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The anus and buttocks may be cleansed with toilet paper or similar paper products, especially in many Western countries. Elsewhere, water may be used (using a jet, as with a bidet, or splashed and washed with the hand). In other cultures and contexts, materials such as rags, and leaves are used. When wiping the buttocks a person must wipe from front to back to avoid contaminating the urethra. This will keep from spreading bacteria and cut down on infection.
The use of toilet paper for post-defecation cleansing first started in China. It became widespread in Western culture. In some parts of the world, especially before toilet paper was available or affordable, the use of newspaper, telephone directory pages, or other paper products was common. The Old Farmer's Almanac is sold with a hole punched in the corner so it can be hung on a nail in an outhouse. The widely distributed Sears Roebuck catalog was also a popular choice until it began to be printed on glossy paper (at which point some people wrote to the company to complain). With modern flush toilets, using newspaper as toilet paper is liable to cause blockages. This practice continues today in parts of Africa; while rolls of Western-style toilet paper are readily available, they can be fairly expensive, prompting poorer members of the community to use newspapers.
In France, toilet sanitation was supplemented by the invention of the bidet in the 1710s. With the improvements to plumbing in the mid- to late 19th century, the bidet moved from the bedroom (where it was kept with the chamber pot) to the bathroom. Modern bidets use a stream of warm water to cleanse the genitals and anus. Before modern plumbing, bidets sometimes had a hand-crank to achieve the same effect. The bidet is commonplace in many European countries, especially in Spain (30%), Portugal (70%) and Italy (95%), and also in Japan where approximately 72% of all households have a form of "electronic bidet" or spray toilet seat. Bidets are also very popular in the Middle East.
In India and the Indian subcontinent, over 95% of the population use water for cleansing the anal area after defecating. In places where water is scarce or not closely available, a stone or similar hard material is used instead. Use of paper as in the western world is rare in this region and is seen only in some urban and westernised societies. The cleaning of hands after this cleansing process is mandatory and is done using soap. If soap is not available, soil, ash or sand could be used to clean the used hand or both hands. Modern toilets use spray bidets. Older toilets may or may not have running water source, but buckets, bails and mugs are used for storage and for the purpose of cleaning.
The use of water in Muslim countries is due in part to Islamic toilet etiquette which encourages washing after all instances of defecation. Further, Islam has made flexible provisions for when water is scarce; stones or papers can be used for cleansing after defecation and in ablution. The use of these other means to clean oneself does not include animal bones or skin as they are food for other animals and non-human creatures. In many countries, a hand-held bidet or pail of water is used in lieu of a pedestal.
In Turkey, all Western-style toilets have a small nozzle on the centre rear of the toilet rim aiming at the anus. This nozzle is called taharet musluğu and it is controlled by a small tap placed within hand's reach near the toilet. It is used to wash the anus before wiping and drying with toilet paper. Squat toilets in Turkey do not have this kind of nozzle (a small bucket of water from a hand's reach tap or a bidet shower is used instead).
In the U.S, UK and Australia bidets are not yet as popular as in continental Europe and the Middle East, but are slowly becoming more common. Attachable stainless steel or plastic bidets that are fixed to existing toilets are gaining popularity as they are easy to use and inexpensive.
Another alternative resembles a miniature shower and is known as a "health faucet" or a bidet shower It is commonly placed in an alcove to the right hand side of the toilet where it is easy to reach. These are commonly used in the Muslim world. In the Indian subcontinent, a lota vessel is often used to cleanse with water, though the shower or nozzle is common amongst the new toilets.
In Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand, house bathrooms usually have a medium size wide plastic dipper (called gayung in Indonesia, tabo in the Philippines) or large cup, which is also used in bathing. However, most general households utilize toilet paper, "health faucets", or bidets (in some rich mansions) as well. Some health faucets are metal sets attached to the bowl of the water closet, with the opening pointed at the anus. Toilets in public establishments mainly provide toilet paper for free or dispensed, though the dipper (or cut up polyethylene terephthalate bottle, i.e. plastic jug) is occasionally encountered in some establishments. Though most Thais find it difficult not to cleanse their anus with water, most of the shopping malls do not provide health faucets since they are considered to be dirty and could make it hard for them to keep the bathrooms clean. Owing to its ethnic diversity, restrooms in Malaysia often feature a combination of anal cleansing methods where most public restrooms in cities offer toilet paper as well as a built in bidet or a small hand-held bidet shower connected to the plumbing in the absence of a built in bidet.
The first "paperless" toilet seat was invented in Japan in 1980. A spray toilet seat, commonly known by Toto's trademark Washlet, is typically a combination of seat warmer, bidet and drier, controlled by an electronic panel or remote control next to the toilet seat. A nozzle placed at rear of the toilet bowl aims a water jet to the anus and serves the purpose of cleaning. Many models have a separate "bidet" function aimed towards the front for feminine cleansing. The spray toilet seat is common only in Western-style toilets, and is not incorporated in traditional style squat toilets. Some modern Japanese bidet toilets, especially in hotels and public areas, are labeled with pictograms to avoid language problems, and most newer models have a sensor that will refuse to activate the bidet unless someone is sitting on the toilet.
Roman anal cleansing was done with a sponge on a stick. The stick would be soaked in a water channel in front of a toilet, and then stuck through the hole in front of the toilet for anal cleaning.
In ancient and sometimes in contemporary Japan, a wooden skewer known as chuugi was used for cleaning after defecation.
Rags or washcloths are sometimes used. They are then washed similarly to cloth diapers and used again.
- http://www.ecosanres.org/pdf_files/Ecological_Sanitation.pdf Ecological Sanitation, pg 57, lists paper, stones, vegetable material, water and maize cobs. Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, 1998
- Needham, Volume 5, Part 1, 123.
- Adams, Cecil (1986-08-15). "What did people use before toilet paper was invented?". The Straight Dope. Retrieved 2010-08-29.
- Rodriguez, Linda (2009-07-08). "Why toilet paper belongs to America". CNN.com. Retrieved 2010-08-29.
- Fataawa al-Lajnah al-Daa’imah: 259. accessed 29 June 2008
- Vaclav Smil, "Why America Is Not a New Rome", pg 112,190-191
- Jane Shuter, Life in a Roman Fort, pg 18