What many people want as a holiday gift or a home improvement this year is a bidet, which appears to be no coincidence in a year when toilet paper shortages have been an issue.
“We saw just explosive growth occur during what we call the toilet paper panic of March 2020," said Bill Strang, president of corporate strategy, e-commerce and customer experience for Georgia-based Toto USA. "We sold out in two and a half weeks — tens of thousands of products, just gone."
And the word "bidet" became the 20th most-searched term on Amazon at that time, he said.
A bidet sprays clean water on one's privates. They can be standalone fixtures or — much more commonly now — built into toilets or toilet seats. A 2019 USA Today story described the latter as "butt-spritzing toilet gizmos."
Snickering seems unavoidable, because a discussion of bidets could include many staples of middle-school humor: toilets, butts, poop and genitals.
“It’s like a shower … for your butt,” says manufacturer Tushy.
The Post and Courier contacted several people who have privately expressed admiration for their recently-purchased bidet devices. None agreed to be interviewed for this article.
“I always hear that once you use one, you have to have one," said Sarah Moluf, showroom consultant at Moluf's Supply in Charleston. “Especially now, with the holidays, I’ve been selling lots of them."
"In Japan they are in every bathroom," said Moluf. "We actually have them in the restrooms here."
Modern bidets often take the form of a toilet seat with a built-in bidet device which provides clean rinsing water from a wandlike sprayer that extends from the underside of the toilet seat.
The toilet seat bidet is actually an American invention, pioneered by Arnold Cohen in the 1960s. It was slow to catch on in the U.S. and he sold the invention to Toto, which went on to sell more than 50 million Washlet toilet seat bidets since 1980.
“A bidet was always considered a French or Italian porcelain thing," said Strang. "To be able to take that functionality and put it in a toilet seat changed everything."
The full-featured ones provide warm water, warmed-air drying, heated seats, self-cleaning features and even remote controls with user settings. They can make toileting more pleasant but also more manageable for people with mobility issues.
There's a dizzying array of options for the bidet-curious. They range from under-$50 attachments that use tap-temperature water to all-in-one toilets that seem to do everything but your laundry and cost thousands of dollars.
For buyers of toilet add-ons, key questions include whether to get one that is integrated into a toilet seat, or one that attaches to the existing seat or toilet, and whether warmed water is a must-have. All bidets use fresh water (an odd point, but one that many manufacturers feel the need to mention), and self-cleaning nozzles are standard features.
Here's a general overview of what to expect at different price points:
- Under $50: Expect a device that attaches to an existing toilet and cold water line with different pressure settings.
- $50 to $150: A toilet seat with built-in bidet and limited features can be had at this price, with adjustable pressure and position settings. Most options in this price range are attachments rather than seats, with no electric connection. Some offer warm water options which requires a connection to a hot water service line (such as under a bathroom sink).
- $200 to $350: Expect a toilet seat with built-in bidet that plugs into a grounded wall outlet, providing temperature-controlled water to front and rear areas, a warm-air dryer and other features that could include a nightlight, oscillating water options and toilet odor control. Major brands include Brondell Swash, BioBidet and Toto Washlet.
- $350-plus: Add more features, such as remote controls instead of keypads attached to the toilet seat. Some have more than one sprayer with one dedicated to feminine cleaning. Some use different self-cleaning techniques, such as UV light, and will pre-rinse the toilet bowl.
- Sky's the limit: Kohler says you can "feel like a queen on this throne" if you buy a Veil intelligent toilet (list price, $5,300). It's one of many expensive toilets with built-in bidets and many other features. Kohler's Numi model ($11,700) syncs with wireless devices, can save user preferences for six people in 12 languages and raises and lowers the lid automatically for users.
From the least to the most expensive, these devices are the latest developments in ways to meet a basic human need, and they've come a long way. The first indoor toilets were basically buckets, and the first bidets were bowls of water.
In 2014 The Post and Courier published an Associated Press story about bidets that said, among other things: “A new generation of toilets may one day make toilet paper, and the need to put one’s hands anywhere near the unspeakable, seem like chamber pots and outhouses: outdated and somewhat messy throwbacks reserved for camping trips.”
Apparently the year of toilet paper shortages and hoarding gave that trend a big boost.
“Folks began to buy them, then they started talking about them on social media," said Strang.
New way to go
The flush toilet was invented 424 years ago, though they weren't in widespread use until the 1850s according to Smithsonian Magazine. Bidets with pumped water date to 18th-century France according to manufacturer Brondell.
"This invention meant that bidet enthusiasts could simply spray a fountain of water onto their behinds," Brondell's website explains. "They no longer needed to scoop up water with their hands to wash."
The invention of modern bidets built into toilets or toilet seats allowed for widespread use that didn't require extra bathroom space or hot-water plumbing.