Saudi Arabia: Why are the Toilet Habits so Different?

 

I receive enough private emails with queries about toilet habits that I realized this topic does merit a post of its own.  I am going to write about what I have personally seen and observed and hope that helps to shed some understanding or enlightenment.

   To begin with, one will find traditional Western style toilets and Eastern style toilets in Saudi Arabia.  The Western style toilets may or may not have a toilet seat, particularly if it is a public toilet.  Whereas, the Eastern style toilet is also referred to as a “two stepper,” and a male or female must squat to relieve themselves.

There is no guarantee that a Saudi washroom will have toilet paper.  The Eastern (or Saudi) way for cleanliness after having used the toilet, is to cleanse with water.  The water may come from a bidet, a small hose attached conveniently beside the toilet or with a pot filled with water and kept beside the toilet.  Depending on the individual’s coordination and style of spraying or splashing the water, the toilet seat and floor can become quite wet.  It’s not uncommon for a Saudi washroom whether public or private to have a drain on the floor to collect the spillage of water.  Most of the Saudi washrooms whether in a private residence or public will have a small squeegee in the room in order to collect and push the water to the drain.

The second part of a Saudi washroom has to do with preparing for the daily prayers.  Muslims are required to perform wudu prior to each prayer.  Wudu is making oneself clean for prayer.  This is not only ensuring that private places are clean but also washing the hands, feet and face.  Some Saudis will turn on the shower or the bathtub to clean off their feet but others will use the washroom sink to clean all of their body.  Whichever is chosen, this can also result in water generously applied and splashed over the body area being cleaned and many times create more pooling of water on the floor.  

For someone who has not been exposed to these customs it may seem the opposite of cleanliness.  It is true that if a washroom floor is not mopped up after pooling of water, the washroom can take on a musty smell and be more susceptible to germs and bacteria.  This is found more often in public washrooms.  In private homes, the family or domestic help will ensure that the washroom remains clean and dry.

It is not uncommon for many Saudi homes to have a pair of bathroom sandals right outside of or inside the washroom door.  This is done as a consideration for anyone entering the washroom.  

However, if a Saudi visits a new place and needs to use the washroom to either take care of nature or prepare for prayers and the washroom used is perhaps in a foreigner’s home or in another country, the Saudi may not be aware of how different his or her practices are from someone else.

Some Saudis will find the Western way of only using toilet paper to cleanse oneself to be unsanitary and unclean.  Actually, after living in Saudi Arabia, I personally found that I liked having a bidet to wash first and then use toilet paper to dry off.

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55 Responses

  1. Very interesting topic, I’m glad your writters block subsided some.

    I lived in Japan for 4 years and they had the same types of toilets, and no one had warned or explained it to me ahead of time, so it took me by suprise.
    I could handle it, but explaining it to my then 4 year old daughter was another story. After we had been traveling for nearly 24 hrs on and off planes, then she see’s these toilets in a rest stop after “holding it” for nearly a 3 hr drive. But that little girl refused to use the bathroom there and held it for another hour, without complaints or accidents until we got to our new home destination.
    A year later I had another problem with these toilets while traveling. I had my left leg in a cast up past my knee, and when we stopped, “again at a rest stop”, and I had to “go”, well I had one heck of a time. I couldn’t close the door because my leg was sticking out, so my little daughter held it and guarded me while I tried to balance myself. One of the hardest positions to get in while having a cast. Plus it didn’t help that I’m 5’9″ so the stalls seemed to be too small anyhow. Even had to keep my head ducked down once at a Subway Restroom in Tokyo, couldn’t stand up completely at all.

    Most rest stops have the “Western” toilets there, but usually elderly person (s) are in line to use them, it’s just faster to get to the other ones. And their public bathrooms were the same as far as water seeming to be all over the floor. But other than that they stayed clean and kept attendents in them. They did have toilet paper though.

  2. What I always wondered was, HOW does a woman manage to keep her abaya dry, whilst visiting the necessary?
    This man’s experience in said places was one of only finding wetter in the fish market, where fresh ice was used, hence was also VERY wet!
    To those who wonder at that reference, you’ve not experienced such a thing. Think at least a quarter inch of water on the floor. The loo was a bit less, 1/8 or more commonly, 1/16 inch of water.

    I also recall seeing men grabbing towel paper from the sink dispenser, when heading to the stall. I RAPIDLY learned to do the same.

    I’ll also say, THIS America finds the bidet cleaner. Something learned after, erm, a bit of “irregularity”…
    I’m far from fond of much of French cuisine. I’m not much of a fan of French wines, a bit too acidic for my stomach. I like only a few things of French culture. But, the bidet makes up for all “failings”!
    It’s the space shuttle of the loo. Though, the Japanese models are more along the lines of the Starship Enterprise…

    So, ladies, how DO you manage to keep that abaya dry? On the few occasions I wore a thobe in honor of another, I held it, rather than attempt the waterlogged place, lacking the knowledge of how to not wet mop the floor…
    And yes, I’m serious! But, respectful.
    It’s a matter of, “since we’re on the subject”…
    If you ladies consider it none of my business, that is fine. I and my wife will remain ignorant on the subject.

    As an aside, I have noted a number of articles on the beneficial health effects of the Asian toilet. They noted a low incidence of deaths from “straining at stool” for the elderly, lower incidence of issues with “piles” and general claims of ease of elimination.
    Quite a few were peer reviewed. But, ignored in western medicine and society.

  3. I would like to know as well on the abaya issue. In addition, I have heard that people who get squating chairs over their tiolets here in the States sometimes eliminate their piles. Apparently the western tiolet is not bodily plumbling friendly. I tend to think the squating chairs over the tiolets are a pretty good way to go.

    I am just loving this potty talk :) hehehahahehehahaha

  4. I quite agree that washing oneself with water is the best way, but still I believe the toilet paper is important especially for the females, leaving everything wet and without drying “down there” may cause infections and odors due to humidity, even more in hot weathers, I wonder if saudi females carry their own supply of tissues or toilet paper and if it is easy to get toilet paper in saudi arabia….

  5. On the abaya issue there were a few options….one was to simply just hike it up or even tie it up so it was kept free from the floor. The other was to hold it up until in the privacy of the stall and then take it off and hang it over the door.

    Toilet paper is available in even the smallest of grocery stores.

  6. I’m sure the bidet is great for those who are used to it, but for someone who is not it seems like just something else to clean.

    what I wondered about in Syria was whether or not you flush the toilet paper (I was advised no).

    I have a question along the same lines as Wzrd1, but am too embarrassed to ask.

    I found the water all over the floor thing to be quite yucky.

  7. Fondue, my information, gained from friends there and expats (and myself, when I remembered or knew I was going into a location with a public facility) was, bring your own, JUST in case it ran out there.
    Lacking foresight or foreknowledge, grab the towel paper at the sink before entering the stall.
    It’s not only the ladies who can get the rash, itch and odor below! Some projecting items tend to collect moisture, which is near a location that provides a generous supply of yeast!
    Aka Candida albicans. Necessary in the intestine. Not great elsewhere.

  8. @susanne430: why embarrased?!? dont be afraid to ask! its not like we are talking about a crime or something :p plus, it might help all of us to learn something new…

  9. bigstick, I’m one who loves “potty talk”, regardless of mechanics or simply off color jokes.
    Though, I tend to prefer creative turn of phrase over crude ones for jokes.
    After all, if we don’t learn about our commonality term issues, HOW can we learn about far more “important” issues that are beyond living, eating, drinking and procreating?
    Or are we ALL space aliens, totally foreign to humanity?
    But then, there IS one commonality to humanity. “Pull my finger”. Never met ANYONE who was unacquainted with it, ANYWHERE on the globe.
    Interestingly enough, ALL found it funny. For largely the same reason.
    At least Old Farts are still globally funny! ;)

  10. A lot of public washrooms would have signs in Arabic and English to not put paper products in the toilet.

  11. I am sure even ET knows about pulling the finger and old farts. :D

  12. So, THAT is WHY ET wanted to go home!
    Thanks for that, I was confused as to WHY ET would want to leave our grand planet. ;)

  13. For me the toilets customs was the most difficult thing after my arrival in Saudi Arabia. My family in law didn’t like me at all because I was not wearing sandals in my feet inside the toilets. Also I found it very hard the oul in the floor instead than a comfortable toilet seat! But Thanks God all the new residential buildings and houses are built with western toilet seats. About the sandals, after period of time I finally swallow the Saudi culture about that. But toilets, NO, I can’t support to be somewhere who there are no toilet seats.

  14. @ ALL
    I like the comments on toilet behaviour. The condition of the public toilets is very very bad. Actually we can not teach or train every body how to use the toilet. Water on the floor ,water splashes all over canot be controlled unless the toilet attendent cleanse after every individual use. This is very costly.
    It is not only Muslims who use water to clean themselves with water. The people who use only toilet paper they misuse the paper and paper s flying all over the floor. Toilets are blocked due to too much paper in the toilet pot.
    There is no point saying ET GO HOME>
    I am MALE and living in London. Whenever I have to use the toilet, I have to clean the toilet seat because the seat is wet with urine and the floor is wet with urine. What to say and what to do?
    I mean its not the problem within SAUDIA ,it is all over because ET is all over.
    The only solution is,the attendent needed all the time.

  15. With the squat the problem is not so much what to do with the abaya but what to do with undies and or pants AND an abaya. I have found it very difficult to use a squat when wearing pants and undies.

    I do agree that using water is much cleaner and more sanitary than paper. When you think of TP think about cleansing our bodies. We wouldn’t just wipe ourselves with paper to get clean would we?

    The biggest issue I have is a lack of soap in many places for washing hands after toilet use.

  16. interesting post and equally interesting comments. i am completely dumbfounded and utterly speechless on such a topic. blessings ….

  17. I hope that noone will think that the blog is ‘going down the toilet…’ but I will write on any subject on which there is curiosity or questions!

  18. I have a friend who has hosted many many Saudi students. The washroom issue was essentially her biggest issue in initiating students into US culture!! It took her some time to figure out that there was water splattered on her ceiling because exuberant young men were making wudu in the sink… Once she figured that out, she had to explain that if you do that in Seattle your bathroom will mold very quickly!

  19. Very informative article and subsequent great comments. I never knew that there was a thing called “2-stepper”. Now I know!

    When I was in Pakistan a few months back, all I experienced was the good ol’ one seater toilet. Of course, I stayed in western style hotels. I am sure if I had ventured out of the urban areas, which I thankfully did not, I am sure I would have the misfortune of experiencing the 2-stepper :)-

  20. Those little “showers” exist in Brazil as the people their clean up with water & loo roll. Everyone should just have the decency & common sense to clean up after their own selves when they use it & callit a day.

  21. @Rosemary – yes; you can easily encounter “two steppers” in Pakistan too!

  22. Sami, it shouldn’t be a ”toilet attendant” cleaning up after every use, it’s up to each individual to clean up after themselves.
    Good manners cost nothing.

  23. Amen to that!!!

  24. to me those “eastern toilets” are simply a whole in the ground, i just can’t imagine myself peeing over that, its not only uncomfortable but also kind of humiliating, plus, how do sick, or old people use that?

  25. @Latinmuslimah,

    I guess if you are raised where that’s what you have, then you just adapt to it.

  26. I’m dealing with this right now as my husband’s young cousins are visiting. They are very sweet and helpful kids but it’s obvious that they are used to different style of bathroom. The floor is completely soaked and there’s hair on the freaking floor. Disgusting. I told him to have a conversation with them.

    I mean, how easy is it to not leave water on the floor? I mean, what are you doing there that requires you to splash the floor? Somehow I’ve managed to use the bathroom for 30+ years without ever spilling anything on the floor. Don’t you notice how disgusting it is to step on wet bathroom mats?

  27. I decided to do some research on squat toilets and they are much better for our bodies. The position assumed is the best position for our bodies and apparently there would be much less intestinal and bowel illnesses if all people used them. The majority of the people around the world use some form of this toilet.

  28. @NN – I don’t know which are worse – young guys or young girls!

  29. Wendy:

    Yes I have heard that from some physicians as well. The western version tiolet causes a lot of problems.

  30. Wendy: I think what you give up in intestinal health with a Western-style toilet, you gain with precision expulsion (aka no water on the freaking floor).

  31. NN:

    That is why I advocate for the squat chair over the tiolet. It keeps everything in where you need it to go then it is flushed. Good intestinal health and precision expulsion (aka no water on the freaking floor).

  32. There doesn’t have to be water all over the floor.

  33. Explains so much about my Saudi college roommate!

  34. what pisses me off is that westerners are so obsessed with keeping the washrooms dry and consider it dirty if theres water on the floor. I mean honestly man, its just a bit of water!! Are you guys frikken allergic to water or what?!!

  35. @Wendy why is it disgusting to have water on floor? Stop acting like an idiot. Its just water, not poop!!

  36. Uzair, we’re accustomed to having our ankles dry when walking around.
    Not sodden with water and heaven knows what else, should someone be hygiene challenged.

    At least in Qatar, they had attendants keep the puddling to a minimum to non-existent.
    In other nations, there was as much water on the floor as on the floor of the fish market.

  37. Because your wet shoes/clothes are wet and collect germs and filth walking out of the restroom. And we never really know it’s water? Do we? They should take the water away in public restrooms. Unhygienic.

  38. Erm, Sandy, do you honestly want waterless restrooms?

    Granted, walking through lake poopy isn’t a great amount of fun, but smearing poop around isn’t a great idea either.
    Leaving poop and pee accumulating is even a worse idea. ;)

    What is needed is, proper grading of the floor to drain/straddle toilet, education in not spraying the entire bloody planet when trying to spray one’s alimentary regions and common courtesy of cleaning up lake poopy, lest someone get a really, really bad infection from lake poopy.
    Worse, bring that nastiness home to one’s children!

    Again, dude, I wouldn’t want my pants cuffs mopping a poopatory floor. I wouldn’t want my thobe hem mopping the floor.
    Stop knee jerking yelling over that which is quite reasonable, as I know a *lot* of Arabs who have the very same complaint.
    They suffer until they can go hope to eliminate their waste, leaving their family to eventually suffer a shorter night out.

  39. HAHAHA. No. I want flushing toilets and a place to wash my hands.
    I”m not going to get too graphic here- but folks don’t know how to spray responsibly. That is based on 20+ years of observation and I’d like it taken away from them. And I would never touch a public sprayer based on the same observations of the others who use them.

  40. I didn’t respond to the person because it would be a waste of time. In much of the world bathrooms are not built with flooded floors in mind for starters.
    Secondly, in most homes I’ve been in where water is splashed around the ‘splasher’ cleans up behind them. Yes, even men can clean up their mess.

  41. I was in Saudi Arabia for about 6 months, and even though they may use water to wash themselves when using the bathroom, I think that many of them must not possess the ability to clean themselves thoroughly. Body odors are very strong there and not just armpit BO. I would say they do not clean very well with the water and/or shower very often (maybe it is a lack of soap or something). I can compare it to the odors you would smell from some homeless people in LA.

  42. Never have I experienced a Saudi being smelly. Perhaps in areas where there are a lot of foreign workers who don’t have proper access to showers, etc. but in general Saudis, both men and women, do not have body odor and both genders love to wear perfumes!

  43. I agree 100% Wendy.

  44. @Sandy
    I think there is no difference between ” Sandy” and “Wendy” Are they Sisters?
    !00% both.

  45. Sami, it’s hard to tell who is who when they are just objects covered in black. Harder yet when you can’t even see the shoes.

    Just goes to show that women are smart and often think alike when it comes to the truth and have not been brought up to follow the party line.

  46. @Wendy, I think Sami doesn’t keep up. I know we agree on a lot but not everything. However our names end in “ndy” so I think we are more the same than different. Maybe we agree 3/5ths of the time. :)

  47. I agree with the both of you, my experience is very clean and lots of perfume. And my name ends in ”ke”.

  48. LOL!

  49. most americans have wood sub floors and water is its enemy. saudis have concrete and tile on top of that. kinda compare a public pool area made well and the water can sit and it will take years to degrade the surface. and most likely if you see a lot of water and around the sink it is from cleaning before praying (wudu). public saudi restrooms are gross. but ive walked in some american ones and yuck. we do have some super clean interstate restrooms i must say.

  50. Even in a tiled concrete room, if it’s always wet you will get mold and bacterial growth. Very unhealthy. That black mold stuff grows behind the tiles, or inside the tiles. If you have nice posh natural stone it even grows inside your tiles. That’s why you clean and dry your shower every time you use it.
    Yes people, I have been Studying! I have been taken up ”household” seriously! I may become the planet’s most Perfect Stepford wife!
    Be afraid…. be very afraid……

  51. True enough, Aafke, but if the mortar has a polymer additive, the mold permeation can be lessened or even eliminated.
    Assuming, of course, that the excess water is removed in a timely manner.

    @g, I have four words for you: “American gas station bathroom”.
    At least Arabian bathrooms, erm, pools are clear water! Our gas station bathrooms tend to have entire advanced ecosystems present. :/

  52. saudi body odor !!!! first time i hear that, never experienced it.
    when I was there I had half a mind to go tell them to NOT bathe in perfume, use it sparingly, they reeked if anything of the latest perfume giving me one godawful headache. but clean they were.

  53. You’ve got it, Radha!

  54. I just want to explain that not all arabian people have this toilets, for me its verry bad style and i cant use , actually its discusting and the floor never dry!!
    This is “saudis habit” not “muslims habit” and its more common in saudi arabia and rarely in other arabian countries, in islam relegion we have to be immaculate all the time thats why we use water, because tissues dont wash the germs out of the skin but the water do.
    For those who ask about the abaya, saudis have a hook behind every toilet door so the womens take off the abaya before using the tiolet

  55. The main story is related to only to Saudi Arabian modern squatting or sitting type toilets. People are also interested in the west Asian native toilet practices. The countries like Iran, Iraq syria etc. have very old history. Saudis came to limelight with the islam. Mesopotamia, Assyria, Hittites, Kassites etc of modern Iraq are one of the oldest civilised societies. we know that even in 480 bc, the people defecated in open on sands. When the percian army attacked Greece, they lost as their open defecation led to plague breaking out. But we also know that like the other Bronze Age civilisations of egypt,and India, the mesopotamians were also using wet toilets particularly in the doabs of Tigris and euphrates having water in plenty. Hope some other scholar may try his pen on these aspects as well. ,

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