Bathroom habits are so culturally ingrained that it’s hard to imagine there are other ways to manage using the toilet. It’s likely only when we visit other homes, or countries, that we realize that this intensively private custom can be different. Being products of our parents, and our families, we take on the customs and habits that are taught to us as being acceptable and generally don’t question it.
The basics remain the same worldwide; eliminate waste, clean the area, and wash your hands. But the methods and fixtures used to achieve these steps varies greatly around the world. From the squat toilets of Asia to the ubiquitous use of bidets in Europe – there is obviously more than one way to get business done.
History of the Bidet
As hard as it is to imagine that other cultures have different bathroom habits, it’s even more difficult to imagine what the practice must have been like before there was any plumbing at all. The same needs existed; eliminate waste, clean the area, and wash your hands – but how was this even possible with no running water or waste management?
Chamber Pots and Wash Basins
Chamber pots and wash basins are the first step in the evolution of the modern bidet. A porcelain pot kept in the bedroom (or chamber) used for eliminating waste, and a pitcher and basin used for cleaning up afterwards. These, often beautifully designed and decorated, objects were a utilitarian answer to an age-old problem – what to do in the middle of the night?
Kept under the bed, or in a corner of the room, these pots offered a convenient and sanitary solution with the only inconvenience being the emptying of the pots in the morning. However, compared to the option of getting up on a cold night and making your way to the local ‘cesspool’, this was not inconvenient at all.
Toilets and Bidets
Over time the chamber pot evolved into the toilet. First by simply embedding the pot into raised platforms and stools, and then, with plumbing, into the version that we know today; a stand-alone fixture that, in the west at least, allows the user to sit comfortably while eliminating waste. In some parts of the world the squat toilet is still very popular – the user literally squats over the basin for elimination, and then either flushes with plumbed water, or with a water bucket located nearby.
Bidets are the next generation of the wash basin; a method of cleaning up after using the toilet. Originally, and still in much of Europe today, they were stand-alone basins filled with water (or, later on, plumbed with warm water). They started, as toilets did, with basins embedded in platforms or pieces of furniture, and then evolved to being true fixtures in the bathroom. The user straddles the basin and washes. Hence the name bidet; it is French for pony and refers to the straddling action of the user.
Bidets Around The World
Classic bidets abound in Western and Southern Europe. Since 1975 Italy and Portugal have mandated that a bathroom must contain a bidet – ostensibly to reduce the use of toilet paper and ease the burden on increasingly aged sewer systems.
Nearby countries have also adopted this model. Spain, France, Germany, Hungary, Greece; all places that you might travel through and see a traditional bidet arrangement. Remember, this won’t be in a public washroom setting but perhaps in a hotel, guesthouse, or AirBnB suite.
Interestingly more northern countries such as Finland are more likely to use a hand held bidet.
South East Asia – Thailand, Laos, Vietnam
Hand held spray (or shower) bidets are universal in this part of the world. Certainly, in every bathroom I have ever used in these countries there was a hand held bidet hung right next to the toilet. Easy to use, quick, and convenient, they also eliminate the need for most toilet paper and allow the simple sewer systems to function more efficiently.
Typically, if you don’t find a shower bidet in the bathroom you will find a bucket or tub of water nearby with a scoop/container to help wash yourself (and often times flush the toilet also).
South Asia – India, Sri Lanka, Nepal
Here also the hand held shower bidets are the norm in bathrooms. Many local people don’t understand the North American visitors need to carry toilet paper with them everywhere – why don’t they just use the shower bidet that is provided? Personally, I still carry toilet paper to dry myself but my reliance on it is dramatically decreased when visiting these places.
The Japanese have taken toilets and bidets to new heights. A toilet that greets you, a warm inviting seat, night-lights, multiple wash options, music to cover up embarrassing noises, and deodorizing sprays – it can be difficult to know which button is for the flush!!
Here, the built in electronic bidet is very common; in people’s homes, in restaurants, in onsens, and in businesses. The Japanese like to be very clean and they are very particular about it. Often times there is even a special pair of slippers outside the bathroom door – remember to change into these while using the bathroom, and change back again when exiting.
TOTO, one of the leading manufacturers of toilet seat bidets, is a Japanese company; responsible for revolutionizing how the Japanese think of getting clean after the toilet. They take it that seriously here.
Muslim Countries – Middle East, North Africa, Pakistan
There are rituals around bathroom practice in this part of the world. Islamic regulations prescribe that water must be used for cleansing after using the toilet so all bathroom facilities include a shattaf, or hand held shower bidet, for this purpose. Toilets range from a western style to squat, but the shattaf is always found.
Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay are all South American countries with deep European roots. As such it’s not surprising to find traditional bidets here. Buenos Aires in particular is a very Italianate-rooted city and has a high prevalence of bidets.
Bidets are not very common in North America…yet. We definitely have an attachment to toilet paper – as can be seen by the overwhelming choices in the grocery store aisle! When will we realize that there is a better option when it comes to bathroom cleanliness?
The bidet-revolution is coming. Whether related to environmental impact awareness, or to exposure through travel, North Americans are slowly coming to realize that bidets offer a hygienic, superior cleaning experience to toilet paper alone. Luckily there are plenty of options available and the cost for entry is relatively low – soon we will all be enjoying a better bathroom experience!
It’s 2019. Collectively we know and understand that the health of the environment is up to us. We support clean energy alternatives and look for renewable sources. We reduce, reuse and recycle whenever possible. We don’t waste water and are concerned about our ‘carbon footprint’. And yet, we still flush wet wipes down the toilet.
Toilet paper is manufactured to dissolve in water. It is quickly broken down and can be managed by most, modern sewer systems. ‘Flushable’ wet wipes are not. They are made to be stronger, to hold up longer, to not dissolve on contact with water. Consequently they clog up pipes, destroy waste water plant machinery, and don’t break down in either compost or garbage facilities in a timely manner.
Bidets are a great alternative to either toilet paper alone, or the use of wet wipes and are entirely environmentally friendly. The water spray effectively cleans without the use of toilet paper at all; perhaps using only a small amount for drying if required. Many countries with less robust sewer systems have been using bidets for many, many years proving that bidet use is better for the environment in the long run.
Who Should Use A Bidet
In short, everyone!! Bidets are hygienic, convenient, comfortable, efficient, and environmentally friendly – everyone would benefit from using one.
There are some people though who would truly benefit:
- Elderly – people with limited mobility benefit as they are able to clean themselves effectively without the reaching and balance that using toilet paper might require.
- Children – young people can easily learn to use a bidet and become self sufficient in the bathroom at an early age
- Disabled – there are many devices to help disabled people be more independent; a bidet is one of those fixtures that can allow people with limited functionality be more independent in the bathroom
- Menstruating Women – women’s health is important; using a bidet with a female wash setting can really help women feel clean and fresh while menstruating
- Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome Patients – these bowel diseases often result in sore and tender anal areas that are irritated even further by the use of toilet paper. The water spray of a bidet is not only a cleaning tool, but offers a fresh, cool, effect that can ease the discomfort felt by these patients
Types of Bidets
Our article ‘7 Types of Bidets‘ lists out seven types of bidets that can be found. In reality, these can be summed up in three main categories:
- Toilet Seat Bidets
- Bidet Attachments
- Hand Held Shower
Toilet Seat Bidets
These are the most common, and most integrated, type of bidet currently used in North America. At its core, toilet seat bidets have a nozzle that emerges from the back of the toilet seat to spray water upwards for cleaning. There are many other features available depending on the model and whether they are electric or not – heated seats, warm water, water pressure modulation, front and rear cleaning nozzles, deodorizing spray…the list goes on and on.
These are attachments to an existing toilet seat – installed between the bowl and the toilet seat. They generally work in the same way as toilet seat bidets only are not as integrated and usually are not electric so don’t have as many features. They are a great option if replacing the entire toilet seat is not possible and still offer the same benefits.
Hand Held Shower Bidets
Hand held bidets are very popular in other parts of the world. Consisting of a shower-like handheld nozzle hung near the toilet, they offer maximum spray control with minimal fuss. They can be installed almost anywhere and are the least expensive (but also have the least features) of all the bidet options.
Installing a Bidet
Installation of a bidet depends on the type of bidet being used. Full instructions and, usually, all required parts and hardware are included in the bidet kit purchased. Be sure to check installation measurements and requirements before purchasing to ensure that the model will fit the bathroom and the toilet.
- Toilet Seat Bidets typically require replacement of the existing toilet seat with the new bidet toilet seat. Non-electric models simply tap into the existing water supply and then require a small calibration of the water stream to that it aims perfectly. Electric models require an electrical outlet; if the bathroom does not have one near the toilet, then either an extension cord or small renovation to include one will be necessary.
- Attachment Bidets are installed between the toilet bowl and the toilet seat. The toilet seat is removed and the attachment is placed using the same bolt arrangement, then the toilet seat is attached back on top. The attachment is connected to the existing water supply.
- Hand Held Shower Bidets are the simplest to install. They tap into the existing water supply and then just require a hanger (usually included in the bidet kit) to be placed near the toilet.
How To Use A Bidet Toilet Seat
This is the ultimate question when it comes to bidets; how do you use it?
Unlike traditional, stand-alone, bidets that the user had to straddle, bidet toilet seats don’t require the user to move to another fixture (or to completely remove clothing). Cleaning occurs while the user is sitting on the toilet.
The full list of steps will vary depending on the model and the features it has but here, in general, is how to use a bidet toilet seat:
- Get set. The control panel is key to a successful bidet experience; once you have finished ‘doing your business’ find the control panel.
- Select the wash option. Often times there is a ‘front wash’ and ‘rear wash’ button. This will prompt the wash nozzle(s) to extend and to start the washing cycle. It may take a few moments for this to start as the pump moves the water through and/or as the heating of the water occurs.
- Adjust. If necessary aim the water spray for a more accurate cleaning.
- Press stop. Some models may have timed cycles and this step won’t be necessary. Others will require you to press the stop button.
- Dry. On electric models there may be a warm air drying option – select the button and wait for drying to complete. More manual models will require a small amount of toilet paper to complete drying.
It’s really very intuitive but unsurprisingly there is often some anxiety around the first time. A simple way to overcome this is to go through the steps while not sitting on the toilet. It will give you a good idea of how it works, how strong the water stream is, and what temperature might be best etc. Just be sure to block the water spray with your hand.
Bidets: A Modern Interpretation
Bidets have been around for hundreds and hundreds of years. Luckily they have evolved a lot during that time and we now have the best versions available. They are convenient, effective, efficient, hygienic, comfortable, and good for the environment. We, in North America, need to be more open to changing habits and customs and realize that there just might be a better way for post-toilet cleaning.