How to use an Indian toilet… and why

blue house in rural India

Homes in rural India have Indian toilets

Table of Contents

Indian toilets, or squat toilets, are better for you and the environment

ONE OF THE MANY cultural adjustments I have made in India is learning to use an Indian toilet, or squat toilet, and also learning to use water rather than toilet paper. Squat toilets are not common in Indian homes in cities like Delhi — where western style toilets usually prevail. But they are common in rural areas and modest establishments like roadside dhabas. However, what is common is the use of water instead of toilet paper. Most of India still uses water to wash, rather than toilet paper — which is a very good thing.

To be honest, I didn’t take to Asian toilets, or Indian toilets, as quickly as I did to eating gulab jamun and wearing Indian clothes. Both when I lived in Japan, and when I first arrived in India, I resisted using squat toilets and washing with water instead of toilet paper. It did feel like a big cultural adjustment. But I had to do it — first of all, there often isn’t any toilet paper to be had, and secondly, you should NOT put toilet paper down most Indian toilets. The system was not made for it. You have to put the toilet paper in a dustbin, if you’re lucky enough to find one.

How I learned to stop worrying and love water

So, I eventually started to wash with water after using the toilet … and I became a convert. I feel cleaner and healthier; I save money; and I use less of a precious resource — trees. I sometimes dry off with a small amount of toilet paper, or with a handkerchief. But otherwise, it’s water all the way, and I couldn’t be happier. I wish the entire world would embrace this method — here’s why.

There is probably a health rationale for washing with water, but I’m going to focus on the environmental reason: toilet paper is an environmental disaster. If you Google “toilet paper and the environment,” as I did, you will find lots of articles that spell out the negative consequences of toilet paper such as:

Not only does toilet paper use a lot of trees, including old growth forests, the process for making it requires a lot of chemicals. The other problem is that westerners use a LOT of it. The world spends $30 billion USD a year on toilet paper!

We’re literally flushing our forests down the toilet. And it doesn’t have to be this way — there is an excellent alternative readily available to people willing to overcome marketing messages and cultural conditioning. Water.

infographic showing environmental impact of toilet paper

infographic showing environmental impact of toilet paper

How to use water instead of toilet paper

There are many ways to incorporate water into your washroom if you’re not lucky enough to have a hose or built-in system, like we use in India. You can simply buy a small container — something like a plastic measuring cup, with a spout — and use it. Or you can have a hand held bidet or bidet seat installed. There are lots of options.

See below for some home bidet systems you can buy from Amazon

Learn how to use an Indian toilet, from Wilbur Sargunaraj

Wilbur Sargunaraj photo

Wilbur Sargunaraj photo

If you want to learn how to use an Indian toilet, and have a good laugh too, watch this hilarious video from Wilbur Sargunaraj. If you travel in India, you may find you actually need this information: Aside from modern homes and high-end hotels, most of the toilets in India are holes-in-the-floor with water and no paper. This is a good skill to learn; trust me on this one.

By the way, Wilbur is actually a very talented musician, as well as a cultural ambassador extraordinaire. This is from his Wikipedia entry: “He is widely known as India’s first YouTube sensation. He has racked up millions of views for his unique music and instructional videos. And he comes with the added promise of ‘Quality, First Class, Sargunaraj Trademark.’ What his videos lack in production sheen, they make up for in unabashed entertainment.”

I had a chance to meet Wilbur while he was in Toronto several years ago, and I found him to be a warm and wonderful person behind his comic persona! 


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