Bidets & Confused: What Are These Things?

Toilet paper has become a hot commodity as of late.

So much so that it is quite literally flying off of the shelves at grocery stores, pharmacies, and other shopping establishments around the United States.

As concerns over the coronavirus pandemic have increased, the fuss over this so-called “white gold” has many people wondering: are there other options out there? Options that are just as sanitary and effective as toilet paper, if not more so?

Bidets are, more often than not, the butt (forgive us) of jokes in the United States.

But many homeowners are taking a second look at this oft-ridiculed bathroom addition, now that toilet paper scarcity is an everyday reality.

But what, exactly, is a bidet? And what are the benefits of having one? Let’s find out.

What is a bidet?

A bidet is an add-on device—usually attached to toilet bowls—or a standalone plumbing fixture that cleans your rear end with water after a bowel movement.

Fun fact: “bidet” is an old French word for a pony or small horse.

The term came to be used for these plumbing fixtures because of the straddling posture that people assume over them while they are in use—similar to the posture one would assume while riding a horse.

A staple in many European bathrooms (in countries like Italy and Portugal, it is required by law to have a bidet in your restroom), bidets have, traditionally, been derided as unsanitary and unnecessary in North America, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Benefits of having a bidet

In addition to the small savings you’ll accrue with less need for toilet paper, bidets are, by and large, more ecologically friendly. Plus, they make your bum cleaner. What’s not to like?

Preserving trees, water, and electricity

In 2019, the magazine Scientific American reported on the environmental benefits of owning a bidet, citing estimates that US residents use 36.5 billion rolls of toilet paper each year—the equivalent of destroying 15 million trees.

What’s more, toilet paper production requires an impossibly large amount of water, somewhere in the neighborhood of 473.6 billion (with a B) gallons. This doesn’t even take into account all of the bleach required to whiten the paper, and the enormous amounts of electricity necessary to power all of these endeavors.


One of the major misconceptions about bidets is that they spray water everywhere, creating an unruly mess in your bathroom. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Jets of water are contained within the bowl of the toilet (if it’s an add-on) or within the bowl of the standalone plumbing fixture itself

Another misconception is that the bidet uses dirty water from inside the toilet bowl. In reality, the bidet jet relies on fresh, clean water from the line that fills your tank.

All of this to say: water is infinitely more effective at getting rid of your residue, both visible and invisible (hello, bacteria), than toilet paper. If you’re interested in installing a bidet, explore your options online.

With the world being in the state it is today, you might want to default to an add-on bidet option for a preexisting toilet, rather than pursue a complex standalone bidet installation—which will no doubt cost a pretty penny when all is said and done. Happy researching!