A bidet's purpose is to help you clean up after using the toilet. Its advantages are even clearer; it is financially and environmentally cheaper than wipes or toilet paper. How does a bidet work exactly? Most people have a basic idea of how a bidet does what it does but read on for a deeper understanding.
Does it require electricity? Do you need to remodel your bathroom to install one? Are there different types of bidets? We answer these questions and more in this article. Already convinced you need one? Look at our recommendations for the best bidet attachments and converter kits.
Related read: How does a composting toilet work?
A brief history of the bidet
The bidet is not a recent invention; it dates as far back as the 17th century. Its name comes from the French word for ‘pony.’ It possibly originated from the straddling position one would have to assume to use the first bidet models. We don't know the exact person who invented the bidet, but records trace it back to French furniture makers.
With the early models of the bidet, people filled the bowl with water and scooped it up with their hands to wash themselves off. Modern bidets spray water upwards or downwards to wash the appropriate area. The powerful rush of water washes off excrement and residue around the area. Some bidets use electricity, while others just operate with simple water pressure like any faucet.
Beyond its country of origin, the bidet was more common in Italy, Argentina, Portugal, Japan, Spain, and Venezuela. Variations of the bidets are normal in parts of South America and the Middle East but are largely still catching on in the West.
The toilet paper scarcity of 2020 and the awareness of the environmental costs of toilet paper contribute to why bidets are becoming increasingly popular in the United States and other places.
Types of bidet fixtures and how they work
1. The Standalone Bidet
Standalone bidets are an entirely different fixture from the toilet bowl, usually placed by the side of the bowl for easy access. You can place them on the floor like a toilet bowl or attach them to the wall like a really low sink. A freestanding bidet is about the same size as standard toilets, so it takes up considerable space.
It also requires plumbing fixtures, which results in an installation cost, especially if you don't live in a country where the common plumbing practice is to have both a toilet and bidet set up during the building construction.
Since standalone bidets are permanent fixtures, you may be unable to fix one if you live in a rental. Even if your bathroom is spacious and you have the funds, your landlord may refuse to permit you. If all conditions are met, a freestanding bidet can give you that extra touch of luxury.
How it works
Standalone bidets can be electrically powered or not. The non-electric models lack features like heated seats, self-cleaning nozzles, air dryers, and deodorizers. But if you connect them to your bathroom’s hot water tank, they can supply warm water.
Because this type of bidet attaches to regular plumbing, it isn't hard to imagine how it works. It is just like a handwashing sink with a more angled downward stream of water. For a posterior wash, you sit in a toilet bowl style, but to wash the female genitalia, it is best to sit facing the controls.
2. The Bidet-toilet combo
A bidet toilet is a toilet that comes with a bidet feature. This is perhaps the fanciest type of bidet and usually comes without a tank. Bidet toilets are powered with electricity; some come with replaceable backup batteries. Some brands have manual flush and wash buttons for when the power goes out.
Some high-tech features include lids that automatically open when you step within a set range and will close when you are out of proximity. The full or small flush function also automatically dispenses according to how long you sit on the toilet seat. Other features can include a UV sterilizer, air dryer, heated seat, night light, remote control, etc.
How it works
The bidet toilet is a smart device that will automatically dispense a stream of water to clean you up. It sprays water upward from a retractable water nozzle either at the back or the side of the toilet rim. More advanced options allow you to adjust water pressure, the manner of spraying, and so on using seat-side controls. At first glance, it doesn't seem like a bidet toilet is hard to fix, but it is best to get professional help. You would need to remove your existing toilet, readjust the plumbing, and install a suitable electrical hookup.
A bidet toilet works just like your regular toilet in many ways. It needs the same single plumbing setup using the same pipe that supplies water for flushing, which also supplies the water jet. The tankless bidet toilet uses a siphoning water flow to get rid of fecal matter.
3. Bidet attachments
If you can not remodel your bathroom to install a standalone bidet or bidet-toilet combo, you can choose a cheaper, less space-consuming alternative. If you live in a rental and installing a bidet would cause a breach of your rental agreement, a bidet attachment or converter kit is what you need.
They are removable and don't require any wall breaking or permanent changes. A bidet attachment, or bidet toilet seat, is easy to fix; you can do it yourself if you are handy with a wrench. There are different attachments; we have bidet toilet seats, bidet sprayers, and handheld bidets.
The bidet toilet seat
Most bidet toilet seats, a seat that replaces the regular toilet seat, have the same high-tech features as bidet toilets with remote control. Depending on the model you choose, it can come with almost the same benefits as a bidet toilet, such as warm seats, night lights, an air dryer, and so on. But since you already have a toilet tank, you won't have the luxury of a tankless bathroom. Bidet seats come in different variations and specs, so make sure you buy one that fits your toilet model perfectly.
A bidet sprayer
This is a very popular type of bidet attachment; often, when people talk of a bidet attachment, they refer to this particular instrument. The bidet sprayer is a panel to which a nozzle and a control panel are attached. They are pretty simple in their function and often mechanical but can provide simple luxuries like a warm water supply.
The handheld bidet
Handheld bidets are like tiny handheld shower sprayers. They are much more flexible in directing the flow of water exactly where you want it to go. You simply connect the sprayer head to your bathroom water supply like any other bidet attachment. You can't get the warm air dryer or the heated seat feature with this bidet.
How to install an attached bidet
Bidet attachments may come in various forms, but the installation process is the same. You start by turning off the toilet’s water supply; then you flush the toilet so the tank is empty. This is so water doesn't flood your bathroom. Next, you unscrew the water supply hose and fix a t-valve at the indicated end. You then mount the attachment and fix both the bidet and toilet water supply hoses, and you are good to go.
For the bidet toilet seat, you'll need to remove the existing toilet lid since you'll be replacing it entirely. Some bidet toilet seats work with electricity, so you'll need a compatible electrical hookup near the toilet.
The bidet seat is bulky on the back end because it often houses a reservoir in addition to the nozzles. Almost any brand will claim that you can install their bidet seat yourself in 30 minutes or less, but if you are not handy with a screwdriver and electronics, get expert help.
To install bidet sprayers, you'll need to remove the toilet seat. Then connect the bidet attachment pipe to your bathroom’s water supply with a diversion pipe. Next, you fix the attachment according to the manufacturer's instructions but don't worry; it is usually quite simple. Then you screw the toilet lid back. Sometimes there's an imbalance, so you can use seat bumpers to get things feeling even again. With the control panel part of the attachment, you can control the speed of the water, the water temperature, and the direction of the spray nozzle.
Handheld bidet attachments are usually non-electric, operating on elementary water pressure mechanics like any faucet. There is no need to remove the toilet lid, just turn off the water supply and attach the bidet hose. The bidet is ready for use.
4. Travel bidets
A travel bidet is essentially a water bottle with a nozzle cap. It is portable and typically foldable, so you can just put it in your bag and go anywhere with it. Travel bidets are the cheapest bidet options, and they come in manual and battery-powered models. You can only wash with cold water using this type of bidet.
The issue with travel bidets is that they are small and may not pack enough water to wash your posterior properly on the first try. Then you'll have to refill the bottle and try again. And if you happen to drop your portable bidet on the floor of a public restroom, you may not like the idea of a travel bidet as much anymore.
How a travel bidet works
To use a non-electric travel bidet, simply fill the bottle with water and place the special cap back on. Squeeze until the water runs out or you are clean. Electric travel bidets work with batteries and provide more water pressure. A motor inside the reservoir pushes the water out with more force.
Benefits of using a bidet
If bird poop dropped on your skin, would you wipe it with paper towels and be done with it? Or would you use some water and soap to get every bit off? Now your nether regions are even more delicate. Washing with soap can be optional, but the water surely provides a lot more cleanliness than toilet paper.
It is more eco-friendly to use a bidet as it helps us cut back on toilet paper consumption. We must cut down two million trees daily to meet the world's toilet paper demand. Keeping trees standing is an important part of fighting climate change, and cutting trees down just to wipe our butts is not the most environmentally friendly thing we can do.
Better for sensitive skin
Bidet use is gentler on the skin than the softest toilet paper. People who have just given birth or had surgery will find it easier to use. For people who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, hemorrhoids, or just have very sensitive nether regions, the gentle spray of a bidet is more ideal than toilet paper.
No, the water that flows through the bidet is not from the toilet tank. It connects directly to the same inlet valve that brings clean water to the cistern.
Most bidet attachments and bidet toilets have nozzles that retract into a shield that protects the nozzles while you do your business. Some also have a self-cleaning feature that allows the nozzles to wash.
The ideal bidet for you is the one you can afford, space and moneywise. If you would like a bidet attachment, check out our recommendations for the best bidet attachments and converter kits.