Italian Culture

Bathrooms in Italy 12 Tips for Americans

From bidets to missing toilet seats here are tips on what to expect from public and private bathrooms in Italy.

Updated on 3/14/2022 from 10 to 12 tips. With little culture shock other than language, it’s easy for Americans to quickly slide into a relaxing pace and enjoy the history, food, wine, and la dolce vita of Italy. There are, however, just a few things that Americans visiting Italy for the first time a little shock-and-oh! Like walking into a bathroom and not knowing what a bidet is, to paying to use a public bathroom in Italy.

Bathrooms in Italy 12 Tips for Americans

What follows is a list of things that surprised me the first time I encountered them in Italian bathrooms both private and public. For a look outside the bathroom check out my list of differences between Italian homes vs American homes. Now close the door, it’s about to get personal.

1. Most Italian Bathrooms Do Not Have a Bathtub

When you consider that Italian homes are among the smallest in Europe, it’s not surprising that some of the amenities Americans are used to just don’t fit in Italian bathrooms. Take for example a bathtub. Bathtubs are far less common in Italy and shower stalls are tiny.

2. Showers in Italy are Tiny

Most Italian showers fall into that category of box doccia (box showers). The kind one must squeeze into sideways and close two doors together to form a claustrophobic, watertight corner. Men will bash elbows while washing pits. Ladies shaving long legs, practice your Flamingo, it’s Shower Yoga Time. Why so small?

Box Doccia Italian Shower Stall What Italian Bathrooms Are Like
Italian Shower Stall What Italian Bathrooms Are Like

3. Italian Bathrooms Have a Bidet

Blame the bidet. Hotels and homes alike in Italy have standalone bidets which hog space. Are you supposed to mount it, sit on it, turn the tap on with your arms behind your back… what!? If you’re a person who prepares ahead of time here’s how to use a bidet. It’s a quirky thing to use the first time, butt it’s worth a try. Sorry, couldn’t resist getting cheeky! Speaking of Cheeks.

Bidet in a Hotel Bathroom in Italy
Bidet in our Hotel Bathroom in Italy

4. Bidet Towels

If your hotel bathroom has a bidet take note. Most American hotels provide washcloths. In Italy, the small towels are for your other cheeks. If your hotel provides towels smaller than a bath towel, but larger than a washcloth, check to see if there is a towel rack or hook next to the bidet…. with me now? That towel is for your other cheeks. I’m sure the hotel has done an exemplary job on their laundry and that towel could be used for your face, but if the last traveler was European, they probably used it on the correct cheeks. Just saying!

Bidet Photo What Italian Bathrooms Are Like
Bidet Photo What Italian Bathrooms Are Like

5. Most Italian Hotels Do Not Provide Toiletries

Missing toiletries is not the mark of a bad hotel in Italy. 5 stars, you’re probably awash in luxury bath products, but for the average traveler on a budget, forget it. Maybe you’ll get lucky and find a rip-n-squeeze “wash” packet, but that’s likely it. Pack toiletries or leave time to run to the market when you land. Once outside your host’s home or the hotel, it’s time to know what to expect from public bathrooms in Italy.

6. Italian Public Bathrooms are Usually Clean

Public bathrooms in Italy are a little different than bathrooms in America. Take for example the public bathrooms in transit stations. When I lived in New York City you couldn’t pay me enough to use a subway or train station bathroom. In Torino, Italy Porta Nuova train station bathrooms are some of the cleanest public bathrooms in town. There’s a reason for it.

7. Pay to Pee in Public Bathrooms in Italy

When sprinting for a public loo, be prepared to hand a bathroom attendant or machine blocking the door 1€. Public bathrooms in Italy are not free. So pocket that change after lunch. It’s ok, Gratuity is included and additional tipping is not expected in Italy.

8. You Can Find Bathrooms in Italian Coffee Shops

Yes, you can always find a bathroom in an Italian coffee shop, but those bathrooms are for customers only. Especially in Italy. 1€ buys you a welcoming wave in answer to “dov’è il bagno?” Just act casual and always order and drink your coffee first. Don’t worry, it won’t take long. Italians drink their coffee like a shot of tequila standing at the bar.

9. Italian Gas Stations Have Unisex Bathrooms

If you are driving through Italy, do not skip Italy’s Gas Stations, they are magically amusing. Food actually looks good and aisles are filled with tons of kid’s toys, culinary gifts, and of course porn mags. As you make your dash for the back. If you do not see a male/female sign, it’s unisex.

Unisex Bathrooms in Italy
Italian Bathrooms Unisex

10. Public Bathrooms in Italy Do Not Have Toilet Seats

Once you’ve paid for your coffee and dash to the bathroom, don’t be surprised if there is no toilet seat. Toilet seats are rare in public bathrooms in Italy. It’s weird and yes uncomfortable but hey, it’s probably easier to clean right?

Italian Toilet Without Seat Photo What Italian Bathrooms Are Like
Italian Toilet Without Seat Photo What Italian Bathrooms Are Like

Wondering why toilets in Italy don’t have seats? The video below (at about 4 minutes) proposes a reason, though I’m not sure I completely buy it. The video states that people who don’t want to sit on the toilet seats in Italy stand on them, breaking them. I’m not sure I fully buy it. What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below?!

Video Answering Why Toilets in Italy Don’t Have Seats

POST UPDATE: I almost can’t believe this, but after watching the video above about the reason there are no toilet seats in Italy, I’ve come across not one, but two broken toilet seats here in Italy. In both cases, they were in public bathrooms. Personally, I still don’t believe it’s because Italians stand on them. More likely one of the main producers of toilet seats in Italy created a cheap product that breaks. Over time it’s likely easier just not to replace them. Thus, public bathrooms in Italy often do not have toilet seats because the original cheap toilet seats break and are never replaced.

Italian Bathrooms No Toilet Seat Due to Broken Seats
Broken Toilet Seat in Italy

11. Squat Toilets

The first time you run across a squat toilet in Italy, suddenly that missing toilet seat is going to be put into perspective. In smaller Italian towns there is a decent chance a local bar or restaurant with only have one stall and it’s going to be a squat toilet. The kind where a floor pan with a hole between footplates is built directly into the floor. Be sure to be on the lookout for a button or pull cord because most squat toilets in Italy actually do flush. Even Italians roll their eyes at this one. That’s just one of the charms of Italy though. Not everything is modern.

Squat Toilet in Italian Public Bathrooms

12. Footpedal Sinks

When it’s time to leave a public bathroom in Italy, there might be just one more surprise waiting for you. Turning on the water in the sink. It might sound funny, but some older public bathrooms in Italy have sinks operated by foot-pedal. So if you find yourself waving at the sink like an old long-lost friend to no avail, look to your feet. If there is a pedal on the floor (usually red) step on it, and there you go!

Sinks in Italian Public Bathrooms
Sinks in Italian Public bathrooms

Now least I sound all negative, let’s bring this back into perspective. As an American, this is about the only culture shocking you’ll find beyond the language. Not bad right! It’s just subtle cultural differences that are fun to experience and get to write home about. Besides, I’ll take a mini-fridge stocked with 7€ bottles of wine over a free bar of soap any day. What’s the most surprising moment you’ve had while finding a loo on vacation?

2 comments

  1. truthfully no toilet seats and paying for restroom use has me at decision to never visit Italy also no toilet paper us a big issue for me the whole water bicet thing would totally trigger my autism sensory issues. hell wrong toilet papers do too. so yeah I will now never visit italy. There were other reasons too like their inflexibility with ordering foods the way I like it. As an adult on the autism spectrum food sensory eating means I can’t just eat anything however its served. I have to order things in very specific ways ir I litterally cant eat them (us with food sensory issues will starve to death rather than eat things that trigger these extreme senses (10 x what avg person feels, tastes etc often) Honestly Italy sounds like a nightmare place for me to visit with my sensory, and sorta OCD like habitual musts being taken away by their culture.

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    1. Hi Mike, it sounds like travel takes pre-planning for you given your autism spectrum food sensory (I hope I have this correct.) A few things that might help. Hotels are not public bathrooms. So you would have toilet paper provided wherever you stay. Bidets are additional options which MANY people skip entirely. I even have an American friend who has lived in Italy for three years and still hasn’t ever used the bidet in her apartment. If you plan for hotel stops you can avoid the bathroom issued that might trigger you.

      With food, Italian food is often fewer ingredients per dish. So when you ready a menu, it’s pretty easy to get a sense of exactly what’s in each dish. Hopefully you could pick another dish that would not trigger you.

      That said, not being familiar with your triggers it’s hard for me to say. If you really want to see Italy and have specific questions that I can answer for you directly I’m genuinely happy to try and help. Italy is a very beautiful place to visit and the people here are kind.

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