How to: Use a squat toilet

In 2007, my husband and I were privileged enough to take a month off and travel around Europe. Given that we spent most of our time in Western Europe, there really wasn't a whole lot of cultural confusion, with a few notable exceptions*. Chief among them, the squat toilets we stumbled across at a very inconvenient moment in Italy. "Inconvenient moment" here defined as "actually having to use the bathroom."

My friend Frank Bures is a travel writer and he understands the squat toilet problem all too well. Frank is, after all, somebody who has traveled extensively in places where squat is all you got. In a piece from 2006, he shares some hard-earned advice on squat toilets. How I wish I had read this before my venturing into small towns in coastal Italy.

Dr. Jane Wilson-Howarth is probably the world’s foremost expert on excretion, a real Buddha of Bowel Movements, and she’s not afraid to get into the details. “My technique when I’m teaching volunteers about to go abroad,” said the author of How to Shit Around the World from her UK office, “is that when you’re learning, you need to take everything off below your waist: socks, shoes, pants, underwear. Then squat over the toilet. Pour water over your bum, and with your left hand, just whittle away with your fingers and try to dislodge any lumpy bits while pouring water. And that’s actually not too unaesthetic, because any mess that goes onto your fingers comes off in the water.”

What to do: Most important: Cultivate the right mindset. Relax, pretend like you’ve been doing this for years. Remember, using your hand is (according Wilson-Howarth) actually more hygienic, not less, than using toilet paper. “You get good bacteriological cleaning with just rubbing your hands together with soap under running water four times,” she says, and cites a study which says you don’t even need soap. “It can be ash or mud, just rubbing your hands together under water with some kind of washing agent. Even dirt from the river bank will give you good bacteriological cleaning.”

Read the rest at WorldHum

*Another notable exception: Andouillette sausage is not the same thing as andouille. You've been warned.

Image: Squat toilet, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from jiahungli's photostream


  1. The last time I saw a post with this title it was by Bora and it went viral. The reason it went viral is that the summer Olympics were coming up, in China.

    So, naturally, when I saw this post just now I thought “Hmmm … London has squat toilets?”

  2. Did you guys get trolled? It is certainly not standard squat toilet practice to “whittle away with your fingers and try to dislodge any lumpy bits”. 

    1. I choked on that too. I’ve used squat toilets, outhouses, actual holes in the ground… never have I had to get a hand full of poo :/

    2. Depending on where you are in the world, that is very much the given. Understandable confusion here, though. My only experience with squat toilet was in a European bathroom, which had toilet paper. The article is written specifically about squat toilets as they exist in much of Africa and Asia, and there … the left hand is, in fact, for wiping. 

      1. IMHO, this post could use some work/editing.  Until I got to the comments I was wondering why you had to shove your hand up your ass when using the toilets of rural Italy.   It was only in the comments that this was clarified that this had nothing to do with squat toilets; just general advice for hygienic cleaning when you have only water and not TP (but it’s presented as advice for how to use a squat toilet). 

        1. When travelling around Asia and Africa, I just learned not to leave home without toilet paper. Most places didn’t have it, and often didn’t have much in the way of water either. As far as using your left hand, surely washing carelessly would be worse than not at all, as then you have two dirty hands. After taking some time to get used to using squat toilets, now I tend to use them if there’s a choice – they actually seem healthier than western style toilets (although the ‘accidents’ look more dramatic and the smell is often worse).

  3. I stayed with some friends of friends in Chandigarh who had an east/west toilet.  It looks like a normal western style toilet, but when you flip up the seat, it has treads for squatting.

    Also, how you clean your ass is not related to whether or not you squat.  I ran into western style toilets in Cairo that had DIY ass squirterators.

    1. When he perceived the Chandigarh toilet looming in the dusk of the empty bathroom, Antinous finally knew for certain that all those years of grueling yoga practice had not been in vain.

  4. Anyone who can’t figure this out has never gone camping, and i don’t mean at a camp ground, I mean actual hike into the middle of nowhere camping.

    1. I’m sure you’re right! Give yourself a pat on the back, wilderness man! But with your right hand!

    2. I still get surprised whenever people admit they don’t know how to do it without a toilet. I mean…you just…you just squat. It’s one of those things that shouldn’t require a special tool.

  5. I’m very confused here. I’ve used these when I was living in Western Europe (where you’ll still find them in freeway rest areas or some dive bars), and toilet paper was provided. It seems completely silly and inaccurate to associate squat toilets with lack of TP.

    1. Arnaud I felt the same way. I never had a problem with lack of TP in Europe, but I suppose all public toilets occasionally run out. This person apparently had one bad experience and simply generalized for the whole country. 

    2. Not all of Western Europe. I’ve never encountered any of these outside of France, in fact we call these “french toilets” in Belgium.

      1. If deep-fried potato strips are any indicator, they probably call them Belgian toilets in France.

          1. Likewise, I think that was the custom to blame other countries with spreading syphilis 

      2. Common in Greece (though that’s not Western Europe) where they’re called “Turkish toilets”.

  6. Reminds me of Japan… On the bullet trains they have clearly labelled Japanese and Western style cubicles. Squatting over anything at 300kph is no mean feat, let alone on a Shink.

  7. since it’s tangentially related, i can ask boingboing something i’ve been wanting to know for a while: is there anywhere in nyc to get andouillette (preferably prepared, avec frites)? i’ve asked even some of the top charcuteries, and they all think i’m talking about the lesser andouille…

    1.  Damn, that’s a coincidence.  I came here to ask if anyone knew how I could get US andouille in the UK.

      Talking about sausages in a post about crapping is probably not a good idea, though…

      1. maggie mentioned it at the end of the post. also, if you look up andouillette, you’ll find that the reason it’s not popular (or even available at all?) in the US is because it smells somewhat of shit, due to being composed exclusively of intestines and seasonings.

  8. Here’s a technique many people use:  Holding it in!  Unless of course, the situation becomes truly dire.

      1. Same for me, though mostly terminological (lowering cable, washing your dreadlocks, etc.).

      2. Hah, just like someone said in the comments: doesn’t show how you “dry” your ass. Not a big fan with juice dripping down to my ankles when I walk or soaking into my underwear.

  9. It’s pretty much impossible to get sick from trace amounts of your own fecal matter, it’s the guy who prepares your sandwich and his hands and his germs that you have to worry about. 

    1.  That’s why anal sex and rim jobs in a long-term relationship aren’t as risky as they sound: the bacteria in the gut tends to be the same for those who live together and share foods, saliva, etc.

      1. Personal hygiene still counts for a lot.  If someone likes something that actually smells like ass, that’s a fetish. 

        1. There’s a difference between smelling like ass and smelling like shit. At least in the case of people with good hygiene.

    2. I will not dispute the veracity of your claim, however, there are aesthetic factors at play here.

  10. TP: A wise man once said to me “If you got shit on your hands, would you wipe it off with paper or wash it off with water?”

  11. …And guess what. Since last April, here in Italy we have steam engines too! (but I hear they do scare the mammuths…)

  12. It’s best to know squat about this. Use Imodium instead!
    And good luck if you’re a leftie in India.

    1. Fun fact: Pepto-Bismol contains bismuth, which shows up on your airport security scan.

      1. Really?  So, do those wily TSA agents get to see my GI tract all lit up and pink as I go through the full body scan?  

        1. I doubt that it shows on the pornoscanner. Before I went to India, my friends who were already there called and begged me to bring vast quantities of Pepto-Bismol. I had to unpack my luggage at the airport to see what those hundreds of radiopaque discs were.

          I might also add that, based on their abject pleading, I removed the cardboard from 42 rolls of toilet paper, squished it flat and crammed it into my duffel, only to discover that there was no shortage of TP in India; it just wasn’t soft enough for their first world asses.

    1.  Well said, bzishi. The point we’re all missing here is that the chair-like toilets we use in the west (which we think are ‘normal’) are really unnatural in terms of bodily posture for defecating. The position required for using a squat toilet opens the body in the way nature intended.
      Things like hemorrhoids, diverticulitis and mucosal prolapses are not just caused by diet but are largely the result of the body straining to evacuate with the muscles etc in the wrong position, ie caused by sitting not squatting.
      One of the worst things the Japanese took from the west was the chair-style toilet (having previously used squatters.) And of course they made it even worse by covering it in electronic switches and buttons!

      1.  I think you’ll find that the ‘worst idea’ the Japanese have adopted has a lot to do with their aging population. Trying to do a full squat a 98yrs old is not so easy.

      2. I rember as a small child I squatted when dropping a deuce. Only started to “sit” because heck I got bigger growing up lol.

      3.  How are squat ‘toilets’ useful for women?  Most of the time, it’s just number one and we’d spray everywhere.  Health benefits my ass!  I don’t have trouble dropping logs in my first world toilets.

  13. One of the most intense “number two” experiences I’ve had as an adult took place at a squat toilet in Kyoto at the site of Toji Pagoda. Holy crap, I dare say.

    So, they had toilet paper and sink, and even had handles to hold on to. But dear god, it was the first squat toilet I’d ever used, and I REALLY needed to go at the time, and it was difficult as all hell. Let me just say, I made absolute use of those handles, as I clutched on for life, leaning backwards, pants pushed as far down around my ankles as I could possibly muster, so as to avoid the unfortunate possibility of laying a crap, or piss, in my pants/underwear/socks.

    The biggest challenge, really, is to figure out how to avoid dropping/spraying waste product onto your clothes, without fully removing them. Any squatting position in which I thought it would be even remotely comfortable to drop a crap or take a piss, essentially involved squatting directly over my pants/underwear. I still don’t understand proper procedure.

    1. People who grow up squatting can get their heels to the floor and don’t have to balance on their toes. This makes it quite a bit easier.

      1. Traditional Japanese kneeling (“seiza”) would lossen up the quads in ways Americans never experience.

        1. It’s the calves that are the problem. Some people’s feet aren’t really geared right to get their heels down, either.

    2. You were doing it wrong. If you are squatting “correctly”, your pants should be bunched at your knees, well out of the way. The handles aren’t necessary of you’re low enough. Perhaps handy for getting into position and getting back up, but done right, you’ll be relaxed and balanced without them.

  14. The best advice is simply to squat low. Bend your knees completely so you are relaxed and sitting on your haunches. Don’t try to “hover” in a half-squat. You’ll be more comfortable, be less likely to soil your feet/shoes, less likely to miss, and you’ll actually reduce the need for as much clean-up. “It” will tend to snap off more cleanly with your hips fully flexed and your buttocks under full extension and therefore “out of the way”.

    This advice also applies to shitting in the woods.

    I agree that the advice on clean-up isn’t directly related to squat-shitting but there is some correlation between the squat facilities and lack of TP (in my experience). A seasoned traveller takes their own TP. A VERY seasoned traveller doesn’t care.

    1.  Here I thought I’d throw in an anecdote about summer camp.  The Senior Patrol Leader went out in the woods to answer nature’s call.  Having taken Wilderness Survival, he knew he could use a handful of leaves for wiping.

      I bet you can guess what kind of plant the leaves came from.

      1.  We would canoe and tube on the Alafi river.  I recall quite a few steaming piles, with some guys crap covered shirt laying on the ground next to it.  Seems like using the shirt would avoid having to be an expert in plant recognition.

        1. Crapping in river valleys where people canoe, kayak, raft and tube is repugnant. Pack it in – pack it out, people.

          1.  Generally leaving human turd laying around anywhere is repugnant.   It is one of those actions that, excluding the occasional fecal freak, serves to unite people across the political divide.

  15. Well that would save a lot of bickering about leaving the seat up, wouldn’t it?

    On the other hand, it would really cut down on my reading.

  16. I traveled rather a lot in Thailand including to remote jungle areas and so have a fair bit of experience with these. Outside of the fancy shopping malls in Bangkok, it’s rare to find a public toilet with TP (or a public toilet at all, actually). Most have sprayers (which are great) and I miss those in the US – don’t really need TP although without it you do have to wait so you dry off a bit.

    Once you get to squat-toilet territory, the equation changes dramatically. Because the sprayers are typical and people are used to having water (but not TP, which clogs most plumbing) some squat toilets have buckets of water with a cup to splash the water onto yourself with! Of course, the worst ones are squat toilets with neither TP or water or a sink to wash your hands with afterward. Carrying your own TP is recommended but you can’t flush it in any toilet where you’d need your own TP – many have small garbage cans to put it in, but not all.

    You do get used to it, but the Thai government recently announced that it considers this a major issue and wants to upgrade toilets all across the country. It will mean a massive overhaul of the sewers and plumbing systems (both of which are abysmal) so likely it’s just some politicians saying things they have no intention of doing (or funding to do in any case) to make people like them, a common problem in Thailand (as everywhere).

    Funnily enough, when I smell fecal-ish smells (particularly diarrhea smells) I am instantly reminded of Thailand and get a “wish I was there” feeling :)

    1. The worst ‘toilet’ that I ran across in India didn’t have a hole in the floor; it had a sloping floor and a hole in the wall. And it was in a city. The worst one in Nepal just had a floorboard removed. The pile of poo was higher than floor level.

      1. My worst toilet experience was also in Thailand. It was a roughly 60 cm diameter hole in the floor of a moving train. Don´t slip!

        1. We were in Hawaii waiting for a tour boat, and over my shoulder I could eavesdrop on a bunch of homeless winos (the real deal) trying to one-up each other’s taking-a-shit horror stories

      2. Heh. Yes, actually I was lucky in that while those sorts of places abounded – especially in some of the mountain jungle areas I was in – I never had to actually use one. 

        For 4/5 of the months I was in Thailand (across multiple trips) I was not a tourist and was able to easily plan access to decent facilities. Thai people do this too so it wasn’t embarrassing or anything to coordinate with them (they always knew the best places to go).

        I suspect that in general Thailand is probably a lot better with sanitation than India (where I haven’t been), too – even in hill tribe villages way off the beaten tourist track most people at least had porcelain squat toilets in their outhouses (which now that I think about it is actually kind of odd – the government gives a lot of support to hill tribes and may have provided the toilets).

  17. Having been to India before this advice is utter shit (pun intended). To use a squat toilet you simply pull your trousers down to your knees, squat down so your trousers are clear, do your business and then use the toilet paper that you brought with you.

    1. I’ve had to deal with this while winter hunting.  Carry a long loop of climbing webbing to get a good squat with a belay from a tree. Webbing is also to drag out deer.

    2. A step-beyond…

      Squat, unzip  pull down trousers  & pee while balancing a baby in a baby carrier at your front and back-pack on back, then wipe and zip up, without messing clothes, or slipping.

  18. Fuck no, Andouillette sausage is not the same thing as andouille. I found out the hard way as well.

  19. Where the hell have you found Turkish Toilets in Italy?
    You can only spot a few in some public middle schools but still it’s quite rare…
    And guess what? Unlike England we usually have bidets in our bathrooms…

    1. I remember them from many a family holiday all over Italy. That was about 20 years ago though …

  20. I was taught as a child never ever ever to sit down on a public toilet. Ever. So it’s actually easier when the toilet bowl isn’t in the way. 

    (and I’m much faster than those people who need to cover the entire seat with loo paper first)

    I think it’s also easier for women :P  We don’t get the comfort of standing up while peeing, every time we’re in the great outdoors and there’s no toilet in sight, it’s squatting time!

    1. I carry a bottle of Purelle for the toilet seat.  I don’t need to pick up someone else’s flesh eating bacteria. 

    2. I was taught as a child never ever ever to sit down on a public toilet.

      Ah, a hoverer. You do know that hovering tends to leave pee on the seat?

  21. Squat toilets (and other interesting toilets you’ll find while traveling internationally) are helpfully explained in the essential book for travelers called “Going Abroad.” You can find it on Amazon.

  22. Reading all this stuff after growing up very rural, my only concerns are really about hygiene – all hillbillies grow up squatting in the woods as needed, not to mention when the power’s off so the electrical well pumps aren’t working!

  23. Back in 2006 I stumbled upon a squat toilet on the edge of Kyoto that I had to use.  A bit tricky, but I was surprised to find that the squat position really helps one empty the pipes.  Also it was very illuminating to know that these existed in Japan, with all its cutting edge toilet technology!

    1. At the city park in Kyoto, there was a public bathroom with conventional urinals and a very charming view over a low partition down the promenade through the open door.

      1. Check out this one – the unusually detailed drawing on the sign for the place where men are supposed to pee next to the highest point in Thailand in Doi Inthanon National Park. There are actually urinals around the corner, but behind you when you’re standing at the urinals is an unguarded cliff that goes down hundreds of feet and it’s that which the sign is pointing to :)

    1. If you have Crohn’s, the toilets are probably not the primary reason that you want to avoid going to India.

  24. I’ve come across one of these and had to use it in France.

    T.P. was provided albeit in very sparse quantities and you better grab some before you walk in to the W.C. Don’t even get me started on the condition of said receptical. Lets just say it wasn’t as nice and shiny white as the one in your photo.

    To be honest France is not one of the cleanest places I’ve been to.

    1. To be honest France is not one of the cleanest places I’ve been to.

      Tap water in India – didn’t get sick.
      Tap water in Nepal – didn’t get sick.
      Tap water in Egypt – didn’t get sick.
      Tap water in Paris – mild diarrhea every time.

  25. 1.  Take everything off below your waist, socks, shoes, underwear, pants; put your bare feet right on those footpads, no problem there.

    2.  Take off everything above the waist, shirt, girdle, jacket, etc, except for your sombrero (if you read closely in chapter 2, you know why sombreros are essential).

    3.  Fold/wad all your clothes and personal effects into a toroid (doughnut) shape and place atop your sombrero.

    4.  Squat with feet flat on the footpads.  Drop deuce.

    5.  Some advocate wiping with the hand with or without water for cleanup.  If this is unappealing, drag your butt along the floor like a dog on a living room carpet.  Be sure to bare down hard so you really get full contact between your anus and the floor.

    6. Remove clothing from sombrero and dress.  Take caution not to step in any skidmarks you may have left on the floor.

    7. When returning home, be sure to tell all your less-well traveled friends how squat toilets are far superior to “western” toilets, how it is so much better for your digestive processes, and how now you shit on your western toilet by squatting on the seat like some kind of hipster gargoyle.

      1. Upper Decker (I’ve heard Upper Tanker, too), I’ve only heard about it, never seen it done or did it.  How vile!  Especially cruel because it would prevent you from using that tank water for hydration when the water shuts off during the zombie apocalypse.

    1. now you shit on your western toilet by squatting on the seat like some kind of hipster gargoyle.

      We used to do that in the 70s. Also, inviting all your friends to the birth of your baby and blenderizing the placenta to share among the guests.

  26. How does using a squat toilet hinder  usage of a toilet paper? The skill of not forgetting toilet paper when you leave home/hotel is much more easier and much more practical than “scratching your shit off your ass with your fingers” science, squat toilet or not. BTW, a bin for used paper  is clearly visible  left of potty at the title image. Also, the real Zen is squatting on a conventional toilet, as most of Russian people seem to do in public WCs ))).

Comments are closed.