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How to Use a Pila Water Basin

CINQUERA, El Salvador- There will come a time in every traveler’s journey when they are told that they can go brush their teeth in the concrete thing that laundry is washed in. They will receive no instruction — what you are suppose to do is second nature to your host — but you can really screw it up if you don’t know what you are doing.

That concrete thing that laundry is washed in is called a pila, and people in Central America wash everything in them — dishes, clothes, babies, their faces, hands, teeth — anything dirty that needs a good washing. A pila is generally a concrete water basin that often has two laundry scrubbing platforms or sinks on each side of the basin. There is a simple rule for its use: the standing water in the basin is clean, keep it clean. This is pretty much the only rule of the pila.

“The object of the pila is to be a place to collect water while you can get it, and to keep it clean as long as possible. A lot of places in the countryside [of Central America] only have running water for certain times of the day, so they collect the water in the pila when they can and use it throughout the day. So if you are brushing your teeth, don’t run water from the faucet over your toothbrush and into the basin. The water in the pila is to be kept clean.” -Chaya giving directions on how to use a pila

Do not stick your dirty hands in the water basin.

Do not spit your toothpaste in the water basin.

Do not put your dirty laundry directly into the water basin.

The water in the basin is clean, keep it that way.

But feel free to dirty up the flat table like platforms on the sides of the basin until your heart is content — this is made to get dirty.

The best way to use a pila is to dip a clean bowl into the water and then pour it out as needed over the sink. So when you brush your teeth, dip a bowl into the water basin, remove some water, and dump it on your toothbrush over the sink area. To wash your hands, do the same thing: scoop out water with a bowl and pour it over your hands in the sink. Doing laundry, dishes, or just about anything else follows the same procedure: remove water from the basin with the bowl, pour it out in the sink.

Do not get the water in the basin dirty, if you do then the whole supply is ruined for everybody — nobody wants to wash their hands in your toothpaste spit up. When using a pila there is only one rule: keep the water in the basin clean.

A pila in El Salvador.

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Filed under: Central America, El Salvador, Technology

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 80 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3165 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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