Things about Germany #3: Toilet Brush Use (aka Die Toilettenbürstebenützung)

  • Posted on: 14 August 2014
  • By: Michelle

Okay, I may be dancing around a touchy subject here, because, to be honest, toilet brush use is not a widely discussed topic in North America. It could be that I am a complete neanderthal with subpar public washroom etiquette, but in my 35 years of North-American bathroom frequenting, toilet brush use is reserved for the following distinct people groups:

1) the owner of the toilet; and,
2) someone paid by the owner of the toilet.

Okay, so there are a few extenuating circumstances, for example, when the owner of a particular toilet has delegated its general use to another party, such as in the case of the rental of the property or residence on which a particular toilet stands, the responsible use of the toilet brush is inherently absorbed by the tenant and/or by someone paid by tenant. Also, in lieu of wages, someone might be tasked to clean a particular toilet for other reasons, including but not limited to summer camp, volunteer work, jail time, etc.

Outside of these parameters, it has never occurred to me, in my entire life, that I would be expected to use a toilet brush in conjunction with my use of a particular toilet.

For example, I’ve never been at a friend’s house, and had them say to me “Hey, we just ate McDonalds for lunch, make sure you use the toilet brush after you take care of business.” Or received a group work email to the effect of “It’s come to the management’s attention that a frequenter of the women’s washroom has not been exercising due diligence with regard to toilet brush use.”

Then I moved to Germany.

Beside every toilet in Germany is a toilet brush. And I don’t mean just in private settings. I mean EVERY. TOILET. EVERYWHERE. IN THE ENTIRE COUNTRY. Restaurants, train stations, office buildings, shopping malls, gas stations, campgrounds, airplanes, port-a-potties.

It’s not such a noticeable item at first, because, I mean, where else would a toilet brush be kept for eventually use by the authorized parties?

It does become a noticeable item when you finally get around to interpreting the sign commonly found in public restrooms:

“Bitte die Toilettenbürste benutzen.” “Please use the toilet brush.”

Wait. Huh? Who? Me? Like. Me? When? NOW? But. Like. Huh?

Yup. You. When? Immediately following toilet use, if the flushing of a particular toilet has not, uh, returned it to its acceptable pre-use state. In other words? If you don't immediately take care of those skid marks, the next stall patron will automatically assume they belong to you. Because ... in Germany, they do.

And in case you are unclear on its proper use, directions can be regularly found on the back of the toilet stall doors.


This poster made me simultaneously chuckle and gag. To clarify 'Toilettenbürstenbenutzungsanweisung' is not only a hilariously long word, but translates literally to "Toilet Brush Use Advisory." 'Ganz' means completely or totally, and 'fast' means almost. I'm assuming my readers can figure out which words indicate the right and wrong ways to use the toilet brush.

Since the thought of using a toilet brush, even in the 'richtig' way, in a public bathroom lies somewhere on a scale of completely to totally revolting, I'll let you in on a little trick I've picked up from zee Germanz: throw some toilet paper in before dropping the kids off at the pool (yup ... I did just say that). Even Mother Earth would understand.

So. Consider this post a Public Service Announcement for the next time you require urgent and immediate toilet use in Germany. Oh, but I NEVER use public bathrooms for, you know, going number two. Uh huh. Let me remind you. Germans eat salami and sausage and ham layered between cheese at all meals. The occasion WILL arise. And if I have learned nothing else (other than how to conjugate verbs to express an unrealistic wish such as my desire to use a toilet brush in a public washroom) I can assure you that six-foot-tall Helga over there will, both loudly and publicly, point out any behavioural gaffes you might make.

You're welcome.