A squat toilet (or squatting toilet) is a toilet used by squatting, rather than sitting. There are several types of squat toilets, but they all consist essentially of a toilet pan or bowl at floor level. Such a toilet pan is also called a "squatting pan". The only exception is a "pedestal" squat toilet, which is of the same height as a sitting toilet. It is in theory also possible to squat over sitting toilets, but this requires extra care to prevent accidents as they are not designed for squatting.
A squat toilet may use a water seal and therefore be a flush toilet, or it can be without a water seal and therefore be a dry toilet. The term “squat” refers only to the expected defecation posture and not any other aspects of toilet technology, such as whether it is water flushed or not.
Squat toilets are used all over the world, but are particularly common in many Asian and African countries, including those with a large proportion of Muslim or Hindu faith (due to the practice of anal cleansing with water).
A squat toilet is also referred to as Indian toilet, Turkish toilet or French toilet, usually by people from other countries (i.e. French people do not call them "French toilets"). Squat toilets are sometimes called "eastern-style toilets" by people in Western Europe because they can be found in countries to the East of Europe, such as Turkey, Japan, China, India and the Middle East. In Japan squat toilets are referred to as "Japanese-style toilets". Conversely, sitting toilets are often referred to as "western-style toilets".
Squat toilets are arranged at floor level which requires the individual to squat with bent knees. In contrast to a pedestal or a sitting toilet, the opening of the drain pipe is located at the ground level.
Squatting slabs can be made of porcelain (ceramic), stainless steel, fibreglass, or in the case of low-cost versions in developing countries, with concrete, ferrocement, plastic, or wood covered with linoleum. Slabs can also be made of wood (timber), but need to be treated with preservatives, such as paint or linoleum, to prevent rotting and to enable thorough cleaning of the squatting slab.
There are two design variations: one where the toilet is level with the ground, and the other where it is raised on a platform approximately 30 cm (1 ft). The latter is easier to use for men to urinate while standing, but both types can be used for this purpose. There is also no difference for defecation or squatting urination.
The user stands over the squat toilet facing the hood and pulls down (up in the case of skirts) their trousers and underwear to the knees. The user then squats over the hole, as close to the front as possible, as excrement tends to fall onto the rear edge of the in-floor receptacle if the user squats too far back; for this reason many public squat toilets have signs reminding the user to "Please take one step closer."
Beginners and foreigners (i.e. people not used to squat toilets) often hold onto the piping at the front, which therefore has earned the nickname "grunt bar," from the sounds made while holding onto this pipe. If the plumbing is hidden or not strong enough, a separate handle may be installed specially to aid the user in keeping his balance, both when using the toilet and when standing afterwards. Another common strategy employed by foreigners to avoid any potentially embarrassing accidents while defecating is to strip completely from the waist down and hang the garments on a hook before assuming the position.
Maintenance and hygiene
Squat toilets are usually easier to clean than sitting toilets (pedestals), except that one has to bend down further if the squatting pan needs manual scrubbing. They can be cleaned by using a mop and hose, together with the rest of the floor space in the toilet room or cubicle.
One advantage of squat toilets is that they are very easy to clean. They are also cheaper to make, they consume less water per flush than Western toilets, and, due to the lack of direct contact with the seat, some people claim that they are more hygienic. However, seat contact is not a real health risk and squat toilets allow splatter on one's own legs and feet. The waterless trough minimizes the risk of splash-back of water during defecation.
Society and culture
There are two different attitudes towards squat toilets, largely dependent on what users are used to, or whether the toilet is at a public or private place: Some people regard squat toilets as more hygienic compared to sitting toilets. They might be easier to clean and there is no skin contact with the surface of the toilet seat. For that reason, some people perceive them as more hygienic, particularly for public toilets.
Some people regard sitting toilets as "more modern" than squat toilets. Sitting toilets have a lower risk of soiling clothing or shoes as urine is less likely to splash on bottom parts of trousers or shoes. Furthermore, sitting toilets are more convenient for people with disabilities and the elderly.
Squat toilets are used in public toilets, rather than household toilets, because they are perceived by some as easier to clean and more hygienic, therefore potentially more appropriate for general public use. For instance this is the case in parts of France, Italy, Greece, or the Balkans, where such toilets are somewhat common in public toilets (restrooms).
A trend towards more sitting toilets in countries that were traditionally using squat toilets can be observed in some urban and more affluent areas, in areas with new buildings (as well as hotels and airports) or in tourist regions.
Preferences by country or region
The following general statements can be made:
- Squat toilets are common in many Asian countries, including Japan and Thailand. They are also widespread in Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, China, North Korea, South Korea, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Myanmar, Iran and Taiwan.
- People in sub-Saharan African countries, especially in rural areas widely, use squat toilets, for example in Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, Tanzania, and Uganda.
- Much of the world's population use squat toilets, especially in rural areas of developing countries.
- Countries in the Middle East and North Africa seem to often have both types of toilets, i.e. sitting and squatting.
- In Muslim or Hindu cultures the prevalence of squat toilets is generally quite high, as is the practice of anal cleansing with water.
- In Latin and South America flush toilets are always of the sitting type, whereas dry toilets may be either of the sitting or a squatting type. The occurrence of squat toilets in urban areas of Latin America appears to be rather low.
- Squat toilets are very rare in Australia, New Zealand, United States, Canada and countries in Northern and Western Europe. Where they do exist they have usually been installed to accommodate visitors, tourists, students or recent migrants from Asia. These cases are still so rare that newspapers report about them: Examples include cases from the University of Melbourne (Australia), the University of Auckland (New Zealand) and national parks in the United States such as Yellowstone National Park and Arches National Park.
In Southern and Eastern Europe including parts of France, in Greece, Italy, Balkans, and Russia they are common, especially in public toilets. Squat pit latrine toilets are present in some poor rural areas of Eastern Europe.
Squat toilets are generally non existant in Northern and Western Europe. France is an exception and has some squat toilets remaining in old buildings and public toilets because they used to be the norm there in the early 20th century.
Many areas in China have traditional squat toilets instead of sitting toilets, especially in public toilets. Nevertheless, sitting toilets have increasingly become the norm in major urban areas and cities. Sitting toilets are on the one hand associated with development and modernization, and on the other hand with reduced hygiene and possible transmission of diseases.
Since the 1980s high-tech sitting toilets are emerging that replace traditional squat toilets, especially in urban areas. One of those toilets with the brand name "Washlet" includes a "posterior wash" before wiping and features heated toilet seats. However, many rural people have no experience with such high-tech toilets and need detailed instructions.
Typical toilet in urban Syria: Flush toilet squatting pan with hose on the left for anal cleansing.
Public squat toilet in Tsarskoe Selo, Russia
Squat toilet in a high-speed train on the Guangshen Line in China
Squat toilet aboard a Japanese Ginga train
Public toilet at Jozankei Hot Springs, Hokkaido, Japan
Squat toilet in Indonesia
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