It's taken some time, but it looks like bidets have finally established a foothold in the United States. A standard in much of the rest of the world, bidets have typically been greeted with either bewildered skepticism or outright dismissal here in America. But as more people experience them - either while travelling or as part of a high-end toilet - the truth is getting harder to deny: there is a better way to clean!
What is a Bidet?
Here in the states, we've been using toilet paper for a long time. And before that, pretty much whatever could be found. Water has been the historical alternative to dry-wiping, and bidets are simply fixtures that deliver that water to the bathroom for the express purpose of cleaning bottoms.
The traditional bidet is a standalone fixture that looks like a mini-toilet: the user sits or hovers over the bowl and a stream of water cleans their behind or front, depending on the user's position. These are still used in many parts of the world, but the present - and future - is all about integration: bidets built into the toilet, bidet seats, and attachable units that slip under a standard seat. When the word "bidet" is used nowadays, it's usually in reference to one of these innovations rather than the traditional fixture.
But why use a bidet in the first place? What's so bad about toilet paper? Well...nothing, really. Tissue is perfectly adequate for cleaning up after using the toilet. Bidets just do a better job. The recent uptick in the use of wet wipes (which are wreaking havoc on sewer systems) clearly shows many aren't fully satisfied with the cleaning power of plain old TP. Bidets offer a sewer-friendly alternative, with the added benefit of superior cleaning; users are overwhelmingly positive about their decision to go "paperless".
Savings! You may not realize it, but chances are you're spending hundreds of dollars a year on toilet paper. Going from constant use to just a few squares a day for drying will yield substantial savings, helping offset the cost of a bidet (seats typically range from $100-$800, attachments from $30-$100). Since a quality unit will last for years, it's entirely possible it'll pay for itself through TP savings alone! Not to mention the trees, water, and energy saved from decreased paper production.
Much has been said about the health benefits of bidet use. While there is no direct evidence that bidets can successfully resolve anorectal issues, most people do report increased relief and comfort over a range of such problems. Those with limited mobility are greatly served by bidets, since they no longer need to twist and turn to wipe and may not need assistance with a bidet: all cleaning is done with the press of a button.
So, how would one go about finding the right bidet? What features, installation types or other issues should be considered? Our focus below will primarily be on bidet seats like those we offer, which in addition to being highly popular and easy to install, feature many of the same options as toilets with built-in bidets (like those fancy Japanese models you hear about).
Alternative Option: Though not as popular as seats and attachments, bidet handshowers are another option for better cleaning of bottoms. Similar to the handheld nozzles used in showers, these non-electric bidets are directly connected to the water supply inside the wall, and hang on a cradle or hook next to the toilet. They typically feature only one spray pattern, and the force of the stream is controlled by squeezing the handle. For those that desire a no-frills experience, these handshowers make for an attractive alternative with their many designer finishes. Bidet handshowers are also prized by caregivers assisting the elderly, disabled, and children with toileting owing to their convenience and ease of use - they're also excellent for cleaning cloth diapers! If you're not fussy about having warm water, we offer a retrofit control valve that attaches between your toilet and existing supply line and is easy to install yourself. For those that would prefer a warm bidet spray from a handheld unit, installation will likely require a plumber for all but the most serious DIYer.
Choosing Bidet Features
Water is the defining feature of a bidet, and the temperature of that water is probably the most immediate concern when it comes to choosing a bidet. The big decision to make here is warm or cold, and it all depends on personal preference. Cold water units will cost less, and are somewhat easier to install since only one water connection needs to be made. No electrical connections are required - water pressure and valves do all the work.
Warm water bidets can either tap into the hot water line in the bathroom (these are non-electric and typically utilize the sink's hot water connection), or use an in-line heater on the bidet itself to warm the water. With the latter, warm water is kept in a small tank attached to the unit so that it's available on-demand; bidets that connect to the home's hot water supply will need time to warm up, which may annoy some. The length of the wait depends on the distance to the water heater - some get around this by running hot water in the sink first, or using the "self-clean" feature (available on most units) beforehand, which runs water over the nozzle rather than out of it. These units are typically less expensive than electric bidets that heat the water on their own.
On the flipside, bidets with tanks will run out of warm water after a while (depending on the capacity of the tank), potentially leaving you with a cold finale. The good news is that most users rarely empty the tank. Regardless of the warming method, a quality warm water bidet will have temperature adjustment controls.
Position & Spray Options
Most bidets - including all of the models we offer - will include a "feminine wash" mode for cleaning after urination. With high-end models like the Toto Washlet, this is accomplished using a single nozzle; other bidets utilize two separate nozzles. While this option is becoming fairly standard, always double-check that it is included so that women using the toilet will be accommodated. Nozzles should be able to have their position adjusted (either manually or electronically via the control panel/remote) to accommodate a wide range of body types and situations.
Spray options vary across manufacturers, but generally include some kind of adjustable spray width, oscillating cleanse, pulsing cleanse or even an "enema" mode (which, according to health professionals, should be used sparingly if at all). Having an adjustable spray width may come in handy for some situations or preferences, but many bidet users experience adequate coverage with standard streams. Oscillating and pulsing options can provide more cleaning power, making them an excellent choice to have available.
Nozzles & Cleaning
"Are bidets sanitary?" - the answer is yes, and most have built-in features to guarantee their cleanliness and safety. It starts with the nozzle, which ideally retracts into a recessed chamber when not in use. This is usually not an option for bidet attachments. The best bidets use stainless steel or silver iodide for their nozzles, materials that are bacteria-resistant and easy to clean. Less expensive bidets use plastic nozzles that should be cleaned more frequently.
Many bidets also feature a "self-clean" mode: this usually means a ring of holes around the nozzle housing that flows over and around the nozzle itself, thoroughly rinsing it with clean water. Even if your bidet has this feature, it's recommended that you still clean by hand regularly according to manufacturer guidelines.
Heated Seats & Air Dryers
Nobody likes a cold toilet seat, so why not heat it up? Most electric bidets will include adjustable seat-warming, making your toilet trips seem almost indulgent. Some seats will stay heated at all times, while others have an "eco-mode" that keeps the seat at a lower (but warmish) temperature until someone sits down.
Air dryers are one of the least necessary options, but can certainly round out a pleasant bathroom experience. These dryers are adjustable, usually with a range between 100-120 deg. F, and have been likened to restroom hand dryers in terms of temperature and force. Bidet dryers don't dry immediately, so if patience isn't your strong suit, you may just want to use a bit of toilet tissue.
Helpful Hint: The above are the most practical, consequential upgrades for bidets - they are by no means the only ones. Especially popular are LED night lights and air deodorizers. If noise bothers you, be aware that most deodorizers utilize fans that can be relatively loud.
While traditional "fixture" bidets obviously entail an involved installation (they're basically another toilet), bidet seats and attachments are a breeze to install, well within the wheelhouse of even a novice DIYer. Bidet seats and attachments (should) come with the tee adapter needed to tap into the water line - if you happen to buy one without, we offer valves designed just for this purpose. The only tools you should need for installation are a wrench and a Phillips-head screwdriver.
The majority of these adapters assume you have a stop valve on your toilet water supply (and on the sink's hot water for non-electric warm water bidets) - fortunately, most homes do. If you don't have stop valves, you'll need to install them. This is slightly more advanced DIY, so if it looks like more than you're comfortable with, a plumber would be a wise choice.
It's a good idea to make sure you know what type of adapter is used for the bidet you want, and scope things out around your toilet beforehand - a smaller or different wrench may be necessary to install in tight spots.
Electric bidet seats and attachments draw their power from a standard 120V AC outlet. You'll want to make sure yours is a GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) protected outlet. These outlets help prevent electric shocks in the wet environment of the bathroom. GFCI outlets are standard in newer bathrooms, but may need to be installed first in older homes.
With bidet seats, installation itself is typically pretty simple: after the old seat has been removed, a mounting bracket is secured to the toilet bowl, onto which the seat attaches. The adapter is connected to the toilet/sink supply to feed the bidet. The unit is plugged in, and that about does it! Bidet attachments aren't much different: the adapter hookup is the same, so the only real difference is temporarily removing your existing toilet seat to place the attachment under it.
Pro Tip: Most bidet seat instructions call for the mounting bracket and seat to be installed first, followed by the plumbing/electrical hookups. However, given the bulk of a bidet seat, having it on the toilet first can severely limit the room you have to work with for the plumbing hookups - especially with adapters that install at the tank rather than the stop valve on the wall. If you're going to be working in a tight space, feel free to save the mounting bracket and seat for the end.
Some people find the amount of hoses and cables involved a nuisance and an eyesore. If you're one of them, you might consider using one of the many options available for organizing and concealing A/V cables and the like: provided you don't bend or kink the water lines, you should be fine getting imaginative in your concealment. In your purchase decision, you may want to factor in the location of the supply line and power cable on the bidet vis-á-vis the location and orientation of your toilet - there may be no hiding anything, which could be a dealbreaker.
If you're thinking about getting a bidet for your home, go for it! A quick perusal of user reviews should be enough to convince you: once you go bidet, you never go back. In fact, aside from the occasional technical or installation issue, the most common complaint appears to be withdrawals: having to use toilet paper at work or on the road may leave you feeling dirty and cheated, counting down the minutes until you can get home and get right. A small price, we think.
Start shopping for your new bidet right now!