Yes, it is something that all foreign women ask themselves as they eye the squatty potty (as my friend and I call the toilet in China). And if you do decide to take a chance how do you do it? It is all so … foreign.

With a pending trip to China, well pending, my potential roommate asked me about said potties. Finding myself slightly enjoying the looks of shock I gave her as I told her tales I decided to see if there was any information less scary to tell her about them. And well I found some on Lostlaowai although they aren’t less scary but very accurate and informative. So to all of you future Wandering Waiguoren read, laugh and prepare.




Women’s Bathrooms in China — The Honest Truth about Chinese Toilets

I know, everyone always comments on Chinese toilets – they are on the floor, big deal. Well, most of those people who write about the Chinese facilities are men, and let’s face it, when it comes to bathrooms, men have it easy. So here is what really goes on behind the 女 door.

Are Chinese bathrooms dirty? Yes! But Chinese people have clean hands.

There is a difference in the cultural ideas of cleanliness here.

In the west, we like to have clean restroom facilities because they look nice enough to touch and diminish the fear of festering bacteria. We also have the social responsibility to wash our hands with the facility provided soap and running water or use our convenient little hand sanitizer bottles.


In China, it’s hard to find those little hand sanitizer bottles (really, for some reason there are plenty of large bottles but few little ones) and many restrooms don’t have soap or even running water. There is also the idea that putting your hands under cold water when it is cold out will get you sick (this is actually proved to be correct, but it spreads germs and gets everyone else sick) so there isn’t much emphasis on handwasing. This means that clean is then a matter of keeping your hands clean, not coming into contact with anything at all. Again, guys have it easy here. Girls however have stalls with stall doors and have to flush.

So have you ever seen those old women who, without any modesty, leave the door hanging wide open while doing something rather private then precede to not flush? Sure it seems close to vile in western culture but look at from a cleanliness perspective – she didn’t touch the door handle or the toilet handle. She thinks it’s disgusting when us westerns not only close the door but grab hold of the handle and fasten the lock, then precede to touch the toilet handle, that has been touched by countless people who have just touched some not so clean places, to flush the toilet.

So Many bathrooms in China are outright disgusting, but if you don’t touch anything they are clean as can be.

Should you sit down on a public toilet? It’s probably not a good idea.

Remember that whole idea of not touching anything in the bathroom? That includes the toilet seat. Many Chinese people think public western toilets are disgusting – just think about how many butts have touched it before yours! It’s honestly not the butts you should worry about but the feet. Since many Chinese people think western toilets are dirty, they will proceed to climb onto the seat and squat just like using a regular Chinese toilet. You’ve never wondered why the toilet seats are so scuffed up? Trust me, those shoes aren’t clean.

Those who aren’t climbers are often hoverers and while this is a good clean method, it often misses the mark. My advice is honestly to use a Chinese toilet or bring sani-wipes for the seat.

Are there any nice bathrooms? Sure, there are more and more nice bathrooms everyday

If you are ever out and about, go to any KFC or McDonald’s. Generally, any foreign owned franchise will employ western sanitation techniques and many higher end Chinese establishments are pretty good about it as well.

How bad are the squatters? Not that bad, but they have their drawbacks.

I have tons of western friends who love them and prefer them to western toilets – these friends are all men.

The thing that no one tells you about women and squatters is that… there can be splash back. No one wants to admit that it happens, but I’ve heard many embarrassed confessions. There was even this one joke about not kissing dirty ankles.

Sometimes there is no splash guard, or you squat too far forward or not center enough and so you miss. I’m sure you personally never do, and I sure don’t, but someone does because there are often little puddles on the foot areas next to or in front of the squatters.

It doesn’t matter though, it’s only the bottoms of your shoes that get dirty right? Well, pant legs and long skirts sometimes come down a bit more than expected when you squat. You might notice women rolling up their pant legs while waiting in line, do what the locals do. Also, don’t wear those foam flip-flops or cloth-covered shoes to the Chinese WC.

Do you have to undress to use a squatter? No.

You’d be surprised how many people try to take their pants off, or at least one pant leg off, to use the squatters. It explains some of the long waits in the women’s room. It’s not necessary – you’ll figure it out. If you are really worried, just wear skirts.

So it’s just squatters and dirty western toilets, right? Yes, if you stay within the major cities.

If you ever leave a major city, just hold it until you go back.

So the variety of restroom facilities really varies by region in China and goes by many different terms.   They also vary in different degrees of laowai-friendliness.

Some are really decent outhouses that are actually better than the porter potties at American county fairs and construction sites.

Some are really just big holes in the ground with one wall to give the illusion of privacy. With a nice country breeze and plenty of room, these can actually better than some bathrooms in the cities.  In some areas, these holes or pits are calledfeikong – waste holes.

I think the Darwin award should go to whomever decided to build a windowless brick outhouse in the middle of the Inner Mongolian desert. I suppose it probably does withstand the sand and wind better than any other structure, but ever heard of a brick oven? I think it’s actually one the levels of Hell to be locked in a small room full of other people’s baking feces.

For the really bad bathrooms, just put some of those scented tissues over your nose and be fast!

What about 男/女 restrooms? The problem with many bathrooms that don’t separate men and women is honestly the locks…

Remember the thing about touching the locks? Men often don’t lock the doors either. It’s scary walking in on a drunk man with a cigarette in his mouth who smiles as he lets you enjoy the view. It’s even worse when you are using the facilities with a broken lock and a man walks in on you and takes way too long to turn around and close the door. There are many doors that don’t close right or don’t lock so have someone guard the door for you. It’s just embarrassing.

Why are there urinals in the women’s bathroom?

I’ve come across this a couple of times and had to do a double take to make sure I went through the right door.  Yes, there are sometimes male urinals in the women’s bathrooms in China.  I’ve asked around and they are for women who have to take their sons to the bathroom.  I guess it makes sense.

Are children toilet trained? Sure.

Many 3-5 year-olds still pee right on the floor. Well, if you don’t want to endure the Chinese bathrooms, why put innocent children through it?

This actually puzzled me for the longest time. Finally I got around to asking about this. One reason is that children, apparently, shouldn’t have to hold it if there isn’t a bathroom readily available, that’s actually what that bucket is for on buses (or at least I’ve most commonly seen it used as such). Reason two is that children can fall in or fall down and touch something and then they need a bath. See, Chinese people are actually very cleanliness conscious, it just looks like using a public floor for relief is unclean to foreign bystanders.

Can children really fall in? Maybe.

It really depends on the toilet. Remember how some women miss? Well, sometimes those floors are really slick and I’ve almost fallen down a couple times myself. Remember those waste holes? Sometimes the pits are actually quite large and you have to balance yourself on a corner. I could imagine a small child falling in and then needing help to get out… In general, I think the children are big enough to use a public restroom without falling in.

Should you eat the pork? That’s really a personal choice.

If you are ever out in the country, you may or may not want to use the facilities before dinner. You see, some people don’t want to clean the outhouse, it’s dirty. So sometimes people connect the outhouses to the pig pens so they can kill two birds with one stone – don’t have to clean the outhouse and not have to feed the pigs. It is really disturbing seeing how excited the pigs get when they see you walking up to the outhouse…

I experienced some really bad bathrooms in China, things that I still have nightmares about but don’t even phase most Chinese people. I’ve also spent more time outside of the big cities than a lot of foreigners. Basically, Chinese bathrooms can pose some challenges, but you get used to them and then they really just aren’t a big deal. 

There are many times in China and when I envied men, they have it easy when it comes to bathrooms.  Often men don’t even bother using the facilities, especially if the restroom is dirty, far away, or occupied.  I blame men for stinking up the streets and that one area in the park!

One thought on “To go or not to go….its a hard question when you are doing the potty dance

  1. You can now say you’ve met one foreign woman who prefers to use a Chinese squatty potty (we call them that too. =) to a Western toilet in public situations. Personally I don’t put my butt on a toilet seat in any public restroom, and I think it’s much easier to squat over a Chinese toilet than hover over a Western one. They can be pretty dirty though.

    And for the broken or non-existent doors… just another reason to never leave home without your trusty umbrella!

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