I've noticed sometimes in polite company or in the company of strangers some people will saying they are going to wash their hands 去洗手 (qù xǐshǒu) instead of going to the toilet 去上厕所 (qù shàng cèsuǒ).

Alternatively, asking for the 洗手间 (xǐshǒujiān) instead of the 厕所 (cèsuǒ).

Is this something that should be copied? Does it matter for guys, is this more feminine to say 洗手?

  • 1
    I highly doubt 洗手 is more feminine. The two terms are basically synonymous for bathroom/toilet, but you could say 洗手 is more like an euphemism
    – Zhanger
    Dec 15, 2011 at 10:11
  • 1
    补妆 is more feminine not 洗手
    – Alex Chen
    Dec 15, 2011 at 10:14
  • 3
    Lucky you don't have friends like mine, some of the boys just go 拉屎 (lit. pull a shit) which I think sounds pretty nasty!
    – Ciaocibai
    Dec 15, 2011 at 10:29
  • @Ciaocibai: That is a bit funny 8-) Dec 15, 2011 at 15:34
  • 厕所 could sound unrefined... My mother told me when I was a child that I should say 卫生间 instead of 厕所...
    – user58955
    Sep 23, 2013 at 6:46

6 Answers 6


Roughly speaking, 洗手间 = bathroom/restroom and 厕所 = toilet.

洗手 literally means wash hands. It's not feminine, it's just more polite as you mentioned.

You can use either in most cases. You would use 洗手间 while eating or when talking to someone you don't know very well.


Don't use 厕所 whilst eating with people.

Otherwise I don't think people will mind all that much.

A Chinese friend of mine told me to say 大使馆 for the bathroom before, but I bet you can see the joke already....


Generally you may ask 请问厕所在哪里? or 请问洗手间在哪里? The name of toilet was called 茅房 (thatch house) in ancient times, later it was named 茅厕 and then 厕所 (side place or side room) finally, it is already elegant than 茅房. But now, Chinese translate the word washroom to 洗手间 (washing hands room) or 卫生间 (hygienic room) more frequently than using the origin Chinese word 厕所, for it is considered as an inelegant word instead in the mind of most people, it is a mistake actually, but it is hard to change back. But, this word is still common in daily life, most people prefer speaking 上厕所 to 上洗手间.


3 other possibilities 解手、 方便(said to bus driver, on busses w/o restroom, in order to make him/her stop the bus),cf. http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XNTgzNzk0MjQ=.html 15:52:passenger to bus driver:师傅 到前边停一下 15:54:想方便方便、 撒尿(urinate)、

  • from watching free online videos it would seem that 拉屎 is not quite as crass as shitting, also after having been to the restroom, it seems on can refer to the activity there by just 拉,e.g. 我拉完了/我没拉完cf。 v.youku.com/v_show/id_XMTE0Mjg5NzMy.html 06:41:student says to teacher"我还没拉完"
    – user6065
    Jul 30, 2014 at 1:27
  • Actually this seems very helpful to me, not for ordinary use in a restaurant or on the street, but precisely as S.Rhee says when you need to convey that it is important and you need someone to take action like stopping a bus. Sep 22, 2014 at 14:45

I think the problem is what is the difference between 我想去洗手间 and 我想上厕所 . In chinese daily life,they have same meaining : go to toilets. However 我想去洗手间 is a more polite expression and is used in formal occasions and eating.

Alternatively, 洗手 is a verb meaning to clean your hands by water if your hands are dirty. It is just a ordinary word. If you say 洗手 , you are considerd to wash your hands in 厕所 or 洗手间.


Our Chinese teacher, a native Chinese speaker from Shenyang, said, that instead of saying 我想上厕所 the more polite and preferrable way to excuse for going to the toilet is to say, for example, to the teacher in the class: 我要方便一下.

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