What Is a Bidet, and Are They Good for the Environment?

Primarily used to wash and clean the genitalia, inner-buttocks and anus, the bidet is believed to have been invented by French furniture manufacturers in the late 1600s. Here’s everything you need to know about them, including how sanitary they are, the different types available, and how much they cost. We’ve also included a couple of models you can shop today if toilet paper is sparse and you’re caught short.

What is a Bidet?

In its most traditional sense, a bidet is a bowl designed to be sat on for the purpose of washing the genitalia, inner-buttocks and anus. Modern models feature a plumbed-in water supply and drainage, while others adopt a completely different shape in the form of a toilet seat add-on. There’s also a bidet shower, a handheld nozzle — found next to the toilet — used to clean the anus after using the facilities.

Recently, a new type of bidet ventured onto the scene. It’s called the Portable Bidet and it does exactly what it says on the tin: Lets you take the cleaning apparatus with you anywhere. The way it works is simple — you fill up a water bottle-like contraption with a nozzle, then when nature calls and you’re on the move, just aim and fire.  Want to learn more? We’ve rounded up some of the best Portable Bidets.

What are the Benefits of Using a Bidet?

Aside from the obvious cleanliness benefits that come with using a bidet, they’re becoming more popular with the elderly and the bidet. There are some purpose-built models that can be operated with a remote control or come in a different configuration allowing for easier wheelchair transfer that make it easier for individuals with limited mobility, who would otherwise need assistance.

Where Does Bidet Water Come From?

We’ll cut to the chase because we know what you’re thinking: Bidets do not use toilet water. You’ll be pleased to hear that bidet water comes from your home’s fresh water supply — the same one that fills the toilet tank, flows into your bath and shower, and comes out the faucet on the sink. It will never, ever, come from the toilet bowl. It comes from the same source as your drinking water.

Where are Bidets Used Around the World?

Bidets are common fixtures in the Arabsphere, South Europe, West Africa, South America and Catholic countries like Italy — where the installation of a bidet in a bathroom has been a requirement since 1975 — and Spain. This is because Catholics believe water is essential for anal cleansing. There is also a belief in Islam that the anus should be washed with water too, hence the mass adoption in the Arabsphere.

Interestingly, more modern electronic bidet-integrated toilets — known as bidet toilets — are becoming more and more popular in Japan and other Asian countries. These often have various other functions such as seat-warming and automatic seat-lifting. Some can even play music. We’ve even seen a couple of high-end models that use their bidet jets to create a welcoming water feature when you approach them.

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 outbreak led to a shortage of toilet paper in the US, and that marked a turning point for the bidet: Inexpensive seat add-ons, called bidet toilet seats, that turn a standard toilet into a bidet were flying off the shelves, and sales are showing no signs of slowing down. The most popular of the bunch is the Tushy Classic, which retails for $129 but is on sale now for $100.

There’s no shortage of standalone bidets or electronic bidet toilets in the US, either. The Home Depot offers the former and there are countries that will import you a fancy model from Japan with all the bells and whistles you’d want, like seat-warming. We were surprised to see one of these in the flesh while touring an apartment in Los Angeles and were told by the realtor they’re becoming more common.

In the Arabsphere, South Europe, West Africa, South America it’s the older, more traditional standalone bidets and handheld bidet showers that are more common though. But the cost of installing a bidet toilet seat in the US is much cheaper, making it an attractive proposition for those looking to ditch toilet paper — largely due to the fact it doesn’t require expensive plumbing work to tap into the water mains.

Are Bidets Good for the Environment?

The short answer is yes, bidets are fantastic for the environment because they reduce the need for toilet paper. Scientific American reports that Americans use 36.5 billion rolls of toilet paper each year, representing the pulp of some 15 million trees. Creating this much requires an astonishing 473,587,500,000 gallons of water. For comparison, the average bidet uses around 1/8th of a gallon per flush.

Making a single roll of toilet paper, according to Lloyd Alter of Tree Hugger, requires 37 gallons of water, not to mention 1.3 kilowatt/hours of electricity and around 1.5 points of wood. That’s a lot of resource savings from using a bidet, without causing any of the same issues that toilet paper does, like clogging up pipes and adding a strain to sewer systems and water treatment facilities.

Can You Use a Bidet with Toilet Paper?

You can use toilet paper with a bidet, but you don’t need to. Many people choose to wipe with toilet paper first, while others choose to reach straight for the water and use paper to dry their nether region after they’re finished. Some don’t use toilet paper at all. At the end of the day, it all comes down to personal preference — what works for one may not work for another. Experiment and see what works best for you.

Are Bidets for Men and Women?

Anyone can use a bidet — no specific gender required. You don’t have to be a certain age either: Some parents use them on their newborns and they’re particularly useful for the elderly and people with arthritis.