It's Time for America to Convert to Bidets

Oren Aks/Thrillist
Oren Aks/Thrillist

Gross hypothetical question: if flecks of fecal matter got on your hands, would you grab a paper towel, wipe them off, and consider yourself clean? Hell no, you wouldn't. So why do that exact same thing to your butt?

In case you can't tell from these incredibly leading questions, YES, I HAVE 100% DRUNK THE BIDET KOOL-AID. It's so, so inefficient to try to clean a poopy butt with toilet paper, and have you seen what wet wipes are doing to the environment? Let's talk more about why bidets are great.

So what EXACTLY does a bidet do?

As Drew, a 34-year-old bidet enthusiast and Brooklyn resident, puts it, "It's a shower for your butt." Back when they were invented in 18th-century France, bidets looked kind of like a bench with a bowl of water in the middle. After using a chamber pot or whatever else people crapped in back then, users would straddle the bench like they were riding a horse ("bidet" also means "pony" in French) and wash their crotches using their hands. Though bidets are pretty common in many parts of the world, they never caught on in the US -- possibly because Americans are prudes who hate touching themselves, even in the name of hygiene.

Are bidets actually more hygienic than toilet paper alone?

Dr. R. Mark Ellerkmann, director of urogynecology at the Weinberg Center for Women's Health and Medicine, says, "[Bidets] might get genitalia, especially the anus, cleaner than using toilet paper alone… certainly any fecal contamination can lead to vaginal bacterial infections and urinary tract infections."

It seems logical that a good, thorough scrub-down at a bidet decreases the amount of poop left clinging to a butt, and potentially the number of infections as well. Surprisingly, there's not a ton of research around bidets and infectious diseases, other than a small (but positive!) nursing-home study, which shows bidet use "improved resident comfort."

Let's talk more about this "comfort"

Once you go bidet, you don't go back. Drew says he feels "super annoyed" when he has to poop in a bidet-free bathroom. "If I travel or anything, I'll bring wipes, but now even that feels like a step backward," Drew says. "People still think it's weird, but I'm like, 'Come poop at my apartment, you'll see.' I've installed three more for friends, so now I have options."

Drew's bidet is a simple model that sits under the seat, connected to the toilet's water supply. His cost less than $100. Luxury bidets -- or "cleansing seats" and "intelligent toilets" in industry parlance -- go for $2,000 to $7,000, says Shane Allis, director of sanitary-product marketing for Kohler.

"You have a heated seat, a deodorizing function with a fan that pulls air through a charcoal filter to clean it and eliminate odors, front and rear cleansing where you can control the water temperature, pressure and direction of the spray, ambient lighting that serves as a nightlight, automatic flushing and lid-raising, and speakers that link with your smartphone via Bluetooth so you can play music," Allis says. "Compared to toilet paper, this is a more luxurious experience, where you are pampering yourself to an extent."

Drew's bidet doesn't warm his bottom or the stream of water, but that's fine with him. "I'm perfectly satisfied with the cold water. It's refreshing," Drew says. "Plus, I've heard the hot water feels like somebody is peeing up your butt."

Bidets are better for the planet

In the US, more than 15 million trees are pulped every year to make 36.5 million rolls of toilet paper, according to Scientific American. Bidet use drastically reduces the amount of toilet paper necessary -- and although a luxurious butt-shower might seem like a waste of water, it's a drop in the bucket compared to toilet paper, which requires 37 gallons of H2O for a single roll.

Let's not even start with wet wipes. Labeled "the biggest villain of 2015" by The Guardian, wet wipes are made from a mix of wood pulp, plastics, and cotton that doesn't biodegrade. Plus, a lifetime supply of wipes isn't exactly cheap.

"From everything we have heard, wet wipes are not good for the overall plumbing infrastructure," Allis says. "Bidets are a more economical, as well as a more environmentally friendly, choice."

Bidets are the future, and the future is now

Allis wouldn't disclose exact sales figures, but he did say bidet sales are on the rise. "We have seen growth year over year with our cleansing-seat product line," he says. "Last year, we saw category growth overall of around 50% compared to prior years."

For people who are on the fence about bidet benefits, Drew recommends a test wash. "Check afterward with toilet paper for yourself and you'll see -- pure as the driven snow," he says. "The Clean Butt Revolution is already underway."

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Missy Wilkinson sees hours of poring over Amazon bidet reviews in her near future. Follow her on Instagram @nowlistenmissy.