For many of us, our bathrooms are a sanctuary; our toilets, a porcelain throne we rely on in our moments of most intimate relief. We use them with the same frequency and routine as we do brushing our teeth or bathing. And while we have electric toothbrushes that connect to bluetooth and thousands of choices of shower heads that can be adjusted to any degree, there's essentially one antiquated option when it comes to our toilets. It's time we stare into the abyss of our toilet bowls and ask ourselves a tough question: Why, in the name of all things sanitary, aren't we using bidets?
Apart from the clear hygienic benefits that come from a thorough wash, Americans have ample reason to join our more enlightened, hydrophilic friends throughout Latin America, Europe, and Asia. Regular users require drastically less toilet paper, a product responsible for the loss of roughly 27,000 trees per day, and they're less susceptible to hemorrhoids, urinary tract and bacterial infections. Bidets are also easy to install, with most bidet seats attaching right onto your existing toilet and water valve system.
Prices aren't really an obstacle either. Bidets range widely in cost based on the amenities you choose. Some of the less decked out models retail for as little as $50. New companies are popping up with inexpensive products marketed to young, health-conscious consumers and bidets with all the essential luxury features, including user-controlled seat heating and water temperature, can be found in the $300 range. Though a discerning high-end shopper might consider the $10,000 Neorest 750H, which boasts a dizzying number of automated features to clean both you and itself.
Perhaps no one understands the product's merits better than the self-proclaimed "Bidet King" of America, Arnold Cohen, who in 1964 founded the American Bidet Company after designing the first combined toilet-bidet seat. A version of this innovative fusion of the previously separate devices was eventually licensed to a Japanese company called Toto, who continues to manufacture their own iterations under the names Washlet and Neorest, nearly ubiquitous fixtures in the bathrooms of Japan today. Cohen, now 76, has spent the last half-century preaching the water-spritzed gospel to anyone who will listen.
"Americans are reluctant to discuss anything dealing with this region," said Cohen, who still operates his bidet company out of Hollywood, Florida. "We're more puritanical here than in Japan but the potential is so great and so vast for this product."
Toto's United States division is well aware of the traditionally lackluster American attitude toward bidets. They've found themselves leaders in the charge to end our misguided squeamishness and embrace the outlook of the Japanese.
"When Toto brings a new product to the market in Japan it's almost like a new iPhone dropping," said Bill Strang, President of Operations at Toto USA. "People will line up outside showrooms." In America, strategic marketing and years of international travel have been shifting the toilet tides through the years, but one of the biggest boosts according to Strang is simple word of mouth: "It comes with critical mass as more people get them. When we first introduced [Washlets] in America in the 1980's our best social media channel was the plumber."
It seems to be working, as Toto has seen American sales of Washlets increase 20 percent per year the past four years. Kohler and American Standard, the country's biggest plumbing industry players, have both begun manufacturing bidet products in the last few years, an indication that even the most traditional American companies are finally giving bidets their due. If only Thomas Crapper, 19th century plumbing pioneer and exquisitely named human, could see how far we've come.
For many, the concept of the bidet still feels distinctly foreign, as perplexingly un-American as a communist driving on the left side of the road on the way to a Boxing Day sale. But this thinking is wrong-headed. Let us put this era of shameful barbarism behind us and bring bidets out from the shadows to where they belong, which is, well, also behind us.