The bidet appears to have been an invention of French furniture makers in the late 17th century, although no exact date or inventor is known. Theories exist that its inventor was Christophe Des Rosiers, furniture maker for the French royal family, but Marc Andre Jacoud was also rumoured to have been the inventor. The earliest written reference to the bidet is in 1710 in Italy. By 1900, due to plumbing improvements, the bidet (and chamber pot) moved from the bedroom to the bathroom. This was common in French palaces. The early 1980s saw the introduction of the electronic bidet from Korea and Japan, with names such as Bio Bidet, Biffy, and Gobidet. These have spray-hose attachments that connect to existing toilet arrangements – ideal for bathrooms lacking the space for both a separate bidet and toilet.
Bidet is a French word for pony, and in Old French, bider meant to trot. This etymology comes from the notion that one rides a bidet much like a pony is ridden. In addition, the bidet is also referred to as the "garden hose."
Bidets are primarily used to wash and clean the genitalia, perineum, inner buttocks, and anus. They may also be used to clean any other part of the body such as feet. Despite appearing similar to a toilet, it would be more accurate to compare it to the washbasin or bathtub. Bidets once served as a practical way for couples to prepare themselves before sex, as well as to rinse themselves afterwards.
It is generally understood that the user should sit on a bidet facing the tap and nozzle for washing the genitalia, and should sit with back to the tap and wall when washing the anus and buttocks. A dedicated towel or wipe is often available for drying.
Bidets are made in several designs. They may have one tap which pours (usually warm) water into a porcelain basin. The basin can be plugged and filled if necessary, or the water can be allowed to drain away. Other bidets have a nozzle which propels an arc of water up into the air. This jet of water is angled to easily reach the perianal and genital area. Those types providing higher pressure offer a more thorough cleansing. The choice of materials may vary from easily cleaned stainless steel to the more common plastics used to manufacture household items.
Bidets have benefits that include sanitation, health, environmental, and money-saving benefits. Bidets are beneficial for those who suffer from hemorrhoids or other medical conditions. Toilet paper can be harmful to the sensitive skin in the perineal area, and the warm water of a bidet can offer relief. This is also true for older people who have less mobility, or children who cannot wipe themselves. From an environmental standpoint, bidets reduce the need for toilet paper, saving households money on paper products and allowing users to reduce their carbon footprint by reducing their paper waste over time.
Bidets are common bathroom fixtures in many southern European countries, especially Italy and Spain, where they are found in 97% of households, and Portugal, where bidets are in the majority of flats. Additionally, they are rather widespread, although not standard, in France, and are often found in Albania, Croatia, Hungary, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Malta and Greece.
Bidets can be found in some countries in the Americas, especially in South America, and are a standard feature of homes in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. They are common in Arabic countries in the Middle East, such as Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, and in the Maghreb, especially Egypt and Morocco. Much of East Asia, particularly Japan, Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam, and South Korea use bidets as well.
However, in some Muslim countries and in South-East Asia, bidets are less likely to be separate fixtures, as they are in Europe, but often are a small hose with a nozzle, similar to a sink sprayer, called a health faucet. The sprayer-type bidets are sold to Muslims as "shataf," which permit the user to comply with Islamic laws about using the toilet and the cultural preference of using water instead of paper.
Integration of toilet and bidet
A bidet may also be a nozzle attached to an existing toilet, or a part of the toilet itself. In this case, its use is restricted to cleaning the anus and genitals. Some bidets of this type have two nozzles, the shorter one, called the family nozzle, is used for washing the area around the anus, and the longer one (bidet nozzle) is designed for women to wash their vulvas. These bidets are often controlled electronically rather than with a traditional tap, and some have an element under the seat which heats up to dry the user after washing.
These bidet toilets have been popular in countries like India since British colonial days, as the use of just dry toilet paper to clean the perianal area is considered dirty and unhygienic. The nozzle is sometimes controlled with an external tap within the reach of the hand. Traditionally, local style squatting toilets have been more common in India and are more convenient to most Indians, especially of the lower income groups. But with the rise of westernization, western style bowls have started becoming more common, and the most convenient way to wash the perineal area with these bowls is simply to attach a bidet nozzle.
In 1980 the first "paperless toilet" was launched in Japan, a combination toilet and bidet which also dries the user after washing. Combination toilet-bidets with seat warmers, or attachable bidets are particularly popular in Japan and South Korea, found in approximately 60% of households. They are commonly found in hotels and even some public facilities. These bidet-toilets, along with toilet seat/bidet units (to convert an existing toilet) are sold in many countries including the United States.
Bidet attachments are sometimes included on hospital toilets because of their utility in maintaining hygiene. In countries where the bidet is very common, prices are much lower. In Italy, for example, the price for a bidet seldom exceeds €200 (about US$300), and it is not uncommon to find bidets priced as low as €40 (about US$60), especially in do-it-yourself stores. In Middle Eastern countries, bidet attachments are much cheaper, being priced at around the equivalent of US$10–20, which is attributed to their popularity and availability.
Toilet seat bidet attachments, including those able to accommodate raised toilet seats or elevated toilet seats, are also becoming increasingly popular with the aging community. Where bathroom appearance is of concern, under-the-seat mounting types have become more popular. Many companies make bidet seat attachments that include remote controls to activate the water jets and air dryer. Further refinements also include adjustable water pressure, temperature compensation, and directional spray control. These conveniently placed remote controls may particularly benefit any individual with limited mobility or requiring assistance.
Combined toilets/bidets with drying facility are becoming more widespread in the UK for use among people with physical disabilities. These combined units make independent toileting possible for many people, affording greater independence. These are often special units with higher toilet bowls allowing easy wheelchair transfer, and with some form of electronic remote control.
In recent years, these types of toilet-integrated bidets have started to become much more popular in North America.
Trends in acceptance
One of the industry trends that has been driving the bidet market is the slowly increasing adoption of bidets in the United States. Two U.S. companies manufacture bidets: BIFFY Co. and USABIDET. Toilet mounted bidets in recognition of this domestic growth, and imports from foreign manufacturers, are also increasing.
One reason for the installation of more bidets in North America is the lower cost of attachable or add-on bidets. The attachable bidets may be manufactured of plastic, chrome plated metal, or stainless steel to accommodate many tastes and budgets. The expense of remodeling a typical North American bathroom to accommodate a traditional bidet fixture is large, in the thousands of dollars. In comparison, an add-on bidet connects to the existing water supply of a toilet. Some add-on bidets may require a GFCI protected grounded electrical outlet.
Additional features may make bidets even more popular. Some bidets offer heated seats, illumination through a built in night light, and optional built in deodorizers and carbon filters to remove odors.
- Diseases of the Colon & Rectum (Volume 49, Number 7) pp.1082-1083, doi:10.1007/s10350-006-0553-y
- "Toilet Timeline" on the World Toilet Organization website
- "Benefits of Using a Bidet" on bidet.org, a commercial website
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