In his 1966 book The Bathroom, Alexander Kira goes on at great length at how useless toilet paper is at actually cleaning our rear ends. He quotes a British study that found that 44% of men had stained underwear, and concludes that “we are primarily concerned with the appearance of cleanliness… What we cannot see or directly experience or what others cannot readily see, we ignore.” He recommended the use of a bidet, but regretted that in North America, it was almost unknown or identified with sexual immorality. That was almost 40 years ago; the combo toilet/bidet existed, but was still experimental.
I first read Kira in university, and have been fascinated by bathrooms ever since. (read more about Kira here) Since 2009 I have been using an inexpensive Brondell non-electric unit (then marketed as a Blue Bidet, see my review here), but as part of our recent downsizing renovation, I finally bought myself what I have always wanted: a $1200 toilet seat, also known as a Toto Washlet.
That might sound expensive, but the average American family spends $300 on toilet paper every year, their portion of the 3 million tons of the stuff that is made every year from 54 million trees using 473 billion gallons of water and 17.3 terawatts of electricity. So it pays for itself in dollars, water, and trees pretty quickly. (I also learned after buying it that there are other units that do much the same thing for half as much, like the Brondell Swash at Bidet.org).
The Washlet can fit on a number of different toilets, but I paired it with a Toto to get a perfect fit. It connects to a remote control unit mounted on the wall.
Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0
The visible controls are straightforward; a rear wash for men, a front and rear wash for women, and a dryer button. There is also a pressure adjustment and an oscillator button to shake it up a bit.
Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0
If you open the controller door, there are additional controls for toilet seat, water and dryer temperatures. Come winter, I am sure I will appreciate the bum warmer more. It has an energy saving feature where it is turned off for those times when it is not expected to be used.
There are a number of advantages over the far less expensive non-electric units. The washing wand only comes out when needed, so it is likely to stay cleaner; the water is warm, which up here in Canada where the tap water is quite cold, is a nice change. A lot of people don’t use the dryer because it takes a few minutes, but I have found it works really well. I am informed by my wife that the dryer is ineffective after use of the front washer.
Is this all too much information? Here’s more. After you use a bidet toilet for a while, it is hard to imagine the alternative. After using a warm, oscillating and drying Washlet, it is hard to imagine going back to chilly water of the non-electric version.
As one who always is complaining about gizmo green and touting the benefits of dumb homes and simple tech, it is perhaps odd that I am such a fan of an expensive, complicated construct of pumps, fans, heaters and wireless controls. As someone who is a bit of a prude, it is difficult to talk about washing and air-drying my bum. But people spend so much money on their bathrooms and their homes, and often drop at least as much money on a set of taps or a stone counter that does nothing for you. This is an investment that actually delivers a return.
A bidet toilet keeps you cleaner and healthier; it actually saves water, trees and energy. You don’t have to spend $1200; lots of people have simple non-electric bidet attachments. You can spend a lot more and get totally hands-free units like the Kohler Numi, where even the lid is automated. You can even get one that you control with your smart phone. There are all kinds, because in many parts of the world, it is pretty much standard equipment.
The alternative of putting a sheet of paper in my hand and… just sounds disgusting now. Everyone should have one of these.
Read more on the benefits of bidets at Bidet.org. They even list TreeHugger as one of their sources of information, so you know it’s true.