The purpose and proper use of bidets, those mysterious European bathroom fixturesAlso see:
Wipe or wash?
Paper or water?
Americans traveling to Continental Europe, parts of the Middle East and North Africa, and East Asia need to learn about the bidet. What is a bidet, how do you use one, and why do you find them in hotel rooms and homes? They may somewhat resemble a toilet, but they are only used for cleaning yourself. Do not use a bidet as if it were a toilet!
I was very startled to hear the following from someone who has traveled overseas quite a bit:
I don't think that a bowel movement
would go down its drain easily."
Do NOT proceed with that plan!
Everyone needs to be very aware of a few crucial details:
A bidet is not a strangely named and plumbed toilet!
If you have a bidet, you still use the toilet for all the conventional purposes! No, a bowel movement probably would not go down the drain of a bidet, not without quite a bit of unpleasant assistance by the operator or some poor person who came along later. Nor would it be particularly helpful to poop in the sink or in the shower, while we're discussing inappropriate defecation.Japanese toilet seats with built-in bidets
A bidet is a specialized device to be used only for cleaning your genitals and anal region! Sorry to be all blunt and clinical, but this is rather important. For the sake of the staff at traditional European hotels, do not use the bidet inappropriately!
You can buy toilet seats with built-in bidet functions, and you can also buy just the bidet sprayer itself.
I know that most Americans are puzzled by bidets, and some are even shocked or bothered by it. "Why would foreigners want to do such a filthy thing? They should just use toilet paper!" Many Americans are horrified by bidets because they believe they're some sort of sex-focused fixture, as explained below. But the American aversion to hygiene makes no sense.The Beginner's Guide to Using a Bidet
Imagine that you are an American traveling overseas. You check into a hotel, only to discover that you don't have a shower or tub in your room. Nor is there one down the hallway.
You inquire at the desk about where you should take a shower, and the desk clerk is horrified that you should want to do such a thing. You are told that what you should do is rub dry tissue paper all over your body. That is the very best way of getting clean.
OK, now you know how everyone else feels when they hear an American say that toilet paper is extremely clean but using water is a filthy practice.
Bidet HistoryThe Bidet's
In March 2018 The Atlantic published an on-line article, "The Bidet's Revival". It tells us that the bidet was developed in the 1600s. It was considered as a second step after the chamber pot, and both were kept in the bedroom or dressing chamber.
Hauling water was unpleasant labor, and so cleaning yourself with a bidet was largely an indulgence for the upper classes, aristocracy, and royalty.
By the 1700s some bidets had a water-pump handle to deliver an fountain-like spray from a refillable tank. And, the bidet was part of everyday life featured in art:
Indoor plumbing became popular in the 1800s, and the bidet moved from the bedroom to the newly added indoor bathrooms. The bidet began to spread to slightly lower social classes in France, and to other countries in western Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia.
John Harvey Kellogg was an American physician, nutritionist, and inventor. He was the director of the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan. It was founded by members of the Seventh Day Adventist church. Kellogg's disagreements with other members led to a major schism of the Seventh Day Adventist movement.
Kellogg was obsessed with temperance and sexual abstinance. He invented corn flakes in the 1890s. He hoped that breakfast cereal, laxatives, and enemas would lead to more regular bowel movements and bring about an end to masturbation. He later supported racial segregation and eugenics. The Road to Wellville took a light-hearted look at his lunacy.
In 1928, Kellogg applied for a patent for his "Anal Douche", an attachment to add bidet functionality to a toilet.
Significant numbers of Americans first saw bidets in the 1940s, when American troops were stationed in Europe. Those troops would often see bidets in bathrooms in bordellos, and so Americans came to associate the bidet with sex work.
Before the American GIs saw bidets in French bordellos, there were only a few in the U.S. and Britain. Those were largely associated with the practice of douching as a pregnancy preventative. No, that doesn't really work, but it provided another link to perceived French hedonism that further offended American Puritan attitudes.
And then the few American women who were exposed to bidets found that they were especially useful during menstruation. That made for an unspeakable trio of "female failures": prostitution, unwanted pregnancy, and menstruation. The bidet was not acknowledged in polite company in the U.S.Japanese
In 1964 Arnold Cohen founded the American Bidet Company. He added a water spray attachment to a toilet seat. Americans wanted nothing to do with this. But then Cohen met with Nichimen Jitsugyo, a representative of a Japanese trading company. That company came up with its own design, based on Cohen's failed Sitzbath attachment.
By 1980 Toto, another Japanese company, unveiled the Washlet, and that toilet-bidet combination with a wall-mounted control panel took off in the Japanese market.
A correspondent wrote to me with some interesting observations and questions:
I found your toilet page while on holiday in Turkey,
having been told about the bidet function in the
toilets. Perhaps you'd be willing to advance some
practical advice about what to do after having used
a bidet, on your site?
I believe I understand the mechanics of using one, but I'm still a little perplexed about quite what one does after one's used one's left hand for - presumably completing the work achieved by the combination of the stream of water and some judicious wriggling around: once you're sat on the pot with a clean but wet rump, do you then use the toilet paper to dry off? Seems that would be slow - toilet paper's not very efficient for drying compared to - say paper hand-towels. In a hotel room, I presume one uses one's own towel and the hope that all really is clean back there, but in a communal loo what do you do? Air-drying would take far too long!
Mercifully I've not used a squat toilet since I was five in France, but I was always terrified of getting my trousers dirty if they fell into the tray - one hand holding my trousers bunched just above my knees, the other for balance, I think the toilet had paper, but stepping off the elevated foot pads was nerve-wracking. If it'd had a hose arrangement instead of paper, I'd've needed a third hand for that - or would've been worried about mis-aiming the hose and soaking my trousers.
Is one supposed to remove one's trousers entirely?
I'd vote for the combination squat-toilet/commode you depict on the train - no worry about trousers falling in!
At times in Eastern Europe and Turkey you will find toilet paper which was intended for use drying yourself after using the water.
But other than that, and outside your hotel room, I don't think there's an alternative to air drying!
How do you use a bidet?
It's quite simple, See the bidet.org page for clear, easy-to-use instructions.
Several YouTube videos explain how to use a bidet.
An explanation of the Philippine tabo cleaning ladle might be helpful. A cartoon explanation of how Pogipu Learns the Balde and Tabo is less likely to be helpful.
Let's see some examples!
Some times you will find a free-standing bidet. Other times you will find that a water supply has been added to a toilet.
Here you see Jim Morrison's bidet and sink in l'Hôtel de Medicis in Paris.
The toilet and shower are down the hall.
This very well supplied toilet and bidet are in the Fawlty Towers hotel in Rome.
Notice the difference!
Bidet on the left, with small drain opening and water fixtures.
Toilet on the right, with large drain opening and no water fixtures.
And look, an entire laundry hamper filled with toilet paper! They take very good care of you there.
Low-cost hotels in France usually have le toilette au couloir. That is, the toilet and shower are down the hall. You will have a sink in the room, and you may have a bidet.
The second picture is from my room at the Hôtel Jehan de Beauce in Chartres.
Add-On Bidet Functions
This toilet at Hotel Acquaverde in Genova, Italy has a bidet system built into its seat.
The small ball-and-knob control adjusts flow and temperature. Up to start and increase flow, left for hot and right for cold. Of course, I doubt that you really want either hot or cold, you want some pleasant temperature in between. That's why it's designed to allow temperature adjustments!
This very nice bathroom at Albergo Anna in Perugia, Italy shows several common features of Italian bathroom design.
First, it doesn't take too much space as it is very efficiently put together. Maybe more so than you would expect, as the sink is more or less in your lap when you sit on the toilet.
Second, there is not a separate bidet but there is a small sprayer on a flexible hose. Be careful not to bump its valve handle by accident! I had a few accidental random sprayings of my bathroom.
The toilet flush tank is mounted high on the wall. It is flushed by pushing up on the plunger button. If you just need a small flush, you can pull that plunger back down and stop the flush at that point.
The light switch and electrical outlet are covered by a flexible transparent panel. You can turn the light on and off without raising the cover.
Japan has led the world in sophisticated toilet design for a few decades now. By the mid 2010s, almost all raised commodes in Japan had multi-function seats with heated surfaces and rear and front washing bidet functions. Several also include control of the spray temperature and intensity, air drying, and even "cover noise" to obscure what you're up to.
The control panel may be on a small arm next to the seat, or it may be mounted on the wall.
Train Toilets with Washing Functions
The first toilet shown below is at the end of the corridor in the Turkish 1st-class yataklı vagon or sleeper car on the Pamukkale Ekspresi train between İstanbul and Denizli. This first image is from the late 1990's.
Note the distinctively Turkish (and somewhat intrusive) thin copper line providing water in lieu of any disposable dry abrasive. It's controlled by the valve immediately to the user's right, thus leaving the left hand free for, uh, the sort of activity that means left-handed eaters are viewed with horror in the Middle East.
The Turkish name for this toilet-mounted water tube is taharet musluğu. Literally, that's bidet faucet. Taharet is bidet, musluğu is faucet or nozzle.
The second picture above and this next picture are from the Pamukkale Ekspresi in 2004. The toilet itself is largely unchanged.
But here was the strange thing in 2004 — Turkish toilets, even on board the Pamukkale Ekspresi, were largely equipped with toilet paper!
OK, fine, a dumpy hotel that calls itself an Otel and doesn't really cater to foreign visitors was still uncontaminated by TP, but changes were underway.
This toilet is on board the Izmir Ekspresi overnight train between Ankara and Izmir. It's a somewhat downscale overnight train as Turkish trains go, but it's still a nice way to travel.
Note the great similarity between this toilet and the one from the Pammukale Ekspresi above. Basically the same cars, the first-class yataklı vagon.
This toilet is on board the fabulous Ankara Ekspresi overnight train running between İstanbul and Ankara.
The first-class yataklı vagon (sleeping car) is the nicest overnight train I've ridden anywhere.
Brand-new high-tech sleeping compartments, comfortable beds, these clean toilets, and even a shower at one end of the car! The service is fantastic — each compartment has a refrigerator with a bottle of mineral water and a box of juice, plus a candy bar, for each passenger. A nice ride for about US$ 35.
Turkish Faucets and Red Buckets
This toilet is in the fabulous Doy-Doy Restaurant in the Sultanahmet district of İstanbul, Turkey.
For those in the know, the Doy-Doy is çok iyi kebap ve lahmacun salonu. Sifa Hamam Sokak #13, +90-212-517-15-88.
Note the classic spigot on the wall and the red plastic mini-pitcher. For some reason the pitcher is almost always red....
This similar toilet is in the Mavi House guesthouse, Sultanahmet district, İstanbul, Turkey.
It's another great spigot-and-pitcher example, and this one is also red.
The Mavi House is just across the street from the back side of the Four Seasons hotel. That extremely expensive luxury hotel was originally the prison featured in the film "Midnight Express" (which, it must be pointed out, was a blatant propaganda film funded by the Greek government, with a screenplay by that master of conspiracies, Oliver Stone).
Well, at least there's a hose...
Of course, if it's the all-in-one bathroom where the squat toilet is the shower drain, this is actually a very clean way to build and use a bathroom. This situation is what we find at the Köse Pension, Göreme, Cappadocia, central Turkey.
This classic floor-mounted squatter has integrated flush plumbing. The shower head mounts on the wall of the room, and the toilet drains the entire room. The hose/sprayer also reaches the toilet itself for hygenic purposes.
This is a classic floor-mounted squatter with integrated plumbing, at the Muhamed Aly Bedouin village at Dahab, Sinai Peninsula, Egypt.
The shower head mounts on the wall of the room, and the toilet drains the entire room. The hose/sprayer also reaches the toilet itself for hygenic purposes.
This is excellent by Egyptian standards, but then it's in Sinai and not along the Nile. By the way, Dahab is on the beach, and that's sand you see there!
Arabic speakers say shattaf for a hose with a sprayer. See the Islamic toilet regulations page for more details.
However, the toilet on board the Egyptian ferry on Nuweiba-Aqaba route between the Sinai and Jordan left a lot to be desired....
It has no sprayer, but at least there's a hose.
This is actually pretty nice by Egyptian public toilet standards.
And I must emphasize that it's rust you see there!
How can I install my own bidet?
So now you are fascinated by bidets and you want one in your home. Wonderful! Now we just need to figure out how to install it.
The easiest thing is to hire a plumber to do it. Of course, that will also be the most expensive way.
If you want the Egyptian hose style, then all you need is a faucet with a threaded spout. And, of course, your own squat toilet.The Bum Gun
The Bum Gun is the king of add-on bidet sprayers, and lets you add quality water cleaning to your bathroom for a low cost. It comes with everything needed for installation on a standard toilet with BSP 1/2" fitting outlet. It includes the Bum Gun itself, the hose, wall mount, and more.
That's everything you need pretty much everywhere except the USA, where everything is weirdly different. There you will simply need a BSP to NPT adapter, available at a large plumbing supplier or online.Bidet.org
Now if you want a full-sized bidet unit... Install a bidet, or a combined toilet–bidet unit. Bidet.org sells bidets, including units that can be added onto existing toilets.
This would be the ultimate solution!
Notice that some of the full bidet units mount to the wall. I would think that a floor-mounted bidet would be a little easier to install, assuming you have full access to the space below.
If you don't have the space for a dedicated bidet, you could install a combined toilet and bidet unit. These may be more expensive to purchase but they do save valuable space.
I am only slightly surprised to find that Kohler asks over $2,000 just for their bidet faucets. Don't worry, cheaper bidets are available!
Add bidet functionality to an existing toilet.
Some of these include Japanese levels of complexity and luxury.
Or maybe just use a portable squeeze bottle and related cleaning apparatus.
If you were curious about bidets, you might also be interested in these pages, especially the first one: