The Dutch toilet: Everything you need to know before you go

The Dutch toilet: Everything you need to know before you go

There are some things you know to expect when you arrive in the Netherlands; winding canals, rainy weather, steep stairs and many many bicycles. But one thing may surprise you, and that is the Dutch toilet.

Toilets in the Netherlands

When you inevitably need to go to the bathroom, some peculiarities of Dutch toilets will most likely catch you off guard. Whether it’s the toilet in your newly rented home or the public toilet you have to pay to use - just like everything else about the Dutch, toilets in the Netherlands might be different to what you're used to back home.

But don’t worry, we’re here to prepare you with all you need to know about the Dutch toilet.

Why are Dutch toilets weird?

If you’ve not been to the Netherlands before, you’re probably wondering what makes Dutch toilets so weird. From the small size of the bathroom to the inspection shelf in the toilet, there are a variety of quirky differences that toilets in other countries don’t always have.  

Dutch bathrooms: what to expect

One of the first things you will notice when you make your way to a Dutch restroom is that the toilet is in a separate room from the shower or bath. The room housing the toilet will also most likely be the size of a closet, making the name "water closet" or WC - as it’s called in the Netherlands - appropriate.

The separation of bathrooms from toilets is most likely because the majority of Dutch houses don't have enough space for a large room housing both. It can also be more convenient to have the toilet separate from the rest of the bathroom. You don't have to wait for someone to finish showering to use the toilet, and it is more sanitary to keep your toothbrush in a room away from the toilet and the bacteria that comes with it. 

Inside the little Dutch WC, there might also be a small sink for you to wash your hands, but watch out because there’s usually only a cold water tap, making winter visits to the loo a tad chillier than you might like. Don’t be surprised to find a birthday calendar in the bathroom either, where you’re sure to find the birthday entry of everyone who has visited the bathroom before you. 

Another thing that could be considered unique to the Dutch bathroom is the lack of windows or ventilation, which makes the presence of an air freshener understandable. Other than a deodoriser, another accessory you can expect to see is a toilet brush stuffed into the back corner of the room. 

The poo shelf in Dutch toilets

After squeezing yourself into the small dimensions of the WC, you’ll get your next surprise: the toilet's inspection shelf. It is exactly what it sounds like - a little step before the bottom of the toilet bowl for you to inspect your stool before flushing it away. 

But why do Dutch toilets have a shelf? The toilet design that includes the poo shelf - known as a shallow flush or "washout" toilet - was first patented by English sanitary engineer George Jennings. It was actually the most popular toilet design in Europe up until the 1970s, so many older houses across the continent are blessed with an inspection shelf. Many unsuspecting new arrivals come across the "poop shelf" for the first time in the Netherlands, and so are led to erroneously believe that the design is unique to the Dutch.

Strange as it might seem to you, the inspection shelf was once very popular for a number of reasons. It not only allows you to do a health check with a quick inspection of your stool, but it also prevents water from splashing you when making a deposit.  

If, like many, you are not used to this type of shallow flush toilet, you’ll notice that not only are you faced with the sight of your excrement but the smell too. This is because your deposit doesn’t land in a toilet bowl of water as it does in other toilet designs. Instead, it sits on the poop shelf, wafting the odours through the air until you flush. 

Remember that toilet brush we mentioned earlier? Well, this is where it comes in handy because the large gush of water needed to sweep away your droppings from the inspection shelf is not always powerful enough. You may need to give the toilet bowl a scrub with the toilet brush to avoid some unfortunate stains.

Finding a public toilet in the Netherlands

You now know what to expect from a visit to a WC, but what about finding one while you’re out and about in a Dutch city? It can be a bit tricky to find a public toilet in the Netherlands and, when you do, it’s quite likely that you’ll need to pay to use it.

Luckily, there are mobile apps such as HogeNood that give you the location of public toilets near you, as well as information about the toilet such as price per use and how well it’s rated. There are, of course, public urinals that can be used for free, if you’re brave enough. 

Your experience with the Dutch toilet

While the Dutch toilet shelf and other bathroom oddities can be surprising, they are all a part of the adventure in the Netherlands and give you a peek into the Dutch way of life. Have you ever seen the poop shelf toilet before? Tell us about your experience with a Dutch toilet in the comments below.

Simone Jacobs


Simone Jacobs

Editor for the Netherlands at IamExpat Media. Simone studied Genetics and Zoology at the Univeristy of Pretoria in South Africa before moving to the Netherlands, where she has been working...

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