Here’s the environmental math. You can wash with a bidet and use only 1/8 gallon of water or you can use a roll of toilet paper which takes 37 gallon of water to make. I’ve included two articles because I found the second spends a bit more time on the history.
Toilet paper shortages keep happening. Here’s why you should use a bidet instead.
Mar 29, 2021, 3:10 PM
Michelle Yan: If you were walking barefoot in a park or yard and stepped in dog poop, would you only use a couple of napkins to wipe it off? No. You’d probably wash it off with water. And it’s for similar reasons that people worldwide use bidets to clean themselves after using the bathroom. In western Europe, South America, the Middle East, and Asia. They’re cleaner and more environmentally friendly than just plain old toilet paper. But there’s one place where bidets are not so welcome, which made us wonder: Why haven’t they caught on in the US?
The word bidet actually means “pony” or “small horse” in French, since using a bidet is similar to straddling a pony. And it’s in France that the first known bidet appeared, in the 1700s. But using water for cleansing had been around long before that. The Middle East, South Asia, and other regions had been using small vessels of water — called lotas or tabo — for cleansing for centuries before bidets appeared.
People would scoop the water with their hands to wash themselves off. At first, it was mostly for the upper class, but by the 19th century, indoor plumbing led to the bidets we have today. You might describe it as a really low sink next to the toilet. Its popularity spread from France to all across Europe and other parts of the world, except for America.
Part of the reason is that bidets got a bad reputation. Americans first saw them in World War II in European brothels, so, many associated them with sex work. By the time Arnold Cohen tried to introduce them to America in the 1960s, it was too late. He couldn’t seem to defeat the stigma, and he quickly discovered that no one really wanted “to hear about Tushy Washing 101.”
In the meantime, Japan was taking bidets to the next level. Toto, a Japanese company, made some of its bidets electric. So, why hasn’t America embraced the bidet? Well, bathrooms in the US aren’t really built for bidets. There’s no space or additional plumbing setup for bidet fixtures. But the biggest reason it hasn’t caught on comes down to habit. Most Americans grew up using toilet paper. And many might not even know there’s an alternative way to stay clean.
But using a bidet actually makes a huge difference. For one, it’s more environmentally friendly. The bidet uses only one-eighth of a gallon of water, while it takes about 37 gallons of water to make a single roll of toilet paper. Americans spend $40 to $70 a year on average for toilet paper and use approximately 34 million rolls of toilet paper a day. Investing in a bidet seat or bidet attachment can lower your spending on toilet paper by 75% or more. You’ll also be saving some of the 384 trees that are cut down to make a single person’s lifetime toilet-paper supply.
By now, you might be wondering about wet wipes. Don’t they do pretty much the same thing? Well, no. Constantly wiping can irritate the skin and give you rashes. And it can still leave residue, because you’re really just smearing with paper. Not only that, but wet wipes are actually harmful to the ocean and can cause sewer damage.
But washing yourself with a bidet can help with cleanliness, which may lead to fewer instances of rashes, hemorrhoids, urinary tract infections, and other medical issues. And if you’re worried about using toilet water to clean your back end, you shouldn’t be. It’s tap water. Just like the water from your sink.
So give the bidet a try. Maybe start off with a toilet-seat attachment. Because, in the end, it’s just washing yourself without hopping into the shower!
EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in September 2019.
There’s a Better Way to Wipe: With a Bidet
By Muna Mire
Oct. 4, 2022
There’s a gag in an episode of “Seinfeld” when George Costanza, in one of his fumbling attempts to impress a date, points out that toilet paper has not changed in his lifetime. “It’s just paper on a cardboard roll. That’s it. And in 10,000 years, it will still be exactly the same because really, what else can they do?” The joke, which is so Larry David I could scream, rests on the premise that the technology of hygiene is so elemental that nothing can improve upon it. It is universal. To a certain extent, he’s right — it’s a problem if toilet paper is not available everywhere at all times.
If you’re Muslim, however, there’s an additional bathroom need that has to be met: There must always be a small vessel, to be filled with water, with which to wash your nether regions. For Muslims, toilet paper alone doesn’t cut it. Our tech predates it. The vessel can look any number of ways. I’ve seen everything from a silver amphora to the humble plastic McDonald’s cup. The vessel has different names in different Muslim cultures across the globe. Indians call it a lota. In the Philippines, they call it a tabò; in Indonesia, a gayung; in West Africa, a buta.
In the Quran, cleanliness is a rite prescribed with remarkable specificity and clearheadedness. Muslims are instructed in the Quran’s fourth and fifth chapters when and how to bathe. The Scripture and Hadith describe what’s known as ghusl, or full-body ablution. Ghusl is interpreted in different ways in different legal schools of Islam, but a (nonexhaustive) list of the ablutions required include washing your hands three times, including between the fingers; your hair down to the scalp; your entire body, including the backs of your knees; and yes, your private parts, using the left hand after relieving yourself. For some Muslims, this washing is a reflexive cultural habit, similar to refusing to eat pork.
Growing up, I experienced the occasional microaggression based on a presumption that Black and brown people smell bad. Innocent packed lunches (God forbid we eat our own food) or even hair products elicited “ews” from my classmates, arrows pointed straight at me. So I was unbearably smug in world history class when we learned that Europeans were dying of disease and stinking to high heaven, while Muslims, if they didn’t invent modern hygiene, had been working to standardize it for centuries. This is true down to the very messenger of God’s word: The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) advocated for brushing your teeth in the seventh century. Muslim merchants made soap production a commercial industry in the Middle East. The history turned the Western colonial narrative of unwashed foreigners in faraway lands on its head. I was armed with the truth: My people taught yours how to bathe. Watch how you talk to me.
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But I’ll be honest: I don’t always love a cup on the floor next to the toilet. It’s not ideal for me. The cup has to easily fit under the tap. I’ve had to awkwardly lean over while seated to refill it when I needed more water. It’s a whole thing, and I hate it. Medieval Islamic tech, like George Costanza’s toilet paper, can only take you so far, and while I’m accustomed to using a cup or a watering can, I discovered too late that there’s a better option.
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Enter the bidet: a staple of European bathrooms and — although it pains me to say so — an amenity we all deserve access to. The word “bidet” means “pony” in French, a nod to the fact that the classic bidet was meant to be straddled. It’s a little ceramic basin next to the toilet that looks like a sink. It has two taps you turn on to rinse off. It isn’t new technology — mysteriously, nobody knows exactly who invented it or when (the World Toilet Organization once guessed that an 18th-century French furnituremaker named Christophe des Rosiers might have created it) — but modern bidets can come with a variety of options, like a convenient spray nozzle. You can adjust the water pressure and temperature while comfortably seated.
The first time I ever used a bidet was in my best friend’s parents’ private bathroom, a hallowed space where children were typically not permitted. I had been granted rare access — the primary household toilet was out of order and had not yet been repaired — and was thrilled to have my curiosity satisfied. Their bathroom was adorned with framed florals on the walls and sported a double sink carved out of marble. It was the sort of bathroom I now covet as an adult. The feature that made the most lasting impression was the bidet. It had several nozzle settings: front, rear, oscillating blasts of water or a steady stream. The water could be warm or cold. There was even an option for a heated toilet seat. This, to me, was the height of luxury. I have never looked back.
It’s true: Bidets are the colonizers’ tech. But if you can get past that, there are so many great arguments for the bidet. Without a doubt, owning one has improved my quality of life and saved me money. It’s clear to me that so many different types of people would benefit from access to one. (Off the top of my head: I.B.S. warriors, possibly Jews who can’t or don’t want to tear toilet paper ahead of Shabbat — a bidet doesn’t necessarily require power.) Why not Muslims? I want this for us.
Muna Mire is a television writer and producer.