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.
ABOVE: This sanisette is near
the Opéra Bastille (the glass building
behind the tree).
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.
The sanisettes come in several styles, but all have the same
You press a button (or, in some cases, insert a coin) to open the
door, and when you step inside, a sensor in the floor causes the door to close
You do your business, then open the door and exit.
The door closes
again, the toilet is automatically cleaned and disinfected by a motorized
mechanism, and a green light signals that the lavatory is ready for the next
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
Here are a few more things you
Sanisettes are normally open
from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. After 2200 hours, you'll need to find a café or
the nearest wall.
For safety reasons, children
under 10 shouldn't use sanisettes without an adult companion. (There have
been reports of sanisettes beginning the cleaning cycle with small,
lightweight children trapped inside.)
In addition to sanisettes, the
city of Paris has two dozen public lavatories that are open from 10 a.m. to
12 p.m. and from 1 p.m. until 6:15 p.m. The lavatories have attendants and
are mostly located near major public buildings and tourist attractions.
Older sanisettes aren't
wheelchair-accessible, but the newest models are.
Sanisettes are complex,
high-tech devices, and you may encounter one that's out of order. If that
happens, look for another one, or head for the nearest café.
Sanisettes are clean, but they
can come with surprises, such as the dead mouse that we saw crushed
under a sanisette's door near the Bastille. Also, the door opens
automatically after 15 minutes, so don't plan to read the collected works of
Proust while you're perched on the biffy.
illustrated directions on how to use sanisettes in Paris, please continue to the
How to use a sanisette