Interior Bathrooms Toilets

Solved! What is a Bidet?

Bidets are increasingly popular in American homes, but many people still have questions about their use and the choices available. Here's what you need to know.
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what is a bidet

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Q: I have heard that bidets can provide better hygiene, but I’m still not completely clear about what a bidet is and whether one is right for my bathroom. Can you help me find the answers I need?

A: Bidets promise not just better hygiene but also improved personal comfort. Their use is considered more environmentally friendly, and in the longer term, a bidet could even save you money.

However, bidets are a relatively new addition to American bathrooms and there is understandable confusion about function and installation. Common questions range from “What is a bidet?” to “How do I choose the best bidet for someone with limited mobility?” We found some interesting answers, and a variety of bidet types to suit all needs and budgets.

Related: This is What the Ultimate Aging in Place Home Looks Like, According to a Senior Living Designer

Bidets aren’t new.

It’s impossible to trace the exact origins of the bidet, but cleaning one’s bottom and privates with water goes back to at least Roman times. Seats containing water bowls—perhaps the first true bidets—appeared in French bathrooms in the 16th century. In fact, while paper for personal cleaning is recorded as far back as 6th century China, toilet paper as we know it—”medicated paper for the water closet”—wasn’t introduced until 1857.

Stand-alone porcelain bidets have long been popular right across Europe, through the Middle East, Asia, and also South America. Yet they have been a rarity in North America. Many historians blame a Puritan attitude regarding bodily functions. Others say American bathrooms just aren’t designed for an additional piece of “furniture” and more plumbing.

Whatever the reason, attitudes have changed. This is in part because of the benefits bidets offer, and also because of the variety of models available. There is something to suit all styles and sizes of bathroom, even the most compact.

what is a bidet

There are five different types of bidets.

  • Stand-alone bidet. This classic porcelain piece is perhaps what comes to mind when people ask “What is a bidet?” Popular since the early 20th century, they are usually designed with a toilet as a matching pair. It’s important to note that most stand-alone bidets are not meant to flush waste, they are intended for cleaning up after using the toilet. The main drawback is the space needed, and the additional plumbing required.
  • Built-in bidet. These combine the functions of a toilet and bidet in a single unit (also called a toilet bidet or bidet toilet combo). Designs can be very stylish, and electronic models offer features like variable water pressure control, feminine mode, air drying, heated seat, and a nightlight. However, these can come at considerable cost.
  • Bidet seats and bidet attachments. As the name suggests, these are models that fit onto an existing toilet. Often an affordable solution, they might offer a wide range of comfort features.
  • Handheld bidet. These are a low-budget option also known as spray bidets. They resemble small shower heads that attach to the toilet’s plumbing system. They offer pressure control, and a more accurate direction of the water flow.
  • Portable bidet. Travel bidets are designed as personal devices and while not the most elegant solution, they are well suited to those people who are uncomfortable using toilet paper from public environments. The main disadvantage is that they need to be filled with water for each use.
what is a bidet

Bidets can be more sanitary than traditional toilets and more comfortable.

Wiping with toilet paper is not only quite an inefficient cleaning method, but there are also inherent contamination risks that mean it’s not particularly sanitary either. People with delicate skin can find toilet paper irritating, and it is especially uncomfortable for those who suffer with hemorrhoids.

A bidet cleans by flushing the area with water. Waste is simply washed away with virtually no risk of contact and no spread of germs. The best bidets offer adjustment of the flow and even temperature control. The result is better cleanliness, excellent bathroom hygiene, and even a little personal pampering. Many people who have converted to a bidet say they also feel cleaner than when they used toilet paper.

Related: Easy Ways to Make Your Home More Disability-Friendly

A bidet can be helpful for those with mobility issues. 

Cleaning with toilet paper can be awkward for those with reduced mobility. It is equally difficult whether the problems are with the upper or lower body. Built-in bidet and bidet attachments spray gentle jets of water without the user needing to rise. More advanced models can also dry. As a result, physical effort is greatly reduced.

Having a bidet at home can benefit your bank account and the environment.

One report we found suggested a family of four uses approximately 450 double rolls of toilet paper per year. Using current prices of around $25 for a 48 pack, that means a bidet could offer annual savings of at least $230.

Equally, if not more important is the environmental impact. Toilet paper production causes the destruction of 15 million trees each year—trees that would otherwise absorb carbon dioxide and benefit the planet. Critics point to the extra water a bidet requires, but the math tells a different story. According to one industry source, it takes a minimum of 12 gallons of water to produce every single roll of toilet paper. Yet using a bidet on average requires just a pint.

If you have been wondering what is a bidet, we hope you now have a clearer picture—not only of the many types of bidet available, but of the benefits they can offer.

Related: 10 Things That Are Ruining Your Home’s Plumbing

what is a bidet