Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly about Chinese toilets.
When I went to China, nothing prepared me for the toilets.
They’re very different to the toilets back home, and so are the rules and expectations surrounding them.
Whether you’re heading to China or not, here are 11 things you really need to know.
1. They’re often dirty and smelly
Although your hotel in China will have a Western-style throne, you’re going to encounter squat toilets wherever you go.
Despite recent efforts to clean up public toilets (some have their own attendant), they’re often very smelly and dirty.
But even the toilets in places like restaurants and tourist attractions can be gross. My advice is to save your business for your hotel.
Rural Chinese toilets are next-level foul, especially the pit toilets. Thankfully, they’re being phased out.
2. They’re hard to use
Chinese toilets are supposed to be good for your digestive system because they put you into a more natural position.
But when you’ve grown up in a Western country like I have, they can be very difficult to use and may end up being your nemesis.
The first time I used a squat toilet in China was when I went to a hospital for my health exam (when I taught English in China).
They gave me a cup and told me to give a sample.
I was in a tiny, cramped, wet stall for 15 minutes, holding onto the door with one hand so I could balance, and trying to get the sample with the other.
It was one of the most stressful times of my life! I was pathetically proud when I managed to hand over my sample.
My point is, Chinese toilets are hard to use if you’re not used to them, especially if you have weak leg muscles.
3. Used tissues go in the trash can
The plumbing system in China isn’t set up to deal with tissues, so if you flush one you might block the toilet.
Instead, locals are expected to put their waste paper in the trash can next to the toilet when they’re done.
The bins sit there all day filled with dirty tissues, often overflowing onto the floor. It’s a sight (and smell) that you will never forget.
Luckily, most hotels in China are equipped to handle toilet tissues though there’s always a bin beside the toilet.
4. Always bring tissues and sanitizer
Every time you leave your hotel, make sure you’ve packed toilet paper in your bag. It’s not provided in China.
It’s also not uncommon to find a Chinese toilet, particularly a public one, that doesn’t have any soap let alone hot water to wash your hands with.
And don’t expect a hand dryer either.
(Along with toilet tissue, you can check this page for the things you should bring to China.)
5. Puddles are a problem
Depending on where you are in the country, some toilets have a hose attached to the wall.
Using this when your pants are around your ankles is not the most comfortable or easiest thing to do. And even when you do it well, it almost always results in puddles.
There’s also the problem of the hose because you only have two hands and one of them is usually occupied keeping you stable. If you’re really uncoordinated like me, the hose can get away from you.
Another problem with the puddles is that you’ll step in them no matter how carefully you walk.
And if you’re really unlucky, your pants will drop into one while you’re using the toilet. Just try not to think about the combination of fluids in the puddle!
6. Men smoke in the bathroom
In China, smoking is permitted literally everywhere, and the men love it. This includes smoking in the bathroom.
There are only a few places where smoking isn’t allowed, like on planes and high-speed trains.
If you’re a non-smoker like me, this can be very unpleasant. But I’m thankful I never had to experience the gents toilet!
7. Don’t look sideways
When you walk into a bathroom in China, make sure you avoid looking sideways as you head for your stall.
It isn’t unusual to find that people have left the door open or ajar while they use the toilet. This might be a throw-back to the times when most public toilets didn’t have doors.
There seems to be an unspoken kind of courtesy about moments like these. You’ll see the locals walking past the doors in front of you, never looking right or left.
Make sure you do the same.
8. Tourist areas can be a safe haven
If you really don’t want to use a squat toilet in China, stick to the tourist areas.
I know that’s not always possible, or maybe it’s something you don’t want to do if you’re an adventurous traveler.
But from my experience, you’ve got a better chance of finding a Western-style toilet in the places that attract hordes of foreign tourists.
Also, you can casually waltz into any big hotel and use their loo, which is almost always on the ground floor and clean.
It’s unlikely that anyone will approach you and tell you to leave due to the concept of face. They might be embarrassed speaking English to you in case they say something wrong (besides, you could also be a hotel guest).
And when it comes to using the bathroom – a sensitive subject for many – they’re not going to want to engage in a conversation about this.
9. Airport toilets will fool you
China has some pretty impressive airports.
Whether you fly into Beijing, Shanghai, or even Chengdu, you’ll be amazed at how impeccably clean the airports are.
And the airport toilets are no exception. You could probably eat your lunch off the floor (okay, maybe not that clean).
There’s also usually a choice of toilets – squat or Western.
But don’t be fooled by the cleanliness or choice. While it’s a great ‘Welcome to China’ moment, it is absolutely not what to expect when you’re traveling around the country.
10. There are different ways of saying toilet
There are numerous ways to say ‘toilet’ in Mandarin:
- 厕所 (cèsuǒ) is toilet
- 蹲厕 (dūncè) is squat toilet
- 卫生间 (wèishēngjiān) is restroom or bathroom
- 公共卫生间 (gōnggòng wèishēngjiān) is public toilet
- 洗手间 (xǐshǒujiān) is also restroom; it literally means “washing hands room”.
These terms are used interchangeably throughout the country.
If Mother Nature calls and you can’t find the bathroom or your tour guide, I recommend using a translation app (see the article on China travel apps for more info).
Funnily enough, some locals will understand you if you just say ‘WC’ in English. This stands for ‘water closet’, a British term meaning a room that contains a flush toilet.
Usually, there are universal signs for men’s and women’s toilets, but some older facilities will only have the Chinese characters.
11. Locals like a warm behind
And finally, a funny one.
While many private homes in China now have Western-style toilets, the locals don’t like their bottom getting too cold from the seat.
So, it’s quite common for them to have fabric toilet seat covers.
If you’re ever invited to someone’s house in China, you’ll get to experience this firsthand.
Psst! A quick travel tip
When using Wi-Fi in China, you won’t be able to access foreign websites and apps like Google, Gmail, Facebook, Instagram, major news sites, and many more.
This is due to the country’s strict internet censorship laws.
You can only access these sites if you download a virtual private network (VPN) app on your phone before you touch down on Chinese soil.
To help you, here are the VPNs that work in China. Or, you can skip the review and get the one most recommended:
Note: Link opens in a new window.
Just remember to download your VPN to your devices before you touch down in China, otherwise you won’t be able to get access.
More weird and wonderful China
If you’re interested in the quirkiness of China, you may also like these articles:
Or, refer to the squat toilet in China FAQ where Mike answers some of the most embarrassing questions.
I hope you liked my article about Chinese toilets. Despite the condition of many toilets across the country, it’s an amazing place to visit. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions.
Main photo credit: Supplied by Gayle Aggiss.
FAQ about Chinese toilets
What is a Chinese toilet?
It’s typically a squat toilet, though in private homes some people have a sit-down toilet. In all public places in China, you’ll find squat toilets. The flush may be a foot pedal, or a button you press with your hand.
Why are Chinese toilets on the ground?
They’re on the ground for hygiene reasons. Squat toilets are thought to be cleaner because your body doesn’t need to touch the toilet. It’s only your shoes that touch the surrounding area of the toilet.
Why do Chinese stand on toilets?
Some Chinese people are only used to using squat toilets. So, when they encounter a Western-style toilet, they may stand on it instead of sitting on it. Unfortunately, this can make the seat rather dirty for the next person who sits on the toilet.