Why are there no public toilets in the Netherlands?

It’s the moment we all dread in the Netherlands: needing to use the loo when you’re out and about. Why are there no public toilets in the Netherlands? Why do you have to pay to use the loo in Holland? DutchReview investigates. 

Picture this: you’re relaxing with your friends in the city, wandering from shop to shop after a delicious coffee and apple cake– when suddenly you feel it. Your friends notice the flicker of fear in your eyes and ask what’s wrong. Taking a deep breath, and wishing that you’d actually had something stronger with your cake, you reply: I need the loo.

In any other country, this would be no cause for concern: from Ireland to New Zealand, public toilets are commonplace, free, and relatively clean (mostly). But in the Netherlands, things are very different. If you need to go while you’re out of the house, you’re going to have to part with one of three things: your money, your dignity, or your comfort. Actually, you’ll probably lose all these.

toilets in the netherlands
What going to the toilet feels like in the Netherlands. Image: George Hodan/Public Domain Pictures.

Why are Dutch toilets so expensive?

As anyone who has lived here for a while can tell you, Dutch toilets are not free of charge. Another major fail, if you ask me. Fees range from 25 cents to a whole euro, depending on city and location. Train stations, cafes and restaurants will all charge you to use their facilities, as will all three of the actual public toilets in the country.

You might be wondering what all this money goes towards. Well, keep wondering, because we have no idea. Only one in four toilets in the Netherlands is actually clean, and less than 16 percent of toilets in public areas like train stations passes the Dutch Toilet Organisation’s fit-for-purpose test. Presumably, some of the money pays the wages of the omnipresent toiletjuffrouw— the lady who takes your money when you’re entering the toilet.

toilets in the netherlands
The tragic moment when you have to hand over those 50 cents. Image: Yves Lorson/Wikicommons.

Sneaking into cafe toilets is an option

Officially, most cafes will ask you for for fifty cents if you use their toilets without buying something. But you can decide to risk your dignity and sneak past the waitstaff to the toilet out the back. Legally, they can’t make you pay, though it is considered pretty rude. Nonetheless, in an emergency when you have no change in your pockets, it’s an option, if not the best option.

Toilets are actually pretty important

For most of us, the worst case scenario is being uncomfortable for an hour or so until we get home and can enjoy the luxury of a free, clean, private toilet. But for people who have incontinence problems, have a health issue that affects their digestive system (like Crohn’s disease, for example), or are pregnant, the lack of accessible public toilets in the Netherlands is a real problem. According to NOS, it’s even preventing some people from leaving the house.

toilets in the netherlands
The inspection shelf of doom. Image: david_jones/Flickr.

There’s no denying that the public toilet situation in the Netherlands is, well, crap. But if you are out and about and desperate, there’s an app for that! pee.place allows you to find public toilets in most countries, including the Netherlands. It won’t fix the lack of toilet paper or the horrifying ‘inspection shelf’- but at least you’ll be able to uncross your legs for a couple of minutes.

Have you had any horrifying experiences in public toilets in the Netherlands? Or have you discovered the one clean stall in the country? Let us know what you think of the toilet system in the Netherlands in the comments below!

Feature image: david_jones/Flickr.


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