I didn’t see a bidet with my own eyes until I was 14 years old. My parents (and I, reluctantly) were preparing to move from a small town in New Jersey to Boca Raton, Florida, a city many people associate with wealth and the elderly. We were exploring fully furnished home models in the town’s seemingly infinite gated communities, which had names like “Broken Sound” and “Lexington Estates,” looking for the one we’d call home.
It was in the bathroom of one of the especially fancy models that I encountered a strange toilet-sink hybrid next to a regular toilet. It was the same height and shape as the toilet, but instead of a lid, tank, and opening at the bottom of the bowl, it had what appeared to be a faucet and a sink-like drain with a stopper.
“What is that?” I asked my mom.
“Oh, that’s a bidet,” she said. “It’s for cleaning your butt.”
My adolescent brain was horrified. A butt-cleaning machine? What was this hellscape of inevitable humiliation my parents were moving me to? “Do we have to get one of those when we move here?”
“No, no,” my mom assured me. “Sometimes they just put weird stuff in these models.”
And thus, my unenlightened opinion of bidets was formed: They’re weird and, just like Boca, they’re associated with wealth and the elderly. And to this day, I haven’t tried one.
You can imagine my surprise when Heather, one of my best childhood friends from that small town in New Jersey, recently told me she uses a bidet every single day — and that it changed her life. I knew for a fact that there wasn’t a bidet in her childhood home, and I was pretty sure the Seattle house she now lives in didn’t come with one. How did one of my best friends become weird, rich, and old without me noticing?
“It truly makes all the difference in the world,” she said. “We clean our bodies in running water in the shower. Why wouldn’t you want your ass cleaned out after taking a sh**?” Heather has never been one to mince words, and she made an excellent point. I basically keep Cottonelle in business with the number of butt wipes I buy, but I’ve always worried that I’m being wasteful in the pursuit of a clean crack. Clearly, it’s time for me to reconsider the bidet.
Fact: There’s more than one type of bidet.
I reached out to James Lin, founder of bidet purveyors BidetKing.com and Alpha Bidet, and a man on a mission to normalise the appliance among young adults. “I’m a millennial myself, and if it weren’t for my line of business, most of my friends would not care to use bidets,” Lin says. “There are some bidet companies out there trying to reach my age group, and it’s mostly with the cheaper, non-electric, attachment-type bidets. These tend to be more popular with the younger generation that may not be ready to plop down a few hundred on a fully featured bidet seat.” (Ha. Plop.)
“That being said, these entry-level bidet attachments act as a sort of gateway drug into the world of bidets,” Lin continues. “When millennials eventually move into their own home or have an older family member in need, they’ll go for an electronic bidet seat instead.”
Hold up — there are bidet tiers? Lin confirms this. “The traditional European style is an actual fixture that sits next to your toilet,” he explains. “They’re the first image most Americans have of what a bidet looks like.” I’m one of those Americans, clearly. Lin isn’t a big fan of these because they’re expensive to implement without a complete bathroom remodel.
The kind Heather uses is a non-electric attachment, which can take the form of either a larger sprayer that resembles a detachable showerhead next to the toilet or a small spigot that sits between your toilet seat and toilet bowl. These “use your home’s water pressure to spray water and are controlled by knobs or levers,” Lin says. “They range in price from $20 to $150.” One that has recently gained popularity is the aptly-named Tushy, which you may be excited to learn comes in a variety of colours like pink, blue, and gold.
Lin’s favourite kind of bidet is the Japanese-style electronic bidet seat that sits on top of your toilet bowl, replacing the regular toilet seat, like the Alpha IX Hybrid Bidet Toilet Seat (seen below). “Bidet seats will have features like heated water, heated seat, and warm air drying, and they are controlled via buttons on a remote control or side panel,” he says. “They range in price from $200 (£157) to $1000 (£787).”
Why haven’t more people hopped on the bidet train yet?
This is the kind used by blogger Patrice Grell Yursik, creator of Afrobella.com and unabashed bidet fan. “At present, I have a bidet, but it’s the much more efficient and affordable ‘washlet’ or attached toilet seat with a built-in bidet,” Yursik tells me. She insists that electronic bidet seats are much easier to use than the fixtures she used growing up. “When I was a teenager, my mom and dad built a house, and in that house, there are two bidets. I grew up in Trinidad and Tobago, and even though it’s a Caribbean island, there was very much an old-world British and European influence.”
To Americans and Brits, bidets are still very much a foreign concept.
“Most Americans only get exposed to bidets while traveling abroad or through that one friend that can’t stop talking about bidets. So whether it’s a mental hang-up about personal hygiene or a simple lack of exposure, Americans just aren’t familiar with the concept,” Lin explains. “In the U.S., both the stigma against openly discussing personal hygiene and a longstanding devotion to toilet paper prevent more widespread bidet usage. Perhaps just an ingrained custom, wiping with toilet paper is so widely accepted in the U.S. that nobody questions whether there’s a more effective or more environmentally friendly way of cleansing oneself after using the toilet.”
Rejoice, Earth lovers: Bidets are environmentally friendly.
One of the main reasons Americans who do embrace bidets have done so is because they’re much less wasteful than relying solely on toilet paper. “Bidets are great for the environment. Toilet paper production is extremely resource-intensive, consuming massive amounts of water and trees during the process,” Lin says. “Using a bidet consumes a negligible amount of water and can easily reduce your toilet paper usage by 75 percent or more.” (This seems like quite a number and we admittedly couldn’t find scientific confirmation for it, in part because it’s a Google search that can go very wrong. But take it as you will.)
He adds that toilet paper isn’t just wasteful, it’s inefficient. “The conventional way of wiping with toilet paper irritates skin and still leaves some kind of residue because you’re just smearing with paper. Don’t we use water to clean everything else in our lives?” he says. “There’s a pretty big chunk of the U.S. population that plans their bowel-movement schedule so they can take a shower immediately afterward; they know that they don’t feel clean enough with toilet paper alone.” The beauty of bidets is that they provide post-shower cleanliness where it counts without the need to take a full shower.
Oh, and bidets can handle poop and blood.
Yursik shares that her bidet isn’t only useful post-poop: It’s a game-changer during her period, too. “For many years of my life, I dealt with heavy bleeding and clots,” she says. “Because I was familiar with the old-school bidet, I was initially hesitant when I made the investment in a washlet, but it’s been wonderful. I would recommend it to anyone who has heavy periods.”
In fact, it was menstruation that inspired Heather to consider a bidet in the first place. “I got the idea to get a toilet attachment when I had my period in South Africa,” she tells me. “I use period underwear because I’m more into free-bleeding. I was a little irritated down there from a heavy bleeding day, so I got into the bathtub at the hotel and used the shower head attachment to clean myself off.” It was a revelation. “It had really good water pressure and I felt so fresh afterward,” she says. “I was like, ‘We need an attachment at home.'”
And so Heather made a small investment that she feels has paid for itself tenfold. “When I was younger, I thought bidets were just for rich Europeans, and the idea of using one sort of freaked me out,” she reflects. “I thought it would be too shocking and maybe tickle or hurt. But I can say with confidence that none of that is true.” A bidet is simply a useful household contraption that should come standard in all homes, like a toilet or refrigerator, she adds. “There’s nothing silly, hippy, or bourgeois about bidets,” Heather concludes. “It’s just water.”