While you might not think such a mundane topic as flushing water-closets in Italy merits a how to post, you would be wrong, for the simple act of going to the toilet in Italy is not always as straightforward as it may seem, or should be.
There are several ways in which water-closets in Italy may be encouraged to do their things, but no two loos, to use the British English term for the john, ever seem to be the same.
Here is a list of the various types of flushes in use in Italy – nine so far. One sincerely hopes this how to flush guide may enhance your life or stay in Italy by rendering the act of flushing a mite simpler.
Type 1 Italian Flush – The Top Button(s)
The flush is quite visibly and logically located slap bang in the center of the water tank which sits above and behind the bowl – except there may well be two buttons to press.
Pressing the bigger one will induce a longish gusher of a flush which is adept at dispatching, er, larger items.
Next to the big rocker will probably be a smaller one. Pressing this will release less of a gush and more of a trickle in a rather half-hearted attempt to see off liquid waste and save some water.
Sometimes, neither the bigger or the smaller buttons will function. Enter flush type two.
Type 2 Italian Flush – The Accelerator Pedal
After discovering that the buttons don’t work, look around. You may spot a kind of extended “accelerator pedal” sticking out from one side on the floor beneath the toilet bowl. Stamping on the pedal should produce that flushing sensation and off you can go.
Type 3 Italian Flush – The Wall Button(s)
In the absence of a Type 1 flush, and should a quick glance around not reveal a Type 2 accelerator pedal, look at the left or right-hand walls – often behind your behind at around knee level. There may well be a large white button lurking there. Press this and flushing success is, generally, assured.
Sometimes Type 3 wall button flushes have two buttons, like the buttons one might find on the Type 1 water tank above and behind the toilet. The smaller button, if it works, will induce a trickle flush, whereas the larger one, if it works, will produce enough of a flush to see off stubborn floaters.
Type 4 Italian Flush – The Lever
Generally, it has to be said, these little levers are quite visible. There may well be one sticking out of the attractively tiled wall – behind which the water tank has been cleverly hidden. This is great, until such time as it goes wrong and the wall needs to be smashed to smithereens to get to the darn thing. Sorry, I was getting carried away – like unmentionable substances hit by a big button flush.
With type 4 lever flushes, simply press the lever down and, if it works, you can be on your way – feeling mildly flushed with your success.
As noted, sometimes the lever does not lead to a satisfactory flush. In such cases, glance around and you may see a Type 1, Type 2, Type 3 or even a Type 5 or Types 6, 7, 8, or 9 flushing system. Before progressing to the other flushing types, let me lead you, conveniently, to the Type 5 flusher.
Type 5 Italian Flush – The Wall Hanger
Sometimes in Italy, and from personal experience in private houses down in Genoa, the flush will be activated by pulling on a chain (or cord) which may, or may not, have a user-friendly knob on the end of it to simplify the pulling process.
Be warned though, that Type 5 flushing systems can be a little on the fragile side and too heavy a yank may detach them from their water tanks, or worse, may detach the porcelain tanks from their walls. This could leave you rather wet and with a bad headache (and headaches are expensive to cure in Italy).
If flushing Types 1 to 5 are not visible, then you may come across the Type 6 flushing system.
Type 6 Italian Flush – The Turner
Type 6 is a handle, not unlike a door knob, which often sticks out of the wall behind the toilet. The knob has to be turned one way or another to get it to work. These knobs are, generally, spring loaded and will automatically stop the flow a short while after the flush has been activated.
Springs fail with age though, so you may need to turn the handle manually to stop the water from gushing forth until a nearby reservoir drains.
Sometimes, if you turn too vigorously, as has happened to me – those springs can be rather strong – the cable buried in the wall to which a ‘turner’ is connected, may detach itself. When this happens, the water, as in the spring failure scenario previously outlined, may flow forever, or at least until someone turns off the water supply (which is something else which can lead to headaches in Italy) and calls the plumber, or locates his or her tool kit.
Type 7 Italian Flush – The Metallic Prod Button
Word on Italian toilet types has been spreading fast, and I have discovered a variation on Type 3 – the Type 7 – the wall-mounted metallic push button. Type 7 prod buttons are generally smaller and are mounted above the bowl which means they do not have to be hunted for, unlike Type 3 behind your behind buttons.
Nathalie Boisard-Beudin, a Rome based French lawyer, whose reflection you can just about make out if you look closely, considerately sent me this photo of a Type 7:
Type 7 prod flushes can be as finicky as all the rest.
If one prod does not achieve the desired flush, prod once more. No joy? Try yet again, and again. You might eventually be greeted by the sound of flushing water, then again, you might not. These prod flush buttons rarely work in coffee shops, restaurants and cafes, says Nathalie.
Type 8 Italian Flush – The Autostrada AutoFlush
Yet another flushing method that has kindly been drawn to my attention by Fraussie is the autostrada – Italian motorway – autoflush.
This hyper-modern automatic system does the flushing for you. Except often, I have been informed by experienced user Fraussie, the things auto-flush before you want them to – potentially spraying one with not so clean water. Yuck.
So far, I have not encountered, or should that be, had an encounter with, a WC in Italy which combines Types 1 to 8 – it is only a matter of time.
Type 9 – Italian Flush The Rubber Bung Button
As pointed out by Lord V in a comment, I had omitted the rubber bung button.
This flushing method can sometimes be found lurking in dark and dank toilet corners, or on the floor, and often sits on a metal support.
There are two types of rubber bung button flushers – the sole of the foot operated floor mounted versions and the heel operated types. These buttons are not always that easy to operate unless you weigh much more than you possibly should. Even then, with the weight of an elephant on top of them, they do not always do their jobs – in which case you can either a) give up or b) look around for types 1 to 8.
From time to time, WCs in Italy are upgraded and while Type 1 or Type 2, and so on, flush activation systems may remain visible, they may well have been bypassed in favor of one of the other systems and will no longer flush in a functioning manner. In such situations, look around for other flush operation levers, knobs, pedals, chains, cords or buttons.
It it not beyond the realms of possibility to discover, after having identified and then pushed, pressed, pulled, turned or stamped, that the flush doesn’t, in which case the best thing to do is to leave. The stink from a non-functioning water closet will encourage you to beat a hasty retreat anyway.
Toilet seats in Italy may be present, absent, broken, hanging off or possess a crack which may give your nether regions a nasty nip.
Other minor things to watch out for when dealing with toilets in Italy are no toilet paper, no paper towels, no water coming from the faucets, or only cold water, and the absence of soap.
Electric hand dryers, which may either be automatic, require a button push or hand wave to spark them into life, can also add to toilet time confusion in Italy.
Even Italians have problems understanding how to flush toilets in Italy, as this photograph with its crude handwritten guide and scrawled ‘flushing instructions’ which read “Press With Foot” clearly shows:
Close inspection by this toilet user revealed that the flushing system, whichever one it may have been, had been altered – hence the confusion and the need for directions.
The Horrendous Holes in the Ground
Last, by but no means least, are the horrible, and generally very smelly, holes in the ground, squat toilets, launch pads or Turkish torture toilets as I believe they are sometimes known.
While these are supposed, I’ve heard, to be super hygienic and are easy to take advantage of when you are a male in need of a pee, I really do pity women who find they need to answer the call of nature and come face to hole with these terrifying sanitary devices, especially if they are wearing skirts, and even more so if the skirts are ankle length.
Even guys need to pay attention when engaged in a squat job – watch out your wallet or cell phone does not slip out of your back pocket and fall into the black hole. Believe me, you really do not want to stick your hand in there in a, possibly, vain attempt to retrieve your lost possessions. Even if you do manage to rescue your cell phone, it’ll never smell the same. You might want to think twice about holding it too close to your mouth too. Make sure your valued possessions are safe before you squat. You have been warned.
Holes in the ground still exist in Italy and are sometimes to be found in establishments where you would never expect to come across them.
Be aware that, as well as Italy’s Types 1 to 9 of flushing facilitator systems, sometimes there may merely be a hose and a faucet, or tap, as we Brits call them.
Turning the faucet, or tap, may, or may not, cause some water to issue forth, or trickle, from the tube. On occasion the water may exit from the hose with such an enthusiastic ferocity that it will splash all those in the vicinity – namely you. Incidences of excremental splash-back in cases of fire-hose wannabes are not unheard of.
Toilet Quality in Italy
Probably as in many parts of the world, except Switzerland, public or semi-public (restaurants, etc) Italian toilets range from being utterly disgusting and stinky in the extreme to being spotless enough for you to, consider, eating your breakfast off; not that the toilet is exactly the most scenic location for breakfast.
What sparked this flush of toilet humor? Simple, a visit to a new restaurant in which I had, as usual, to hunt for the flushing system – which was a Type 3, in case you were curious.
I do hope this how to post makes your presence in Italy less testing.
If anyone has come across any other novel flushing systems in Italy – which would not surprise this long time Italy resident one iota – then you will be no doubt relieved to hear that you can add them in a comment and this how to post will be duly updated.
By the way, if you found this toilet tale even remotely amusing, then you should try this new book which is all about Italy’s quirkier sides: Burnt by the Tuscan Sun
Turkish torture toilet photo by Mintguy