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Menstrual cups are one of those things that may seem strange at first but you fall in love with eventually. The bidet may be another. The bidet isn’t that common in the United States but is gaining in popularity.
My husband and I travel quite a bit for work and have tried our fair share of bidets. Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly and why we’re considering putting one in our home.
Might be perfect timing since we can’t find any toilet paper at the store!
What Is a Bidet?
To put it factually (and not delicately), bidets are bathroom fixtures that use water pressure to wash genital or anal areas after using the toilet.
The first bidet appeared in the 18th century in France. “Bidet” is a French word for “pony.” The idea is that you straddle the bidet the same way you would a pony.
At that time it was invented and for a while afterward, the bidet was used in the bedroom along with a chamber pot. In the early 20th century when modern plumbing came to be, the bidet moved to the bathroom.
Bidets are common in southern European countries like Italy, Spain, and Portugal where they’re now mandatory. They’re also popular in other European countries and in some parts of South America, South-East Asia, South Asia, Japan, and the Middle East.
Kinds of Bidets
The bidet comes in three main varieties. The stand-alone bidet, the bidet shower (also called a handheld bidet or bidet sprayer), and the add-on bidet. The one that you choose will depend on your needs.
The stand-alone bidet (also called a bidet toilet) looks like a low sink or water fountain (don’t drink from them!) that is often sitting right next to the toilet and takes up the same amount of space. It often has warm water and cold water knobs to adjust the temperature of the water.
Instead of having to install something new, an add-on bidet (also known as a bidet toilet seat) is an easy way to add one to your bathroom without a renovation. This is a small bidet attachment that goes on the toilet seat, or it can also be a new toilet seat with the bidet already attached. This bidet sprays water at the designated area with the touch of a button.
Some add-on bidets use cold water only. (It’s thought that the thin stream of water used won’t cause you to feel cold.) Others tie into hot water lines or heat water themselves. Some are electric and some are non-electric.
The bidet shower is a handheld plumbing fixture that’s a lot like the kitchen sink sprayer or a diaper sprayer. With this kind of bidet, you have to aim the bidet spray nozzle in the right direction. This handheld bidet sprayer can be difficult to use for people who have low mobility or injuries that make it difficult for them to do this. The bonus: it’s inexpensive and doesn’t usually require professional installation.
We actually had one of these for years for cleaning cloth diapers, but I never once thought about using it as a bidet!
Still not sure you’d try one? This model has an automatic seat, remote control, massaging wash, self-cleaning function, and even blows warm air for a truly clean and dry finish! If you take your “throne” seriously, this may be the one for you.
The bidet is an unusual (and sometimes cringe-worthy) bathroom accessory for many Americans, but for others, they’re a new necessity. Some people who have traveled abroad discovered the bidet during their trip and became fans. Others can’t get over the strangeness of the idea. Still, others are somewhere in the middle.
Here are some of the reasons our European friends swear we’ll never go back to TP alone once we make the switch:
Most people agree that the bidet can give a better cleaning than toilet paper alone (especially if you’re using a water filter). And if you think about it, it makes sense. We use water to wash every other part of our body, why not the derriere? Many people are beginning to use wet wipes in place of dry toilet paper. They see the benefit of using water to clean up after using the toilet. The bidet is just another way of using water to achieve the cleanest clean.
Save Trees (and Money)
While many of us don’t think very much about toilet paper (or conserving it), the truth is we use a lot of toilet paper every year. Having a bidet doesn’t necessarily eliminate the need for toilet paper, but it can reduce it quite a bit. Americans use an average of 50 lbs of toilet paper a year. Compare that to the average of countries in Europe at about 23 lbs. Presumably, if we used the bidet in the U.S., we could reduce toilet paper consumption by about half.
There’s also the price to consider. Toilet paper is considered a staple so many don’t even acknowledge the cost. But the U.S. spends 6 billion dollars annually on toilet paper! Reducing toilet paper use could save a decent amount of money for each family or household.
One unexpected benefit of the bidet is that they can actually save water. Production of toilet paper uses a lot of water and if we reduce toilet paper use we also reduce water consumption.
Let’s do some math:
The bidet uses 1/8th of a gallon of water per cleaning. In contrast, one roll of toilet paper requires 37 gallons of water (plus 1.3 kilowatt/hours (KWh) of electricity and about 1.5 pounds of wood). In my house, one roll of toilet paper doesn’t last long, especially with littles around. Even if you use toilet paper along with the bidet, it can still save a lot of water.
Good for Those With Limited Mobility
Using toilet paper is something that requires a certain level of flexibility and strength. This seems small to those of us that are fit and healthy but to others, it may be a concern. Some aging people or those with injuries or disabilities may be able to regain toilet independence with the use of a bidet. That can mean a huge improvement in the quality of life for these people!
Good for Sensitive Skin
For people who are prone to hemorrhoids, rashes or other issues that cause irritation, the bidet may be great. Women who have just given birth may benefit from using a bidet instead of toilet paper. Wiping with toilet paper can cause some irritation, and when irritation is already an issue, it can be hard to stay clean. Water, on the other hand, is soothing and a great cleaning agent.
Additionally, toilet paper may smear bacteria around instead of removing it. A 2017 study found that bidet use reduced hemorrhoids and urogenital infections.
Of course, there are also some drawbacks to the bidet. Here are some of the sticking points many people have when considering the switch.
Cost and Space
Depending on the kind of bidet you’re after, the cost could be high. For example, if you have your heart set on a stand-alone bidet, the cost of the bidet itself isn’t the only thing to consider. Many bathrooms don’t already have space next to the toilet for a bidet, so a large renovation is likely needed. Even some add-on bidets can be hundreds of dollars. They have great features like heated water and timers, but you’ll pay for those.
However, if you’re happy with a basic add-on bidet, the cost can be reasonable and it takes up no extra room.
Whether it’s just feeling weird about the bidet, or the actual physical discomfort of adjusting to bidet use, some people can have a hard time getting over the weird feelings associated with the bidet. Americans, in general, have a negative association with the bidet. There are a few theories as to why. According to this article:
- The bidet came from France in the 18th century. Britain wasn’t too friendly toward the French at that time. The theory is their sour outlook perhaps followed colonists to America.
- During World War II, accounts tell of American soldiers who encountered bidets in French brothels. They could have brought home the association that bidets were immoral or dirty.
- Americans are conservative and didn’t even like to talk about toilet paper for the longest time. (Around 1930, the German paper company Hakle advertised their toilet paper with conservatism in mind, “Ask for a roll of Hakle and you won’t have to say toilet paper!”)
Whatever the reason, it hasn’t caught on in the States although it’s widely used in other parts of the world.
How to Use a Bidet
For those who are ready to give the bidet a try, here are the basics for using one.
- After using the toilet move to the stand-alone bidet. You can straddle the bidet facing forward or facing the back (where the controls are). It depends on the model and what you want to clean. They usually don’t have bidet seats, but you can sit on the rim instead of straddling.
- Some stand-alone bidets are designed to be filled with water like a sink. In that case, you use your hand to clean the area. Others use a vertical spray of water to clean the area.
- Adjust the temperature until it’s comfortable (you can put your hand over the stream to test). Turn on the stream of water to wash the area.
- When using an add-on bidet, activate the bidet after using the toilet. The bidet will spray water until you turn it off. Some have a drying function as well.
- When using a bidet shower, simply aim the showerhead at the area you want to wash and turn it on.
- Some people use just the bidet but others use the bidet and toilet paper (either before or after bidet use).
There are many varieties of bidets so it’s best to read the directions for your specific bidet before using. Some have an adjustable spray, and other settings to investigate.
Bottom Line on Bidets
Bidets have gotten a bad rap in the U.S. (or no rap at all). But they may be a good choice as an alternative (or addition) to toilet paper. Bidets are hygienic (many would argue more so than toilet paper!) and save toilet paper. Toilet paper production costs a lot in water usage, wood, and energy to produce, so the bidet may be a perfect way to reduce our need for single-use products.
I’ll let you know what we settle on and how we like it!
Have you tried a bidet? Do you love or hate them (or fall somewhere in the middle)?
Discussion (15 Comments)
our 1973 ranch house was built by Germans and has two bidets. You listed all the reasons I am glad to have one. I keep my norwex towel next to it for drying off and launder that every week or two. I didn’t know I could face forward and backward, I will have to try that, might be easier to turn on the faucets if I was facing them.
I’m so glad you wrote about this Katie! I have been using both a Bidet and a Diva Cup for years and have been telling everyone about it, even though it’s a bit awkward to discuss. During the COVID-19 crisis as everyone is out stocking TP and Tampons, I was sitting back smiling knowing I had nothing to worry about. I absolutely love the sustainability of these products and how I’m not only saving money each month, but also being kinder to our beautiful earth. If anyone is on the fence, just go get one!
As a Muslim it is part of our religion to wash properly after passing urine or stool. My smaller kids will not get of the toilet till I wash them bigger ones have mastered it. We have a tap installed next to the toilet and keep a jug something like a watering can. The benefits to washing after the toilet are innumerable.
I first encountered the bidet in France back in the ’70’s and loved it. But I didn’t get one until 2017 and it was just a standard add on. When I upgraded my toilets to dual flush ADA, I bought a “luxury” version for 1 of the toilets in the house. It’s great. I have warm water, a dryer and can adjust to which area needs cleaned. I will be getting another “luxury” bidet for the other bathroom when the contractor finally comes to finish a bathroom remodel.
We have had the bidet toilet seat (Costco) for several years and I love it. It’s a much cleaner and more thorough cleaning, and with a heated seat, warm water wash and even a night light what’s not to love?. It has a dryer function but it really doesn’t achieve total drying (at least for me) so I keep a washcloth on the tp holder to tap tap tap dry; toss in the laundry every few days. My husband hooked it up and be advised that an electrical outlet close to the toilet is needed. Usually there is a video showing how to do the install. I can’t imagine not having warm water but apparently some people really don’t mind the cold water blast. The only downside is the disappointment when having to the use the bathroom away from home. I’d love to get one on every toilet in the house!
We love our bidets! We got one for us and one for kids. Ours is a luxury, kids is a simple one from amazon. My kids are 4,6,&8 and I was wondering if they would all adjust and use and they all took to it right away! Only thing is they don’t know how to wipe without now?.
I’m of Indian origin, so washing with water is something I’ve always done. In North America, I sometimes fill up a plastic water bottle to use in public bathrooms. On the rare occasion I’ve used toilet paper, it leaves me feeling less clean and I can’t wait to get home and wash! For us women, it especially clean when we have our period
I’ve been investigating bidets this week and I haven’t found the perfect model to attach to my current toilet yet. Thanks for this article with links that may help me find one. One question I have regarding the stand alone models; do people get undressed to use these things? You might as well hop in the shower with a hand held shower wand.
We purchased a bidet toilet seat from a Kickstarter campaign and have been using it for 2 years now. It comes with all the bells and whistles like heated seat and automatic functioning. For my use as a female, I usually use TP first (though much less than before) and then use the bidet for a final clean and a little more TP to blot dry. Ours has a heated drying function, but it doesn’t sit well with me that I’m blowing air from the toilet around the room. Am I crazy? Is that something I should get over or is it a legitimate concern? My other gripe about the seat is that I feel like I can’t get my toilet as clean. Before, it was a relatively simple job, no nooks or crannies really. Now, there are a lot of parts to work around and I’m not sure I am getting it all. I want to love our bidet, but I’m just not there yet.
And how do you dry off if it doesn’t have a blow dryer? Do we keep a stack of towels next to the toilet now and launder daily?
I have never been able to figure out how a female uses the bidet without forcing the feces onto her girl bits. It conjures up visions of terrible bladder infections etc. As most of them that I have seen spray back to front. Can anyone enlighten me? Thank you.
I love my toilet seat bidet and haven’t encountered that problem because I basically aim the part I want to clean towards the spray. The spray can be adjusted from gentle to powerful. You can use a gentle stream for a longer period of time for your backside. Then move your body to finish off the vaginal area.