Let’s Have a Little Talk About Spanish Toilets

The smell hits me like a pata de jamón to the head: a cocktail of bathroom disinfectant, spilled hand soap, ancient pipes and bleach. And that’s only if the person before me hasn’t bothered to flush.

Verdad verdadera: if you drink liquids, you have to pee. If you drink beer, you have to pee twice as much. And if you drink beer in Spain, you have to pee in a filthy, poorly lit bathroom that likely doesn’t have toilet paper (and if it does, you’d better steal what’s left of the roll and stash that contraband in your purse).

In the eight years I’ve lived in Spain, I’ve not been able to get over Spanish bathrooms.I’d do a silent fist pump when I’d find a few scraps of toilet paper, or a toilet seat, or even hand soap (also known as the váter Holy Trifecta) in a public bathroom.

But váter, you and I have to have a talk.

Let's Talk About Bathrooms in Spain

It was on a sweltering July night at an old man bar in my neighborhood that I actually considered shuffling three blocks back to house to use our facilities. But I’d had several vermouths, so I handed the Novio my purse and scuttled to the unisex bathroom.

The space was hardly larger than a broom closet (in fact, it probably once was), and my toes rested right next to the door when I closed it. I was wearing sandals, so the bottoms of my feet became soaked in who knows what. As I squatted, my butt hit the wet pipe attached to the flush, and I struggled to find the light switch in the dark. The pipes creaked as I attempted to flush a running toilet, so I gave up entirely, ran my hands under the faucet obsessively and ordered another vermouth (though grain alcohol to kill any germs might have been a better option).

I won’t call out any names here, but as a rule of thumb, if it’s a brightly-lit cervecería frequented by old men, you shouldn’t expect anything special. A step up might be a restaurant frequented by the same old men. I won’t even get into the toilets at discos – particularly the outdoor terraces in the summer. I mean, even the Parador de Zafra, a luxury hotel owned by the Spanish government, has a problem keeping toilets stocked with toilet paper!

Not all hope is lost – any place that caters to tourists or business travelers has a better shot at possessing the Váter Trifecta. But Andalucía seems to be the worst when it comes to bathrooms. A friend of mine runs food tours and trained her Seville guides to always bring a small pack of tissues for tour guests, lest they be forced to drip dry.

What are toilets like in Spain

My buttload of gripes has grown as I’ve gotten older. I mean, I went to a large Midwestern University where Saturday morning tailgating meant either sneaking into a stranger’s house on Melrose Court, or finding an alternative solution. But a civilized country deserves a civilized sort of outhouse.

First off, women’s restrooms in Spain tend to double as storage closets for empty beverage bottles, stacking crates and even cleaning supplies (so where the cojones do they keep the toilet paper?!). On more than one occasion, I’ve had to crawl over a pile of crap just to get to the toilet.

I’ve made it abundantly clear that toilet paper is noticeably absent in a high percentage of bathrooms. If you’re a lady, whenever you feel the urge, you either have to rummage around in your purse for kleenex, discreetly ask a friend, or grab a wad of napkins from a table. But Spanish napkins aren’t designed to do anything more than mop up wax, so you’re better off not even trying with them. Note to self: add Kleenex packets to my shopping list.

But don’t throw tissue (or waxy napkins, or really anything non-liquid) into the toilet bowl, because you will cause stress on already overworked pipes and clog the toilet. I once made that mistake and couldn’t show my face in that bar for two months – TWO months! But don’t worry, there will be a NO TIRAR PAPELES AL WC sign affixed somewhere in the room just in case you forget. “We won’t replace the toilet paper for months because we don’t want you to accidentally throw it in the bowl” seems to be every old man bar’s mantra.

bathroom soap in Spain

Soap and paper towels have no place in a  Spanish bathroom either, so even washing your hands can be futile. Alternatives are your jeans, your jacket, or simply walking out of the toilet with wet hands, people moving away from you as if you were covered in blood or leprosy sores. Makes you want to wipe your hands on the bartender’s jeans instead.

And let’s talk briefly about you can only use bathrooms if you’ve had a consumición at the bar? I’ve had to resort to slamming a beer and beelining to the bathroom or ordering a scalding café con leche and have it sit waiting for me as I squatted over yet another shitty (pardon the pun) latrine. Even the holes in the ground in China and Turkey seem more sanitary than the “marvels of modern plumbing” in Iberia.

My first vision of Spain was from a bus that pulled into my study abroad city, Valladolid. I pulled the Iberia blanket off of my head and groggily stared out the window as we stopped at a stoplight. A young mother was holding her child at arm’s length as the little girl let out a steady stream of pis. On the street. In plain daylight. Consumption at a bar be damned, this kid is peeing on a tree.

Pues nada.

This post is a little NSFW, yes, but a constant topic when I’m with my guiri friends. Have any other bathroom gripes to add?

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living amongst pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she wrangles babies at an English language academy and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.


  1. Spot on, Cat!
    I always have a pack of tissues with me ( I leave one in every bag/coat that I own – it has become a worthwhile investment) as well as a tube of hand-sanitiser and a (small) perfume spray – eight years of living in Spain has taught me this much.
    I also dislike the ‘aseos’ that have their lighting on a timer – I never seem to be quick enough – and the sensor is usually just out of reach, so I end up flailing my arms around in the dark in desperate hope of re-illuminating the stall (not that I need to see what I’m doing, you understand, but to avoid treading in something unpleasant)
    I am disappointed to hear about the Parador at Zafra – that was one of my ‘safe’ places!
    Great post on a subject that need to be addressed.
    Sue Sharpe (@suesharpe1) recently posted..Stone Free (A Plum Jam Recipe)My Profile

  2. All I can think of is the Dublin nursery rhyme ‘The Cat She Shat in the Coal-Hole’. Yeah, well, Dubliners, y’know…You do’t have to travel to the Far East to find that hole in the ground, come visit the Alpujarra. The ladies is not much better. Rule of Thumb – or perhaps Bum – Never Sit. :) What about the bin? Urrgh. Enough to put you off your pig’s innards, innit?
    Carol Byrne recently posted..Holy Days of ObligationMy Profile

  3. It is true many of the things you say in the article, but in this world it all depends on what you compare. if you compare with the US, of course, everything looks small, dirty and saving electricity and water. I, as Spanish, from Seville, impressed me the first time I went to USA to see such large bathrooms, with many rolls of paper and especially lights on 24 hours. Perhaps, “ni tanto ni tampoco”. Ah !! there are always worse places and situations.
    By the way, it’s funny, a photo of the bathroom and it has paper !!!

  4. We always though that the open-air approach was more of a Canarian thing. Can kinda see where they’re coming from with not flushing paper. But that non-flushed paper is one fly magnet.
    Gran Canaria Local recently posted..A perfect night out in Las Palmas, Gran CanariaMy Profile

  5. Funny, I have had way worse experiences in Italy and France; once at Chateauneuf du Pape area of France, there was no more than a hole in the ground, and certainly no toilet paper. No bueno if you have bad knees. I have found most public toilets in Altea and the Costa Blanca to be surprisingly clean, functional and usually with toilet paper. However, I keep t.p. handy, just in case.
    Dawn Starr recently posted..Top Festival Photos: Moros y Cristianos in Altea SpainMy Profile

  6. I second everything said in the article. As a Spanish expat in the UK “qué asco de servicio” is one of the first thoughts I have whenever I go back home and I remember I always used to have tissues in my bag. It is a given I seem to have forgotten. I get really upset the first time I need to use the toilet. Then I buy a pack of tissue I carry during the rest of my stay (I won’t remember it again).
    I would say that most Spanish toilets range between disgusting and okeish. It’s true that I had worse experiences in toilets in Russia (way worse!), but I am still ashamed of Spanish toilets.
    Irene recently posted..Eating in Hervás: Restaurante La ParrillaMy Profile

  7. Brian Neale says:

    The toilets i have been to in parts of Spain in hotels/ restaurants, even cafe’s i have found to be clean even spotless

  8. Tia Charles says:

    Bout sums it up!! The only thing I DON’T miss about Spain are the WC. Although my quads aren’t as strong anymore from mastering the hover maneuver!

  9. Constance says:

    I quite enjoyed this read–so hilarious! In the 2+ years I’ve lived in Spain I’ve never had anyone call me out for using the restroom in their bar or restaurant without buying something (although I’ve gotten a few dirty looks). That is until the other day…I was in Valencia for the puente and while I was walking around the city center I suddenly really had to pee. I managed to get in but the minute I stepped out this girl who worked there jumped all over me about it as if I had just stolen something. When you gotta go you gotta go. Geez.

  10. I think the longer you live in Spain, the less you notice this problem, but now you have brought the matter back to the surface, I will be noticing it again for a while! Thanks for that!!
    Russ Pearce recently posted..Photos of the TransitionMy Profile

  11. funny, but if i ran a bar or restaurant i would not want people to enter and go right to the toilets and then leave without having ordered something…at least one should order the cheapest thing at hand, haha

    well toilets of pubs/bars, i mean, a place at night where you drink/socialise while listening music (in my case pubs with hard rock/long haired bands of the great 80’s) are in a very poor condition, no toilet paper, but also bad smell…. of course such a nasty thing is not related to guys like me who love mainly american long haired bands, it is related to the owner of the pub who must be a dirty guy…

    toilets of hospitals, medical centres are in a very good condition with paper at all times, however, the toilet of the bus station is in poor condition with no paper…i do not really know the reason…perhaps the station does not belong to the government but to the bus companies that operate….don’t know.

  12. This is so disgusting. It reminds me a lot of France when I used to live there. Having to find a decent toilet is one of my travel nightmares. It’s always on my mind! haha
    Andrea recently posted..Lake Ohrid: The Most Peaceful Destination in the Balkans #macedoniaMy Profile

  13. Love this post and totally spot on. I was absolutely floored when I was in two different hospitals that smelt like a bar, had no TP OR HANDSOAP!!! of all places! I walked out and made a complaint. I’ll take the nasty bar bathroom, but a hospital?? Really??


    • Danielle, were they public hospitals or private? the region? public hospitals belong to their regional government, and cleaning companies opt for a contract, so all hospitals do have a cleaning company who cleans perfectly, if not, the contract may be cancelled….i have never seen a single hospital without toilet paper, and hospital Santa Lucia in Cartagena the cleaning women clean a same toilet with bleach, etc every few hours, going and returning, a nice bleach smell that never disappears, paper and handsoap…i know it because i have been for hours in “urgencias” (emergency room).

      perhaps you have been unlucky to enter the toilet right after someone used all the paper or pooped without flushing or even had a pee out of the loo, hence the bad smell you mention.

  14. The bathroom situation really bothers me here. Like you said, this is a developed country and a fairly well educated one so I don’t know where the disconnect between bathrooms and hygiene is happening. I need to vent:
    1. Why haven’t they learnt the importance of hand washing after going to the bathroom? All the feces and who knows what that is splashed all over the room when the toilet flushes…that is on the surface you just touched in the bathroom, wash your hands! Hygiene!
    2. The people serving your food and drinks at the bar are also using the same bathroom as you, their hands are also covered in the aforementioned. This is one major way to prevent food poisoning.
    3. As a women, what the hell are you supposed to do when you are on your period and you need to change a tampon, some toilet paper would be helpful. Also, soap to wash off the blood that may have got on my hands. TMI? Yes, but its true! I usually just don’t go out on those days because I know the services are not women friendly.
    4. Old ladies here must have legs of steel! They are still hovering over the toilets with no toilet seats.
    5. Peeing in the street thing they teach kids (I have also seen parents let their kid poop in the street) is gross, there are so many bars around that they kid bring their kids into to use the bathroom. I have also seen more than my share of old men peeing on the street in broad daylight. Also, I have been witness to a man hopped up on something peeing on the street while still walking down it!

    • My blog is all about venting! For whatever reason, the toilets didn’t but me until recently. Maybe I’d just gotten used to it, or maybe my body could fight off those germs better. I’m truly disgusted by the lack of resources, lack of cleaning and how dingy and icky they get.

      And the kids peeing in the street, please. My kids will never do that!

  15. Just returned from a 3 weeks trip to Spain (Santiago de Compostela, Valladolid, Madrid) and am happy to say that I did not find the toilets as you describe them. In other trips yes, but not in this. They were all clean, had TP and soap. Reading your blog I remember my first visit ti Spain, some 50 years ago when in the road from San Sebatian to Bilbao my sister wanted to pee and in a restaurant she was taken by the woman in the bar to her house and offered a chamber pot! They did not have toilets, just outhouses!

  16. And I thought some of toilets in Thailand were disgusting! I haven’t been to Spain for 20 years, so I can’t remember the toilets that much, maybe too drunk at the time lol
    Graham recently posted..Chiang Mai co-working space, the top 10 places in the city.My Profile

  17. USA! USA! USA!

  18. I’ve been to public toilets for men here in Madrid, like that at the Moncloa Metro Station and so far, they offer liquid soap to wash up after, as well as toiled paper to dry my hands off.

  19. Emmy Snow says:

    hahahahah this cracked me up so much!!! yes…WHY WHY WHY is there never any TP!!!


  1. […] am still puzzled as to why ladies bathrooms in Spain see no need to stock up on toilet paper. Throw a couple of extras in your purse for when the need arises (most likely in the airport or […]

  2. […] whole, the state of public bathrooms in Spain tends to be below average.  You can read Cat’s spot-on post if you’d like more details, but my biggest complaint is as […]

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