Unilever logo
Cleanipedia ZA logo

Dirty School Toilets Fail Our Kids

Poor sanitation in schools is one of the biggest issues facing our country and not much is being said about it. Domestos aims to solve the unsanitary toilet facilities in schools through the Cleaner Toilets, Brighter Future initiative.


Reading Time: 5 minutes

Clean school toilets

Imagine this scenario. You’re a young child in a rural school in South Africa. You love school, but you hate going to use the bathroom. You’re sitting in class trying hard to concentrate but you badly need to use the toilet, so badly in fact that you cannot listen to the teacher properly.

You go to the bathroom, bracing yourself outside because you know the mess lies inside. You block your nose first, then walk gingerly into the bathroom, being careful not to slip on the overflowing water and waste it on the floor. You search each stall to try and find one that is relatively usable, one that has the least mess.

There is no door to close to give you privacy, no toilet paper to clean yourself, no light to give you peace of mind - just an unhygienic mess that you have to face simply to relieve yourself.

Now imagine having to face this reality every single day as a school child in South Africa, can you see why and how it would affect your ability to learn and thrive in your little life? Dirty, unsanitary toilet facilities in schools are a failure for our children.

Having access to safe, sanitary facilities at school is a basic human right that many children in South Africa (and around the world) do not have, and Domestos is determined to change that through its Cleaner Toilets, Brighter Futures initiative.

How Many Children Do Not Have Access to Clean, Safe Sanitation?

The current estimate is that 9 in 10 children in the world face issues with their school toilets. In 2021, Domestos spearheaded a study entitled “The School Toilet Report” which surveyed children (between the ages of 6 and 13) from four countries in the world, namely India, the UK, Poland, and South Africa. The findings about health and hygiene in schools were dire;

  • Eight in ten (86%) children reported cleanliness as an issue in school toilets, including unflushed toilets, wet floors, and urine or faeces on the seat or floor.

  • Nine in ten (89%) children report that their toilets are ‘neglected’ with missing or broken items. This rises to 91% of children in South Africa.

  • Over half (53%) of children feel unsafe using school toilets due to poor lighting or lack of doors and gates.

  • Only 1 in 6 (15%) children have told an adult about the poor state of their school toilets, representing the invisibility of the problem. Reducing to less than 1 in 10 (8%) in Poland.

How Does Unsafe Sanitation Affect Children’s Schooling?

The report detailed some sad and shocking statistics about how these children’s unsanitary school toilets affected their ability to concentre, learn and thrive at school;

  • 18% of children report ‘discomfort’ and over 1 in 10 (12%) find it hard to concentrate in class due to ‘holding it in’ to avoid using dirty and poorly maintained school toilets. Rising to 13% and 23% respectively in South Africa

  • 1 in 10 children (12%) say that they deliberately don’t eat or drink at school to avoid using the toilet. Rising to 17% in India.

  • The impact extends to school absence with almost 1 in 10 (7%) children missing school to avoid using toilets. In India, this increases to one in five (15%), with 7% of children in the UK reporting absence due to the state of school toilets.

How to Improve Sanitation in Schools?

Domestos has taken a tiered- approach to tackling this worldwide issue. In South Africa, Domestos runs the Clean Toilets, Brighter Futures campaign which actively works to end toilet poverty in three different ways;

  • The infrastructure programme - renovating or building improved, high-quality toilet facilities

  • The janitor programme - school toilet maintenance training and resourcing

  • The national school's hygiene programme - hygiene education for grade 1 learners in South African schools.

One particularly important tool that Domestos has created was linked to the statistic that showed that many school children do not report the terrible state of their school bathrooms to their parents. Domestos created a conversation guide for parents called “Let’s Talk School Toilets” which helps parents to better understand the problem and guides them on how to discuss the issue with their children. Read the full Let’s Talk School Toilets Guide now.

For more information on how to get involved in the Domestos Safer School Sanitation campaign or to request assistance, visit Domestos today.

Frequently Asked Questions on Unsanitary School Toilets

How do dirty school toilets fail kids?

Dirty toilets fail kids in a myriad of ways; by affecting their ability to concentrate, by affecting their mental health and causing anxiety, by putting them at risk of illness and creating more absenteeism.

How many toilets should a school have?

For school children there should be approximately 1 toilet for every 20 learners. These toilets should be segregated too into female and male bathrooms.

What can I use to clean dirty school toilets?

The Domestos range of Thick Bleach cleaners are the best product to use every day to keep school toilets clean, hygienic and sanitary.

Can children help keep school toilets clean?

In some cases, where there is a complete lack of adult ability, it is possible to get older children, from 11 years and up, to assist with certain cleaning duties. But it is preferable that a team of adults trained on how to clean toilets at schools takes on the job.

How many South African schools have no toilets?

A recent statistic suggests that there were nearly 130 schools in SA that have no toilets whatsoever and had to make use of unsanitary and unsafe alternatives like pit latrines or bucket toilets.

Originally published