What is a Chamber Pot?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Images By: Anastasia Fisechko, n/a, n/a, Kmiragaya
  • Last Modified Date: 30 April 2020
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A chamber pot is a small pot, usually ceramic, designed to fit under a bed or in a discreet close stool. Although these pots are not as widely used as they once were, having largely been replaced by indoor toilets. However, in the era when going to the bathroom involved a trek to the outdoors, people who needed to go to the bathroom at night would use the chamber pot to urinate, and empty it in the morning. In homes which had a household staff, a maid would empty the pots as part of her morning chores.

The basic design of a chamber pot involves a pot deep enough to hold urine without splashing, and a secure lid. Usually, it has handles so that it can be carried easily. While more impoverished households probably had very plain chamber pots, extant examples of lavishly decorated ones can be found in some museums. Generally, raised decorations would be found on the outside of the pot, and the inside would be left smooth and decoratively painted.

A common place for a chamber pot is under the bed, as it is a convenient and ready location. Some people had close stools, pieces of furniture designed to conceal them. In many cases, the close stool had a bench with a lifting lid, allowing women to sit comfortably while using the bathroom.

During the day, members of the household would be expected to use the privy or bathroom, unless they were ill. The chamber pots from the night before would be emptied and scrubbed before being replaced in the bedrooms. Commonly, they would have been emptied into the privy, but some households simply threw the contents out the window, to the peril of anyone below. This practice came to be frowned upon, because it fouled the streets.

In most industrialized nations, the chamber pot has largely disappeared, except in the form of the bedpan used for invalids. Some people in developing nations still make use of chamberpots and privies. The idea of the chamber pot lives on in the slang for a child's toilet, or potty. Some training toilets designed for children do resemble the close stools of days gone by, since they allow the user to sit and evacuate waste into a bowl below, which must be emptied into a toilet connected to the plumbing.

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Post 8

I was doing some research into mordants and found that urine was often used in the dying process.

Post 7

My neighbor is lazy and says he hates getting up at night and going to the bathroom to pee. He keeps an empty gallon milk jug by his bed. If he wakes up and has to pee, he rolls over and goes into the jug and dumps and rinses it out the next morning when he gets up.

Post 4

I am glad I use a toilet!

Post 2

Yeesh, after reading this I'm glad I didn't live in the pre-indoor plumbing times. I don't think I could hack having to empty my own excretion. Call me spoiled, but I am all for my lovely clean toilet.

Post 1

I think it's always really interesting to look at chamber pots in museums. A lot of them are actually really pretty, especially if you don't know (or choose to ignore) what they were originally used for.

It does always strike me as a bit strange how decorative some chamber pots are though -- but I guess we do the same thing with toilet seat covers and designer flushing systems and the like.

Either way, reading this article made me really grateful for my toilet!

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