What do Koreans call a toilet?

Koreans use several different words to refer to a toilet or bathroom. The most common words are 화장실 (hwajangsil) and toilet.

Quick Answers

– The most common Korean word for toilet is 화장실 (hwajangsil). This literally means “place to apply makeup.”

– Other Korean words for toilet include 비치실 (bichisil), 변소 (byonsa), and 편의시설 (pyeonuisiseol).

– Traditional Korean toilets were squat toilets, but most modern toilets in Korea are now Western-style.

– Public toilets in Korea are called 공중화장실 (gongjunghwajangsil).

The Origins and Meanings of Korean Toilet Words

The most common Korean word for toilet, 화장실 (hwajangsil), literally means “place to apply makeup.” This term originated in the Joseon dynasty era when women would go to a special room to put on makeup and style their hair. Over time, this makeup room evolved to also serve as a lavatory.

The word 화장실 combines the words 화장 (hwajang) meaning “to apply makeup” and 실 (sil) meaning “room.” Although hwajangsil literally refers to a makeup room, it is now used as the polite or formal word for toilet or restroom in modern Korea.

Some other old-fashioned Korean words for toilet highlight its function as a place to urinate and defecate:

– 변소 (byonsa): Derived from 변 (byun) meaning “feces” and 소 (so) meaning “place.”

– 오줌실 (ojumshil): Made up of 오줌 (ojum) meaning “urine” and 실 (shil) meaning “room.” This referred to a room specifically for urination.

– 배설장 (baesuljang): Combined from 배설 (baesul) meaning “excretion” and 장 (jang) meaning “place.”

While these graphic terms are still sometimes used, most Koreans today prefer to use the polite 화장실 (hwajangsil) when referring to a toilet or bathroom.

Some other modern Korean bathroom terms include:

– 비치실 (bichisil): From the English words “beach room.” This is used for public toilet facilities near beaches in Korea.

– 편의시설 (pyeonuisiseol): Literally means “convenience facility.” A common term for public restrooms.

– 집기 (jipgi): Literally “house equipment.” Used to refer to a residential bathroom.

Public Toilets

Public toilets are differentiated using the term 공중- (gongjung), meaning public or for the masses. A public toilet is called 공중화장실 (gongjunghwajangsil) in Korean.

Restrooms in public places like malls, parks, stations, and restaurants are all referred to as 공중화장실. When Koreans need to use a public toilet, they would ask “공중화장실이 어디에 있어요?” (Where is the public toilet?).

Signage for public toilets also uses the term 공중화장실 along with universally understood icons. If speaking formally, public toilet would be called 공중편의시설 (gongjungpyeonuisiseol).

Traditional Squat Toilets

Traditional Korean toilets were squat toilets, not the seated toilets commonly used in Western bathrooms today.

In squatting toilets, users must squat over a porcelain hole to do their business, rather than sitting on a toilet. This is similar to Asian-style squat toilets still found in China, Japan, and India.

There were a few reasons squat toilets were traditionally preferred in Korea:

– Squatting aligns the colon in a way that makes defecation easier. This position allows for complete elimination.

– It was more sanitary than having one’s bare bottom touch a shared toilet seat before modern flush toilets and toilet paper were invented.

– Squat toilets required less materials and space than Western seated toilets. This was important in old Korean homes with small spaces.

However, most modern toilets in Korea are now Western-style seated models with flushing mechanisms. But you can still find some traditional squat toilets in rural areas and at highway rest stops.

Modern Korean Toilets and Bathrooms

While traditional squat toilets used to be the norm in Korea, typical residential and commercial bathrooms now resemble bathrooms in the West with seated flush toilets.

Some features of modern Korean toilets and bathrooms include:

– Electronic bidet toilet seats that spray water for cleaning and drying. These advanced toilet seats with built-in bidets are very popular.

– Floor heating systems in most bathrooms. Koreans dislike cold bathroom floors, so ondol (heated flooring) is common.

– Special floor drains so the whole bathroom can be hosed down and cleaned easily.

– High-tech features like automatic sensors, heated seats, and built-in sound systems in high-end real estate.

– Traditionally low sink and tub placement reflecting short average Korean heights. Newer buildings adjust heights for universal accessibility.

– Water conservation. Korea has worked to reduce water usage with eco-friendly dual flush toilets.

– Energy-saving features like occupancy sensors, LED lighting, and tankless water heaters.

While decor and amenities vary, most modern Korean bathrooms focus on hygiene, efficiency, and convenience with high-tech toilets and easy-clean finishes.

Toilet Etiquette in Korea

Korea has some particular etiquette rules when it comes to toilets and bathroom usage:

– Never point your feet or feetwear at the toilet or another person in the bathroom. Feet are considered dirty.

– Avoid passing gas audibly in a public restroom. Koreans value modesty.

– Don’t leave used toilet paper behind in the bowl. Most plumbing relies on waste bins not pipes.

– Give people privacy in bathroom stalls. Don’t attempt to peek inside occupied stalls.

– Keep noise down and avoid calls in public restrooms. Be discreet.

– When using a shared toilet, line up your toilet paper neatly for the next person.

Following toilet and bathroom etiquette is seen as socially polite in Korea. It shows respect for facilities, other users, and cultural norms.


While Koreans use several terms for toilet including the common 화장실 (hwajangsil), the facilities themselves have modernized from traditional squat toilets to modern seated bathrooms. Shared toilet etiquette around privacy and hygiene is important in public facilities. Toilets provide an interesting glimpse into Korean values of modesty, order, and hygiene. With water-spraying bidets, heated floors, and sensor-activated functions becoming standard, the Korean toilet continues to evolve as a model of high-tech convenience.

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