April 16, 2020

Shortages may help bidet wipe out TP for good

When we look back on the annals of history, the Great Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020 may very well mark one of America’s biggest movements – from dry toilet paper to bidet.

Panic hoarding of many supplies started when state and local governments began issuing stay-at-home mandates in early March, most notably of TP. Despite no disruptions in the distribution chain, toilet paper suppliers hadn't caught up with demand as of mid-April, leaving shelves in grocery store tissue aisles mostly empty. Even though stores limit purchases to one package per household, it seems consumers are finding ways around the rationing. Online orders are backed up for months.

With paper supplies so low, it would seem the stage is set for the day of the bidet - the common water-based cleaning fixture that graces commodes throughout much of Europe and Asia. Not having enough paper is starting to become a source of panic itself. An alternative seems – inevitable.

Both toilet paper and bidets share the same purpose – to clean your nethers after you go to the bathroom. But it’s fairly unquestioned that the quality of cleaning with a bidet is superior to toilet paper alone, so why the American reluctance?

Is it anecdotal? Many anthropologists believe American GIs coming back from World War II associated the bidet with bordellos visited overseas, and given America’s puritanical past, they were probably uncomfortable introducing them to neighbors, no matter how wonderful.

But hasn’t American gotten past that, you might ask? We’re a country of explorers and innovators, after all.

Is it the (ahem) pressure? Not really an issue. Most bidets allow the users to adjust water pressure and intensity. Higher-end models even have oscillation and nozzle positioning to customize the experience.

Is it logistics? American bathrooms often wedge the toilet into close quarters, either to budget for smaller spaces, or to allow for larger counters and bathtubs. It could be cost prohibitive, if not downright impossible, to add another toilet-sized unit.

But that argument doesn’t really hold water anymore. For a couple decades now, bidets have come as attachments to the existing toilet.

Nearly ubiquitous in Japanese households, these units either mount on the wall next to the toilet, or are sprayers located between the toilet seat and bowl. Most models range in price from $20 to $150. They’re powered by a home’s water pressure and aimed by knobs or levers. By the way, the water is clean water from the tank, not water from the toilet bowl, as some people would have you believe.

Fancier models called “smart bidets,” feature amenities such as heated seats, music systems and odor control.

And bidets are water savers, too. Americans use an average of 50 sheets of TP a day. Most people probably don’t know about the billions of gallons of water that goes into toilet paper production, versus about a pint bidet use. Reducing toilet paper use to the after-bidet pat-down would reportedly save 437 billion gallons of water a year, not to mention 253,000 tons of bleach.

But despite the promise of sustainability and improving one’s toilet experience, bidets have yet to achieve mainstream success in the US.

For many people, changing their behaviors and cultural norms is extremely difficult, even if it’s in their best interest.

But if the Covid-19 outbreak has proven anything, it’s that most of us are willing to do things completely differently (like avoiding gathering places like bars, stadiums and restaurants, working from home and not seeing our friends and extended families) - provided the reasons are good enough.

Bidet sales have been rising in the U.S. for decades but are poised to go through the roof in 2020. Google searches for the term “bidet” were up tenfold in March of 2020.

Today may be the day. The day of the bidet.