How does a bidet work and should you get one?

In the midst of the national response to the coronavirus illness COVID-19 pandemic, consumers are rushing to stock up on the essentials — and especially on toilet paper. Demand has become so high that some stores have completely run out of stock, and others are limiting how many rolls each customer can purchase. With toilet paper becoming scarce, the demand for bidets has skyrocketed. “Sales are 10 times what they were since word spread of toilet paper shortages. These last few weeks have created a completely ‘new normal’ for our company,” said Jason Ojalvo, CEO of affordable bidet maker TUSHY.

That aside, bidets can actually be a smart complement to toilet paper, reducing its need and usage. And bidets offer some additional benefits on top of that, from cost savings to better hygiene and eco-friendliness. So should you elevate your toilet with a bidet? And what’s the best way to use a bidet? To find out, we asked doctors and experts how to shop for the best bidet for you, and listed some of the best bidet options at different price points.

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In this article

  1. What is a bidet?
  2. How to use a bidet
  3. Is use of a bidet better than toilet paper?
  4. Equipping your toilet with a bidet could save you money
  5. How to shop for bidets
  6. Best bidets to shop at different price points

What is a bidet?

Bidets, which primarily take the place of toilet paper, have been a mainstay in countries like Italy, Japan and Argentina for centuries. In the United States, however, bidets have faced stigma. It can be hard to understand how to use bidets if you haven’t experienced one, says James Lin, president of online bidet retailer BidetKing. “It’s a literal foreign concept to most people,” he said. “Not many Americans have considered a better solution.”

Bidets provide better comfort and cleaning than standard toilet paper, argues Evan Goldstein, DO, a rectal surgeon and founder of Bespoke Surgical in New York City. He said they can be beneficial for just about anyone, and especially helpful for those with physical disabilities, like arthritis or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, according to the Muscular Dystrophy Association. The advantages of bidet include health, hygiene, privacy, eco-friendliness and more, according to the nonprofit. “It shouldn’t take a virus to show people there’s better ways of approaching anal hygiene,” says Goldstein, adding he’s “the biggest proponent of bidets.”

How to use a bidet

Bidets are typically made up of a device that you install into your toilet seat. It sprays water onto your underside, to help rinse off any fecal matter or otherwise. In short, here’s how to use the bidet:

  1. When you’re ready, you turn on the bidet via a button or knob
  2. Positioned within your toilet properly, it will deliver a jet of water onto your rear (advanced models can adjust water temperature and pressure and even dry you afterwards)
  3. Afterward, you can dry yourself using toilet paper — you’ll typically require much less than normal to get the job done.

Is use of a bidet better than toilet paper?

Goldstein told NBC News he is surprised Americans are reluctant to adopt bidets, arguing toilet paper isn’t the most hygienic option. He notes that using toilet paper doesn’t actually clean the area, for one thing, and just smears the fecal bacteria on your skin. “People come into my office all the time who are over-wiping. It’s a serious problem for Americans,” Goldstein said. “People are also using products not made for wiping on themselves.” Most bidet models have a self-cleaning feature to remove bacteria and some equip a blow-dry feature, leaving even less reason to reach your hand back there and potentially get bacteria on yourself.

Over-wiping with toilet paper can actually be harmful to your skin, echoes Harold Bailey, MD, a rectal surgeon in Texas. The skin around your anus is very thin and sensitive, and can be prone to tears and fissures if you wipe it too aggressively. One study linked habitual bidet use to lessened hemorrhoids and other urogenital symptoms — but also emphasized lack of evidence for other issues like bacterial vaginitis. “I recommend all my patients use water to clean,” said Bailey. “I would use it as a way to prevent irritation.” While using bidets demonstrably involves less friction than toilet paper, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that using toilet paper is inherently bad for you or, if properly used, can lead to any health issues — nor is there any direct evidence that the use of a bidet is inherently good for you or that it leads to any health benefits.

Equipping your toilet with a bidet could save you money

From a cost perspective, using a bidet is a “no-brainer,” Goldstein said. The average American family uses 409 rolls of toilet paper annually, which can add up. The one-time cost to enhance a toilet with a bidet — which will typically run you anywhere from $50 to several hundred — bidet users won’t owe much else. Most bidets last for years and require minimal cleaning and maintenance.

Bidets can also prove more environmentally-friendly than toilet paper. It takes 37 gallons of water to produce a single roll of toilet paper, which should last you several times as long with a bidet than without, for example.

How to shop for bidets

Which bidet is best for you depends on how much you’re willing to spend and what features you’re looking for, said James Lin. Two common types of bidets are travel bidets and bidet seats, which normally attach a nozzle to the back or the side of the toilet rim and can either power electrically or mechanically. Travel bidets are handheld devices with a curved nozzle. To use them, you squeeze the bottle and aim the nozzle toward your bottom. As the name suggests, travel bidets are good for on-the-go cleanliness — and offer much more affordable solutions. When you’re shopping for bidets, pay attention to additional features:

The more features a model has, the more it will likely cost. Some features are more important than others, Lin said. For example, the ability to adjust the water temperature could provide a great deal of comfort — not many people likely want cold water shot at them, he said. The self-drying feature might also be worth the extra cost for some customers.

Best bidets to shop at different price points

Here are some of our top picks of bidets by price range.

The GoSpa Travel Bidet is one of the most affordable bidet options out there, and perfect for those who travel frequently or are always on the go. It’s shaped like a water bottle with a nozzle — all you have to do to wash yourself is squeeze. Its size makes it convenient to fit into your bag or purse and take with you wherever you go.

TUSHY offers bidets at every price range, but their classic model is their most popular. It’s a single temperature, attachable bidet. TUSHY says you can attach their classic bidet onto your toilet in less than 10 minutes. TUSHY's collapsible travel bidet is an affordable option for those interested in trying out a bidet or who travel frequently.

This bidet attachment sits right under the toilet seat lit and offers many of the same features as the TUSHY Classic, including warm water and easy seat adjustment. It is also self-cleaning so you don’t need to worry about regularly cleaning the attachment.

Want to upgrade to a bidet seat but aren’t ready to break the bank? This seat model is right for you. The Brondell Swash 300 has many of the basic features of higher-priced bidets, as well as a remote to control water pressure, temperature and seat heating.

While this bidet is on the pricier side, it comes with some unique features. It offers a three-stage wash that can adjust for pressure, temperature and motion. It’s self-cleaning, its seat can be heated and a child mode adjusts the seat and nozzle for children. This bidet also includes braille on its remote.

This bidet comes with many additional features, including water temperature settings, nozzle positions, a remote control and an air dryer. But what makes this bidet really stand out is its adjustable nozzle spray width, which corresponds with water pressure.

This bidet is the priciest on the list, and shares many of the same luxury features as other bidets, including water temperature control, a dryer and deodorizer. The model also has a “pre-mist” feature which sprays the toilet bowl before use to prevent buildup and keep the toilet clean.

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