a squat toilet??

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7  
A lot of people perch of the balls of their feet... as I do. FYI, there is research showing relieving your bowels this way leads to decreased instances of colon cancer. –  Ginamin Oct 28 '11 at 0:46
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Thank God you skipped the action photos.. –  mindcorrosive Oct 28 '11 at 6:10
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Dude, those are some of the cleanest looking squat toilets I've ever seen. I'd have no problems with my daypack being on those floors! –  Mark Mayo Oct 28 '11 at 11:14
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I only signed in to say that I was trying to convince my wife to travel to Asia, but this pretty much put the last nail in that coffin. :( –  DTest Oct 28 '11 at 13:24
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Actually, we're not all adults here. ;) –  Peter Olson Oct 28 '11 at 15:00

10 Answers 10

up vote 119 down vote accepted

:D

I grew up using that thing. When I went studying abroad, I had problems with the toilet you guys called as the normal one (the sitting one). I literally wet my pants several times. Probably I should start a post about "How to sit on the normal toilet".

Here are just some extra tips so you don't wet your pants on a squatting toilet.

  • I will suggest you to take out everything from your pant's pockets before you squat.
  • Don't pull your pants too low. Leave it above your knees. So, when you squatted, it doesn't interfere with the important thoroughfare.
  • The toilet hole is where the poop should go, so that's where you should aim your ass, right above it if you can.
  • If you don't have toilet paper, just use the water to clean it. Be careful not to wet your pant. Be sure to use your dominant hand to hold the pipe or bucket and only the other hand for cleaning. After that you clean your hands. :) And after that, prevent using your non-dominant hand to interact with other people. In some places like Indonesia, it's rude to use your left hand for interaction. And I believe you know why already.
  • Your legs will be numbed if you've squatted for too long. Just for your information.
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60  
I wish I hadn't read that. –  Adam Oct 28 '11 at 5:08
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Where on earth do you put all the stuff you took out of your pockets? –  hippietrail Oct 28 '11 at 7:49
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The whole left hand thing, being left-handed I always find it awkward, because, well, um, I do stuff opposite. But as soon as my hand goes anywhere near food, I get horrified looks. What do locals do if left-handed? –  Mark Mayo Oct 28 '11 at 11:08
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Why would anyone prefer a squatting toilet, the western one cleans the toilet for you, provides cleaning paper for you and then disposes of it quickly, helps you to squat (i.e. sit), prevents objects from falling out your pockets into the toilet, you don't have to take off your trousers. Maybe normally the squatting toilet is more hygienic, but if someone misses, or you loose you balance it will be unbelievable unhygienic. Literally in everyway a sitting toilet is better. I think I'll have to take a portal with me to such countries... –  Jonathan. Oct 29 '11 at 9:51
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@Jonathan. Wow, that is super ethnocentric. You seriously putting you butt checks on the same surface some homeless dude just pissed and crapped on is more hygienic? I'm not saying the squatters are more so, but seriously... that is just a silly statement. –  Ginamin Nov 2 '11 at 1:57

Here is a video that explains how people use this thing.

enter image description here

Seriously, it's informative and visually presented and makes it much clearer.

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49  
There is no way I'm following that link. –  Tom Hawtin - tackline Oct 28 '11 at 13:25
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@TomHawtin-tackline I took the risk for you... The video is totally office safe. A fully dressed indian guy talks about (and shows, while keeping his pants on) how to first squat in a correct way and how to then use water to clean. Very instructional, if you believe in that way of doing the business. The video alone is a correct answer to the original question, although I beleive we should keep instructions on this site in readable form, who knows when the video disapears from youtube. –  Per Wiklander Oct 28 '11 at 14:35
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Perhaps you could write down the transcript of what he says then? ;) Someone needs to create a youtube transcriber... –  Mark Mayo Oct 28 '11 at 19:34
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He mentions removing your trousers in the video but doesn't explain what to do with them or how to get them off and on when the floor is covered in water. Especially if you have to take your shoes off to get your trousers off. Wet trouser cuffs are not a great look, wet socks are uncomfortable and I for one don't trust the water on the floor of a public toilet to be clean. –  hippietrail Oct 29 '11 at 20:55
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This is even worse when you're in Northern China or Mongolia in the middle of winter where it's -30 celcius and you have long johns on under your trousers and trousers tucked into socks and shirts tucked into trousers and long coats dangling into ... –  hippietrail Dec 28 '13 at 9:19

Ok, I'll take the risk in answering ;)

Anyway, I'll take the notes from a Wiki How link, and add in bits from past experiences...

  1. Bring your own toilet paper. I used to think this was ridiculous. How could a public bathroom NOT have toilet paper? Then I went to Egypt where the majority of our group had Delhi Belly AND you had to pay for a couple of squares of toilet paper! Then in Central Asia where we were ill much of the time, one eventually took to carrying toilet paper. It's not much effort, but just one emergency totally justifies it!

  2. Pour some water in the toilet - it makes it easier to clean. There's often a bucket nearby.

  3. Pull down your pants or hitch up. From a guy's point of view, this gets tricky - you don't want your pants on the floor, but too high and there's ... obstruction.

  4. Squat with your heels flat on the ground. You might be used to squatting on the balls of your feet, with your feet close together, but this position is very unstable and hard on the knees. Squatting with feet hip-width or shoulder-width apart and with your feet flat is easier to hold for an extended period of time (if you're in Asia, you might notice many people squatting like this in public while waiting). If there are ridged foot rests, put your feet on those; otherwise, plant your feet on either side of the toilet and squat all the way down. - This is genius, my biggest fear with these toilets has always been falling over.

Also the direction you face differs depending on the toilet. If you keep finding yourself tipping, try turning around. It doesn't matter as long as your aim is true.

Also worth checking your stuff in your pockets - you don't want them to fall out as you tip.

Finally: Do your business. This part I leave up to you.

Bonus tips

As a guy, it's worth urinating first as it's easier standing up and decreases the risk of wetting one's trousers.

In some places (Uzbekistan, for example) the stalls are low, and you can literally look at the person next to you, have a chat, ask them to pass any available paper, and totally blame whoever made the loud noise. This is very awkward for some at first, but once you get over it and realise it's just not a big deal, it's ok.

If it has a flush, don't flush until you're standing. Big risk of splash damage.

Paper goes in a bucket or container nearby - NOT in the toilet. It can cause the toilet to actually clog.

EDIT

By coincidence, a travel blogger just tweeted his blog post on 'The Art of Squat'. A well written read.

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About toilet paper: I have visited mosque toilets in Istanbul and the normal way to proceed is to use left hand and water from the tap on the side of the toilet. Moreover in many hotels in Istanbul toilet paper should not be thrown into the toilet drain, but in the trash can on the side. Even occidental toilets there have a tap in them for using the hand instead of paper. –  mouviciel Oct 28 '11 at 5:41
    
Yes there are many countries where toilet paper blocks the system due to poor drainage or poor water pressure or whatever but this is also pretty common in sit-down toilet countries in the developing world too. I was also somewhere recently in the Balkans where you could flush only the special provided paper, which was very weak. –  hippietrail Oct 28 '11 at 7:42
    
I should've even mentioned that I've started to get dodgy knees. –  hippietrail Oct 28 '11 at 7:43
    
@mouviciel - yes, as I mentioned at the end, there's usually a bucket for the paper, it's very important not to clog the toilets with it. I was quickly reminded about the left hand thing in Uzbekistan when I went to pick up an apple...it did not go down well. It's hard being left-handed sometimes! –  Mark Mayo Oct 28 '11 at 11:06

Nobody seemed to have given emphasis on what I consider the most important, the position of your arms when doing it: they must be extended away.

No:

http://i.stack.imgur.com/yu7VP.jpg

Yes!

http://www.totallyhealthyyou.com/images/squat_stretch.jpg

I live in China and got used to them squat toilets, they are actually better for the transit, and learning this position is good for many other purposes, like waiting for the subway, watching the sun rise nearby the shore, or doing your little affair in the country side. They are also much more hygienic.

In India I have seen mix toilets, where you can seat if you are bold enough, but you can also squat on top of the seat. That's even better.

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This is funny. When I first read the question, I thought it a humorous prank. But, half way through the page, I was sort of convinced that it may possibly not have been intended to be.

I have used squat toilets for nearly all my life. At home, we have both the squat toilets and the sitting ones. I don't mind either, but I find the squat toilets to be more hygienic, especially when they are shared among people (especially in the case of public toilets), than the normal, sitting ones. You can probably take a guess why.

I'll be honest, I've never used a squat toilet with my trousers still hanging down my knees. I can't ever imagine doing that. In all our washrooms, we have ample hanging hooks. So every time I use it, I take off my trousers/boxers. It's much easier that way, and you don't have to worry about trying to keep your trouser/boxer from getting dirty or soaked. In other words, you can be at peace with yourself. :)

So you squat down with your behind facing the wider side of the toilet opening (don't attempt to sit the other way round, lest you want to risk making a mess, for obvious reasons). You can decide to squat down in whichever fashion you feel the most comfortable and keep your arms bent a little and pressed against the length of your thighs. Yes, after a period of time, your legs will start to get tired and then numb. That's just one of the things you'll have to get used to or learn to deal with.

The water pot, or what is popularly known in the Subcontinent as "lota", is what you fill water with. I hold it with my right hand, pour the water down, and wipe off with my left. That's only if you wash with water. If not, you can use the tissue roll which is supposedly fixed into a roll holder at an arm's reach from the toilet. If a toilet doesn't have it and you are only used to using a tissue roll, you ought to get one yourself before embarking on this mission. As someone pointed out already, be sure to run the flush of the toilet after you've finished and got up from squatting down. In all our washrooms, we also have washstand nearby, so when we are done working on the toilet, we get up and wash our hands, and then put on our trousers/boxers/whatever, and also flush the toilet. A word of advice though: If you don't have a tissue roll and are planning on washing with water in a public toilet or a toilet not at home, be sure to fill the water pot first before doing anything. I know it sounds silly, but it has happened to people I know in a lot of public washrooms. In some places, the water supply does run out, maybe because the tank providing the water got empty and the owner or person in charge forgot to run the water motor to fill it up that morning.

And that's pretty much it. It's not really rocket science -- well, maybe.

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WCs are used to refer to 'Western-style' seated toilets, never squat toilets. –  Ankur Banerjee Oct 28 '11 at 14:43
    
Hmm would methane be a sufficient propellent for a rocket? –  hippietrail Oct 28 '11 at 15:51
    
When you say "In all our washrooms" do you mean in your whole country or in your house? If the latter are you inviting us to use your nice clean one when we're travelling in your country and find the public ones a bit icky? –  hippietrail Dec 28 '13 at 9:22
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@hippietrail: I intended to mean the latter. But it is also mostly true for the former. However, if you're in the area, you're welcome to drop by. –  ayaz Dec 28 '13 at 10:54

Most of the answers here cover most bases you need to know so I'll try to cover topics not mentioned yet.

  • Do a short flush / send a bit of water down the pan before you begin. It'll help sending everything down later.
  • Washing up after you're done: Sometimes, you find a soap bar left inside a toilet instead of liquid soap. I'd suggest you to use this for cleaning your non-dominant hand only. If such a separate bar is not provided inside the toilet, then use any soap you get near sinks outside to first clean your non-dominant hand, then both hands. Check that the area under your nails is clean as this can be cause for ending up Delhi Belly. Alternatively, carry alcohol-based 'dry' hand disinfectants so that after washing your hands with water (thoroughly!) you can disinfect them. This can be easier than packing liquid soap or toilet paper into your luggage.
  • If travelling in India, you can find hawkers on trains, railway stations, bus stops selling 'soap paper' or 'paper soap'. These are thin strips of waxed paper dipped in soap, and you tear out single 'pages' from a matchbook-sized booklet to clean your hands with. (Yes, you do need to wet them with water. Place in your palm, hold under a tap, and lather up.) You can buy a couple of these really cheap (ballpark: $1 or less) and they are easy to carry even inside a wallet.
  • In SE Asia, if you go to villages or areas without plumbing facilities (sometimes, even major beaches), you could come across toilets without taps. There's usually a water reservoir inside the toilet with a large ladle-like water pan. Fill this up and keep handy before you sit down, as moving about once you're done can be messy.
  • Natives will usually pull the upper half of trousers (jeans, etc) down to knees and then squat down so it stays gripped there. It's a hard thing to do and I for one prefer taking them off completely. If you don't find hooks to hang them, try hanging on door latches or wedging them through door handle loops. Definitely not something you try with your best trousers, but jeans / cargoes can take the beating. Failing this, keep them on the floor on any dry area on the toilet floor (squatting is a lot more comfortable with trousers off). If the floor's wet...then you're in a shitty toilet. Deal with it.
  • Squatting Western toilets: I've tried hard to find a picture of this curious beast. It's a Western-style sitting toilet...with the toilet rim replaced with an Oriental-style squatting rests. The idea is you can sit or squat - whatever is comfortable with you. Unfortunately, this means if the person who used the toilet before you squatted, chances are the toilet rim will be dirty. Clean this with water before use.
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In which countries do you find these squatting western toilets? –  RoflcoptrException Oct 30 '11 at 20:39
    
Ah I think you're talking about these Italian toilets? (i143.photobucket.com/albums/r129/acaneva/2006Italy125.jpg) or (mediatinker.com/blog/upload/2008/08/studio-toilet.jpg) –  RoflcoptrException Oct 30 '11 at 20:42
    
@Roflcoptr: That's not it. It's literally a Western-style / 'normal' - whatever you call it - toilet which instead of having a plastic ring toilet seat has foot rests like an Oriental squatting toilet instead. I've found these in India and Thailand. As I mentioned, this one's a curious beast and you'll rarely if ever run into one, but I mentioned it in case anyone does. –  Ankur Banerjee Oct 30 '11 at 22:52
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Hmm apparently Turkish truckstops all have shitty toilets. I've dealt with them using my tried and true method of holding on until I find a Western toilet or becoming desperate - usually the former (-: –  hippietrail Oct 31 '11 at 7:50
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@AnkurBanerjee: I guess you mean these: image search for "anglo-indian toilet". We had one at home when I was a kid; actually there was a "plain" seat (flap) between the porcelain and the lid, so you could also use it as a Western toilet if your knees couldn't take squatting. –  ShreevatsaR Jul 1 at 9:40

I grew up with those as well and only positive that comes out from using those is that you get a good work out and avoid keeping reading material in your bathroom. I am not sure about other parts of Asia but in India they mostly have western toilets in metropolitan cities. I had a tough time adjusting back to the squatter when I went back after 10 years.

  • Removing your pants and then squatting is the most efficient way.
  • It's best you use water instead of toilet paper (it helps flow poop towards hole)
  • You'd poop ideally close to the hole
  • don't just squat but "spread the eagle"
  • If it's taking long then try to rest one leg at a time by squatting just on one leg

All this help won't come in hand when you really just have to go. Everything will fall in place when you just have to go :)

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I can only remember one place in Japan where there was a hook so I could even use the pants removal method. Mostly where I've been there's been no hooks. –  hippietrail Oct 28 '11 at 15:50
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What on earth is 'spreading the eagle'?? –  Mark Mayo Oct 29 '11 at 5:03
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@MarkMayo: You don't want to know, and don't google it. –  mindcorrosive Oct 29 '11 at 10:37

I've read through all the answers and comments and, if I'm not mistaken, they seem to be always written by men. Using a squat toilet is surely much more complicated when wearing trousers, as most men do around the world, so I appreciate your points and debate.

Squat toilets are not as much of a problem from a female point of view, if we think of women wearing "traditional" clothes, which means skirts of various lengths. True, we are in the same predicament as men when wearing pantyhose or trousers, and this may be one of the reasons why squat toilets have become less common in western Europe than they were.

I live in Northern Italy and squat toilets are still to be found in public places (restaurants, bars, railway stations, ...) Frequently, they are meant for gentlemen's toilets, which however are normally used only for peeing (in which case men usually stand), whereas ladies' toilets are generally equipped with the western-style toilet.

This is not always the case, though, so when I find one, my first preoccupation is to remove everything from my pockets for fear that I may drop something. I suppose that in Italy squat toilets are preferred to the other type in public places because they are easier to clean; normally they can be flushed as the other type of toilet and toilet paper can be flushed along with the rest.

I encountered the same kind of toilet in Sweden when visiting my former boyfriend's summerhouse on one of the islands of the Stockholm archipelago; there was no running water in the house, so the toilet was a wooden cabin outside with just a hole in the ground; I never got to know where the dejections went, but the cabin surely stank...

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People in India who use Squat toilets at home wear a specific attire called 'Lungi' for this job. This makes the whole process more comfortable.

Men wearing lungis
Public domain image of men wearing lungis in Kolkata (Calcutta) thanks to WikiMedia Commons.

In most of the public toilets, you will find space above the door where you can hang your trousers.

The real problem would be the shoes. I don't think there is a solution for this. You will definitely end up with wet socks. This is not a problem with locals because they use slippers (sandals) for toilets. You will hardly see a local entering a public toilet wearing shoes.

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Could someone downvote this answer for me please? This answerer is quite ill-informed about the relation between a particular region's attire and type of toilets that are commonplace in the country. I could go on and on about the in-correctness, but I suppose it warrants a question of its own! –  bPratik Feb 6 '13 at 15:03
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@bPratik: Well, I just said that the attire made the job easier compared to other attires like pants/trousers. I am from the same region. I myself change to Lungi before using the Squat toilet in my home. And so do the people I know. If you have specific sentiments about the attire, please elaborate. I myself will delete the answer if it is valid. –  Ramnath Feb 7 '13 at 21:57
    
I do not wish for you to delete the answer, but I do still say that it is wrong in the way it is written. You, and the people you know, changing to lungi doesn't imply that most others do. In fact if you were to pull figures, I'm certain lungi as part of an attire, let alone toilet attire, would be a minority. But if you were to now split these stats regionally, your answer would be true for some regions. The only thing that's annoying me is that your answer is implying these things on the whole of India, which is incorrect. :) –  bPratik Feb 8 '13 at 10:20
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Here is a Wiki page to support the statement that Lungi is an attire worn by most people in India. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clothing_in_India It also has reference to Dhoti which is very similar to Lungi. There is also a statement that 'Pants' have been accepted "only recently" as a traditional attire by Govt of India. You might be speaking on behalf of high class urban people which is actually a very small percentage. And I am sure they won't have squat toilets in their home. –  Ramnath Feb 11 '13 at 16:56
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Dude, where in the article that you linked does it say "Lungi is an attire worn by most people in India"? Further to that if you even read the article specifically dedicated to lungi's, nowhere is there a mention, nor an implication that it is the most common attire. I hope you do realise that I am not trying to shoot you down here, but instead informing you that some of your statements may not be factual, and if you do not have the evidence, it is best to be open to suggestions. –  bPratik Feb 11 '13 at 19:06

I'll add a short answer to address the central point in the question: "trousers seem to be blocking an important thoroughfare! How the hell is this supposed to work??!!"

I traveled in Asia for a while and at first had the exact same problem. For the first few months there, I would actually completely take my trousers off before using a squat toilet. But then I discovered that this fear of trousers "blocking" something is just based on a poor understanding of actual anatomy. Do an experiment in the privacy of your own bathroom: Pull the pants down to your knees and squat - you will see that either there is no blockage (your trousers are far away, way forward of the "important thoroughfare". If they're not far enough, you can easily grab them with your hand and push them forward - you'll see that there will be a huge air gap between any of your clothes and the "thoroughfare".

And as a bonus, it is actually cleaner than sitting on a western-type toilet, where your trousers are pulled down to the floor which is in many places wet and dirty. With a squat-style toilet, only the soles of your feet ever touch anything on the floor.

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This will be easier for Jonah Falcon and more difficult for Enrique Iglesias. –  hippietrail Jun 6 at 22:54
    
@hippietrail: That part of the anatomy has nothing to do with it. It's just a matter of the bend of your knees keeping your trousers in place -- you can even spread your knees as wide as your trousers will allow, if you want to be extra-sure the trousers remain tightly in place. :-) –  ShreevatsaR Jul 1 at 9:49

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