The Chinese toilet is one topic that strikes fear in most traveler’s hearts. Is it easy to find a public toilet in China? Is every Chinese toilet a squat toilet? Over the last decade, I’ve seen practically every type of Chinese toilet and public bathroom and I’d like to share not only what you can expect to find with bathrooms in China but also how to use a Chinese squat toilet.
It’s understandable that all of us want a clean and hygienic bathroom when the need for a toilet arises. But when traveling, we are always at the mercy of public bathrooms or the toilet in our hotel room.
Let me put your mind at ease:
A Chinese toilet is in many cases much better and cleaner than you might expect.
China has come a long way over the past decade regarding the availability and sanitation of toilets.What you may have heard from past travelers or seen on film probably isn’t what you’ll experience when you arrive.
Don’t get me wrong, a public Chinese toilet is often still a dirty public toilet, like it is anywhere in the world, but China may surprise you.
In this article, we’re going to cover:
I’m going to walk you through what you should expect with toilets in China, how to use a squat toilet if you absolutely must, and tips for travelers who use public bathrooms in China.
Keep in mind that this is an expanded excerpt from the best-selling China travel handbook I published on Amazon.
If you’re planning a trip and you find yourself worried about the Chinese toilet situation, money, hotels or perhaps the general “unknown” of such a foreign country, you’ll want to grab a copy.
Chinese Toilet | Availability & Cleanliness
The availability and cleanliness of a Chinese toilet varies depending on where you are in the country. As you might expect, larger tourist cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Kunming, etc.) offer plenty of bathrooms that are usually very clean.
What’s even better, almost all hotels, major restaurants, and even train cars offer the option of a seated toilets.
Even the major tourist attractions that you read about in travel guides will offer relatively clean, Western-style toilets. As long as you’re not venturing too far into the countryside, you’ll more than likely have consistent access to clean, Western-style toilets.
That’s the good news.
The trouble only comes when you start getting off the beaten path.
I’ve taken buses into remote parts of western China where the “pit stop” was the bus literally stopping on the side of the road and finding privacy behind a big rock.
Of course, this was an extremely remote part of the country, and I knew going into it that the toilet situation would be different.
If you’ll be going somewhere off the beaten path, any good tour guide or China guide book will let you know what to expect with a Chinese toilet.
Even if you’re staying in the big cities, though, every once in a while you’re going to encounter a squatty potty. For this reason, it’s still good to know what to expect and how to use a squat toilet in China.
Chinese Squat Toilets: Do You Have to Use Them?
Traditionally, toilets in China have been what we call “squat toilets”. It is what it sounds like: a place to squat and do your business.
Thankfully, most travelers spend weeks in China and never once have to use a Chinese squat toilet.
You’ll see plenty of squat toilets, sure. But usually there will also be a western toilet option. The only major notable are in older Chinese homes or, as I said before, outside the big cities.
But what should you do if a squat toilet is your only option!?
The squat toilet in China used to intimidate me. Looking back, my concerns were overblown.
Squat toilets are really easy to use and just require some getting used to. After using a these a few times, you’ll no longer be intimidated or scared to use a public bathroom in China.
In all honesty, I like the fact that with Chinese squat toilets you don’t have to deal with nasty toilet seats and never need to wrap a seat with toilet paper.
Hopefully, this makes you less apprehensive of using a Chinese squat toilet.
I’d also watch this video below from my friend Kevin that teaches you how to use a Chinese squat toilet. It will definitely help prepare you for your first encounter with a Chinese squat toilet (and a good laugh):
Remember, if the intimidation factor is too much and you MUST use a Western toilet throughout your trip to China, you can always count on having one in your hotel and you’re also likely to find a Western toilet in many public toilets in cities like Beijing Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen.
Some people have a really hard time with balance if you’re not used to squatting like this, which is especially true if you’re using a squatty toilet while taking a Chinese train.
Practice squatting before you’re forced to learn in a real life scenario!
How to Find a Good Public Toilet in China
A public Chinese toilet can be found practically everywhere in large cities, so don’t worry.
To find one, keep an eye out for blue signs that are marked “WC” or 公共厕所/gōnggòng cèsuǒ.
It might also say 卫生间 (Wèishēngjiān) or 洗手间 (Xǐshǒujiān) as well.
Here are some tips to help you find a clean Chinese toilet:
- Star Ratings: Many public restrooms in tourist destinations like the Forbidden City have star rankings outside them. In these areas, I’d try to wait until you see a 4-star bathroom or ask your tour guide if they know where one is, since that will be the cleanest bathroom.
- Find “Smart” Toilets: For the past decade, China has been undergoing a “toilet revolution” where many public toilets have facial scanning technology to disperse paper, have WiFi (although there are easier ways to find public WiFi in China), and even show metrics on how long a stall has been occupied! So keep your eyes peeled to see if you can find one of these “smart toilets” when traveling to any major tier-1 city in China.
- Crash a Fancy Hotel: One of my top travel hacks for finding a clean toilet in China is to always go into a fancy hotel. As a foreign tourist, no one will question why you are there and you’re almost guaranteed to find a clean, Western toilet!
These tips only apply to public toilets in big cities though. Again, when venturing out to local towns or the countryside, prepare yourself for some primitive and unsanitary toilets.
Differentiating Men’s/Women’s Chinese Toilets
Generally speaking, you’ll shouldn’t have problems determining which one is the men’s or women’s room as they are usually marked with the standard graphic indicating a man or woman.
That is at least until you go out to small towns or the countryside where the men’s and women’s room may tend to be spelled out with Chinese characters.
Here’s how you can tell the difference:
You can always think of the Chinese character for “female” as one that looks like a woman crossing her legs.
You’ll want to make sure you’re familiar with the Chinese characters above to ensure you don’t surprise members of the opposite sex when entering a public Chinese toilet.
Pro Tips for Using a Chinese Toilet
Now that you are up to speed on how to find public toilets in China as well as how to use a squat toilet in China should that be necessary, let’s cover some essential tips to follow on your trip:
- Bring Your Own Toilet Paper: While sometimes you will be provided with some toilet paper at public toilets that accept fees, this is not always the case as public toilets in China often don’t supply toilet paper. So, always always (and I mean always) remember to bring your own toilet paper.
- When You Forget Toilet Paper… There are convenience stands and stores everywhere that sell small packets of tissue paper. While not exactly toilet paper, it’s thick and will get the job done. It’s also as cheap as 1 RMB in most places. So if you forget your toilet paper when leaving your hotel, no need to fear as tissue paper is always near.
- Avoid Flushing Toilet Paper: In many restrooms, you’ll see signs asking you not to flush paper products down the toilet. Instead, dispose it in the bin that is almost always right next to you.
- Don’t Face the Wrong Direction When Using a Squatty Toilet: Your back should be facing the wall when using a squat toilet in China. Also be careful when flushing as some China squat toilets flush with lots of water pressure.
- Carry Hand Sanitizer with You at All Times: Hand soap is another thing you seldom find in Chinese public toilets and it’s one of the items I recommend you bring when you pack for your China trip. I’ve also heard Chinese people say the soap is fake or is harmful to your skin even when it is available. Even if it is real, in most cases it is really watered down. So carry hand sanitizer when using a public toilet in China for washing your hands.
- Don’t Lay Your Bags on the Floor: After moving back from China, I notice Americans have habits of throwing bags on the floor in restaurants, the subways, and I expect they may do this in bathrooms too. Don’t do that in a public Chinese toilet. It’s just straight up gross.
- Use Tissue Paper to Flush the Toilet: This is probably a little overkill, but as a germophobe, I always tore off a small piece of tissue paper to pull the handles to flush public toilets in China. I’ll let you decide for yourself if you want to take this extra step.
Now that’s quite an extensive list of tips above, but after carefully reviewing them and remembering to follow them, you’re more likely to come out of a Chinese toilet relieved rather than disgusted.
Final Thoughts on the Toilet in China
When it comes to using a Chinese toilet while you’re traveling in China, I hope that this article helped relieve you of any anxiety (get it…relieve? I’m funny, I know).
You’ll have plenty of clean bathrooms to choose from in major Chinese cities and you can always count on your Chinese hotel having a Western toilet.
Make sure you never leave your hotel without toilet paper and hand sanitizer with you. You’ll regret it if you don’t!
And don’t forget! You can find great tips like this and so much more in my book Travel to China | Everything You Need to Know Before You Go. It’s the perfect way to help set your expectations and provide the “how to” travel tips for China that most travel guides gloss over.