Sanisette Public Toilets
Forget pissoirs and hole-in-the-floor squat toilets. In today's Paris, public 'sanisettes' are high-tech, self-cleaning, and mostly free. Here's what they look like and how to use them.
Not so many decades ago, the phrase "Paris public toilets" evoked images of smelly streetcorner pissoirs, hole-in-the-floor squat toilets at neighborhood cafés, and lavatories ruled by female attendants with the demeanor of prison guards.
Today, nearly all of the vespasiennes or pissoirs are gone, and tourists of both sexes are served by modern, self-cleaning toilets known as sanisettes on boulevards and in parks throughout the city.
Parisian sanisettes come in several styles, but all have the same basic design:
In the past, sanisettes were pay toilets, but the city of Paris began converting them to free operation in February, 2006. Free toilets are identified by a sign that reads "Toilettes - Accès Gratuit." (Toilets in the suburbs usually aren't free, so if you venture outside of Paris, keep a few 20-cent coins on hand for emergencies.)
Here are a few more things you should know:
How to use a sanisette:
Check the control panel to see if the sanisette is occupied. If the red light is off or a sign says "Libre," the toilet is ready for action.
Press the button to open the door. If the door doesn't open and the booth isn't labeled "accés gratuit," you'll need to insert two 20-cent coins.
(Note: Control panels vary in appearance, as you can see from the photos above.)
Once you're inside, wait for the door to close, then use the toilet. There's no need to flush--the sanisette will do that for you.
(See the white panel behind the toilet? After you leave, the panel will open, and a robotic hand will come out to scrub and disinfect the toilet.)
After you've finished your business with the WC, stick your hands into the receptacle below the mirror. The sanisette will squirt your hands with soap and water (assuming that the device is working correctly), and a few seconds later a hot-air blower will dry your hands.
When you're ready to leave, open the door from the inside and step out. The door will close after a short interval, and the robotic attendant will prepare the booth for the next occupant in about 60 seconds.
Durant Imboden is a professional travel writer, book author, and editor who focuses on European cities and transportation.
After 4-1/2 years of covering European travel topics for About.com, Durant and Cheryl Imboden co-founded Europe for Visitors (including Paris for Visitors) in 2001. The site has earned "Best of the Web" honors from Forbes and The Washington Post.