Everybody poops. But not everybody has a successful wipe. If you feel like your bathroom experience mirrors “The NeverEnding Story,” then it may be time to forgo toilet paper, like some European, Asian, and South American countries do.
Enter: The bidet.
You may have seen these in photographs from friends visiting European hostels with the caption, “Why is this sink so low?” Or you may have seen them modernized as toilet attachments in Japanese homes or restaurants (77.5 percent of Japanese use them).
Bidet (pronounced bi-day) sounds like a fancy French word — and it is — but the mechanics are decidedly mundane. A bidet is basically a shallow toilet that sprays water on one’s genitals. It may sound strange but a bidet is actually a fantastic alternative to wiping. Europe and other parts of the world realized this long ago, so why hasn’t America caught on?
Some experts believe that, because we’ve adopted so many customs and philosophies from the British, we’ve also picked up some of their hang-ups. For example, in the 18th and 19th centuries, the British often “associated bidets with brothels,” according to Carrie Yang, a sales growth associate with TUSHY, an affordable bidet attachment. Thus, the British considered bidets “dirty.”
But this hesitation could be doing us, and the earth, a disservice.
Fans of the bidet claim it leaves their backsides feeling cleaner, fresher, and healthier. Others agree that a bidet can be more comfortable than toilet paper for people who have just had surgery, given birth, or experience irritable bowel syndrome. Why? Because washing with water is so much gentler than scraping dry paper across your anus. The skin there is actually pretty tender, with lots of sensitive nerve endings. Wiping with dry tissue may irritate and damage the area further.
“Don’t neglect your butt,” says Yang. “If a bird pooped on you, you wouldn’t wipe it off with tissue. You’d use water and soap. Why treat your butt differently?” Plus, buying toilet paper adds up and in the long run is harmful to the environment.
It’s not taboo to talk about (or emote over) poop
But America’s aversion to move beyond toilet tissue may be ending. Yang believes the tide may be turning, in part, because “the conversation around poop is changing. It’s less taboo.” She points to pop culture, “especially with the popularity around Poo~Pourri and Squatty Potty, people are talking about [it] more.” (She also theorizes that the ubiquitous poop emoji may be helping, although it turns out that Canadian and Vietnamese folk actually use that emoji most.)
“In bigger cities and with younger generations, bidets are becoming [more popular],” Yang says. Jill Cordner, a California-based interior designer, says she’s also experienced more clients requesting bidets in their homes. “I’ve noticed a big upswing in people buying Japanese-style bidet seats, where you modify an existing toilet,” she says.
Her clients tend to fall in love with these seats after visiting Japan, she says. Herself included: “I went to a Japanese spa with a bidet that had a heated seat and warm water, and [realized] ‘this is amazing.’”
Yang is a recent convert, too: “I used a bidet for the first time six months ago and now I can’t imagine life without it.”
Here are a few reasons why it might be time to invest in a bidet for your bathroom:
Bidets are more environmentally sound
Americans are estimated to use a whopping 36.5 billion rolls of toilet paper every year, and in 2014 we spent $9.6 billion on it. That’s a lot of money for a lot of dead trees, when we could be using bidets, which are far more ecologically efficient. “People are shocked about the environmental benefits [of bidets],” Yang says.
“You save a lot of water every year by using a bidet,” she continues, citing a Scientific American article that mentions the following fact: “It takes 37 gallons of water to make just one roll of toilet paper.” (Producing one roll of toilet paper also requires approximately 1.5 pounds of wood.) In contrast, using a bidet only consumes about one pint of water.
Bidets keep you and your hands cleaner
“Bidets really help with [anal and genital] hygiene,” Yang says. Indeed, in one 2005 study of 22 nursing home residents who’d had bidet toilets installed, results showed that half of the residents and staff reported [it had] “a positive effect on toileting,” with residents’ urine bacteria content also decreasing afterward.
Washing your butt with water helps remove more fecal bacteria, potentially preventing you from spreading bacteria from your hands to your surroundings... or to other people. “[Using a bidet] feels like you just stepped out of the shower. You don’t have to question whether you’re really clean,” Yang says.
They help address hemorrhoids and genital health
If you ever bleed when you wipe, a bidet with a warm water spray may be the alternative you’re looking for. One study from 2009 comparing warm water sprays to sitz baths for people who had surgery around their anus found no difference in wound healing. But those who were in the water spray group said the spray was significantly more convenient and satisfying.
As for hemorrhoids, millions of Americans have them or are at risk for developing them, and that number only increases as we age. The research behind bidets for hemorrhoids is still small, but what’s out there is positive so far. A small 2011 study of electronic bidets and healthy volunteers found that low-to-medium warm water pressure can help relieve pressure on the anus, just as well as a traditional warm sitz bath. Warm water may also promote blood circulation in the skin around the anus.
Research is still mixed on how bidets affect vaginal health. In a 2013 study, bidets were shown as safe for pregnant women, posing no risk of preterm birth or bacterial vaginosis. However, a study from 2010 does propose that habitual use of bidets may interrupt the normal bacterial flora and lead to vaginal infection.
There are simple and affordable models out there
Don’t be deterred by the price. While many traditional bidets can, indeed, be expensive and difficult to install, there are new products on the market that are firmly within financial reach. For example, bidet attachments can be found on Amazon starting just under $20, and TUSHY’s basic model costs $69 and takes ten minutes to install.
And if you’re wondering if you still need to wipe after you spray, the answer is no. Technically, you don’t need to wipe at all after using a bidet.
You can sit and air-dry for a moment. Or, if you have a fancier bidet model, use the dedicated air-drying function, which is similar to a warm hair dryer for your backside (again, those models tend to be pricier). Cheaper varieties don’t usually offer this dryer function, so if you don’t want to drip dry after using your bidet, you can pat yourself down with a cloth towel, washcloth, or toilet paper. There should be very little — if any — poop residue remaining on the towel by the time the bidet has done its job, according to Yang.
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Laura Barcella is an author and freelance writer currently based in Brooklyn. She’s written for the New York Times, RollingStone.com, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, The Week, VanityFair.com, and many more. Connect with her on Twitter.