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Although we would like to believe this is a very interesting topic, perhaps you’re dumbfounded by the idea that we have decided to talk about Spanish bathrooms on two separate occasions (you can read more about bathrooms you’ll find in homes here). We feel like it is necessary to dive into this topic a bit more and give you the sincere scoop, not just the normal-to-talk-about topics. Since you will eventually need to use a public bathroom somewhere in Spain, you might as well be prepared…
1.) Look for the “aseo,” “servicio,” or “WC”
Despite being taught to say “Dónde está el baño?” in every beginner’s Spanish class, when you arrive in Spain you’re much more likely to hear “aseo” or “servicio.” For all you Spanish newbies out there, we would like to highlight that while baño means bath, aseo/servicio refers to a room with a toilet, which is what you get in a public bathroom. This doesn’t mean that people won’t understand you if you ask for a “baño” but you will look much more fluent in Spain if you ask for one of these alternatives.
Something else you might see, although it is much less likely that you will ask for it is “WC.” WC stands for water closet and is the universal symbol for bathrooms. So, if you’re looking for bathrooms in a place, you’ll save yourself some incredulous looks by noting this now. Now, if you are from the U.S., you will probably be scratching your head thinking “water closet, I’ve never heard that before.” WC is a common British term that usually refers to small rooms that only have a toilet or a toilet and a small sink. In U.S. terms, we call this a half-bath or a bathroom without a shower or bathtub.
2.) Bring your own toilet paper
Above all, this is what you chicas are going to want to know! Even in a nicer restaurant, it’s REALLY common to find no toilet paper in the bathroom. It may be that the bathroom is not stocked with paper or that they have run out, but it is not uncommon that you will find yourself without some paper. In our opinion, one of the worst things about having to fend for yourself in these situations is that Spanish restaurant napkins can often be a worse option than not wiping at all (yes, trust us on this one). Just save yourself the uncomfortable drip-dry and always carry a pack of tissues or pañuelos with you. This is also a sure-fire way to make friends in line for the bathroom, especially on a night out!
3.) Don’t expect a toilet seat
While we have been here for a while, we cannot get over the fact that the majority of public toilets here don’t have toilet seats! We don’t really have a good explanation for why this is as we cannot imagine that it saves much money or cleaning. The only reason we can think that many places don’t use this luxury is because people don’t tend to sit when they use the toilet while out. Although it has been proven that toilet seats are surprisingly clean when used properly, we have also noticed that in the places that do have them in Spain, it looks like people haven’t sat down anyway. Our recommendation is to get ready to get in some squats each time to visit public bathrooms!
For all you males out there, this might be an issue for you as well as we have been told by male friends that the seat typically won’t stay up on its own. Therefore, guys often have to battle between holding the seat manually or risking peeing on it. In your case, the only thing we can recommend is trying to work on your aim.
4.) Don’t flush your paper if they ask you not to
Yes, you’re reading that sign correctly―in many places in Spain they will in fact ask you to dispose of your used toilet paper in the waste bin, not the toilet bowl. While this feels insanely unsanitary for many of us, the fact of the matter is that the history of plumbing in Spain isn’t the greatest. Over the years people have gotten used to the idea that things are still this way (and in some plays may still be this way) and generally tend to err on the side of caution as the pipes might get backed up, even just with toilet paper. While this may seem gross, we do recommend you follow the requests just in case.
5.) Cleanliness is not of the essence
Regardless of the country you’re from, you’ve probably experienced some pretty dirty bathrooms at bars/dance clubs so that’s unlikely to shock you. What may surprise you, though, is that some seemingly nice or at least average bars/restaurants in Spain may have some pretty nasty bathrooms, too. Therefore, we think it is good for you to be prepared for wet and/or sticky floors, overflowing garbage cans, and no soap or functioning hand-dryers. With time, you’ll be a pro and pack your own hand sanitizer, too!
We hope that the above info hasn’t made you too squeamish or got you nervous that you’ll NEVER be able to face a public toilet here in Spain. The truth is that you won’t find these issues in every bathroom and, at least when you do, it’s not typically everything on the list. Still, it can happen and we do try to prepare for the worst case scenario. That way, with your tissues and hand sanitizer on-call, you’ll be happily surprised when the bathroom smells fresh, has a toilet seat, or provides soap. It’s the little things in life you’ll come to appreciate.