Everything you've always wanted to know about bidets

Okay, Americans, listen up. When it comes to cleaning yourself after using the toilet, there’s actually an option to the paper roll. Instead of wiping away detritus with toilet paper, you can rinse with water just like our neighbors across the pond. I’m talking bidets (buh-days), and before you cast off the idea of using one, consider that it's a common fixture in homes and hotels throughout Europe, Latin America, East Asia, and many other parts of the world.

What is a bidet?

A bidet is a low, oval basin used for washing your private areas after using the bathroom.

How does it work?

The bidet gets the job done using a stream of water. The awkward part for a non-user is figuring out how to position oneself for the best cleaning. Need a tutorial? YouTube has some G-rated videos that can help.

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Who can benefit from a bidet?

  • Those with incontinence will appreciate how easy it is to freshen up as often as needed during the day.
  • Arthritic or disabled individuals who cannot wipe themselves will find a bidet or bidet/toilet combo the answer to personal cleansing. Hand-held devices may be too difficult for these people to maneuver, so choose the sit-down models.
  • Caregivers of those unable to wipe themselves will recognize the dignity that bidets afford their patients and the unpleasant work it eliminates for the caregiver.
The bidet gets the job done using a stream of water.

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Advantages of using a bidet

  • It’s more hygienic, prevents chafing and cleans more thoroughly. (It’ll take the ouch out of intestinal bouts.)
  • It’s environmentally friendly because you need no paper. Even if you listened to Mama Bear in the Charmin commercials and used only 4 squares of tissue (C’mon now!), it wouldn’t put a dent in the 15 million trees that are used to make 36 billion rolls of toilet paper every year.
  • It’s easier on plumbing. Bidets actually reduce plumbing problems and save money. With less going down the drain, there are fewer clogs. Plus, there’s less going into septic tanks.

Bidet options for first time buyers

Doyle James, president of Mr. Rooter Plumbing, knows bidets. Here he shares some bidet basics from a plumber’s point of view.

Stand-alone bidet

Cost: $640- $780 from Kohler

Considerations: It’s a bit of a process to install a bidet and can cost consumers anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a thousand or more. Running the drains and waterline would require a connection to existing plumbing, meaning you would need to tear out finished walls until you could connect into them.

All-in-one integrated bidet-toilet combos

The modern answer to traditional bidets, they combine the best of the toilet and the bidet. They have all the luxury features of a high-end bidet: endless warm water, warm air dryers, deodorizers, heated seats, wireless remote controls and adjustable nozzles, plus manual and automatic flushing. Prices range from $1700-$5000.

A bidet seat can come with heated seats, warm water cleansing and air dryers and are remote control-operated. The Brondell Swash 1000 ($599) and Bio Bidet BB-2000 ($699) come with energy-efficient water heating systems for unlimited warm water.

Electronic bidet seats only need to be connected to a grounded electrical socket and utilize the existing water connection that attaches to your toilet tank.

Attachments: from $16 for a hand held spray up to $70 for a deluxe warm/cold nozzles. These install with ease directly over your existing toilet fixture.

Portable/travel bidet: consists of a pouch and a nozzle and is operated by squeezing the bag while directing the nozzle.

Horizontal view of bidet, toilet and shower

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Features to look for when buying a bidet

If consumers are looking for cost-saving options, a bidet attachment/seat that fits onto an existing toilet is the way to go. It’s considerably less expensive, easy to install or take apart, comes with warm/cold nozzle options and takes up less space in the bathroom. Before buying, make sure the seat fits well over the existing toilet.

For a more traditional stand-alone bidet or bidet-toilet combo, consider:

  • Water temperature features — Not all models have a warm or heated water option. If you want heated water, a tankless water heater would be an ideal choice.
  • Adjustable spray strength — With some models, you can also adjust how strong or how light the water sprays, so if that’s important, make sure you keep an eye out for that when selecting one.
  • Stainless steel nozzles — It may seem like a small, insignificant feature, but it’s actually pretty important for hygienic purposes because stainless steel is more resistant to bacteria.

RELATED: How often you should clean your toilet — and the right way to do it

How to clean a bidet

Cleaning a bidet is a pretty standard process, so consumers shouldn’t face too many issues. Just make sure it’s unplugged before beginning.

It’s important to avoid cleaning your bidet with harsh abrasives or chemicals like alcohol or bleach. Instead, go for solutions made with antibacterial soap mixed with warm water. Using a towel or wash cloth, wipe the solution over the entire surface of the bidet.

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