I have an on-again, off-again relationship with personal hygiene. Like this past weekend, when I enjoyed an off-again couple of days in Rocky Mountain National Park, hiking 25 miles, breathing in the cool clean air while tramping the hot dusty trail and getting absolutely filthy. Each night, I crawled into the tent sweaty, stinky, delightfully gritty and happily not caring. After a long day in the mountains, sleep beats hygiene every time.
But on less strenuous days I’m kind of a clean fanatic, showering daily, brushing my teeth before and after every meal, and washing my hands after doing anything. Like after I wash the dishes, I wash my hands. So when my friend, James, posted on social media that he was buying a bidet, he got my attention. Do people really buy these things for their homes?
In case you’re not familiar with bidets, they’re fancy contraptions popular in European and Asian … bathrooms. Like a shower for your toilet. I’d seen them on my overseas travels but had no idea how to operate one. They seemed so complicated. A lot could go wrong.
I asked James if he was serious, and he said that he and his wife had recently moved to a place with a septic tank. Yeah, but what did that have to do with installing a water fountain in your toilet bowl?
Apparently, septic tanks work better when they’re not clogged up with paper. And while a bidet doesn’t take the place of TP, using one dramatically reduces the amount of paper one must use to take care of one’s business. That got me thinking about all the paper I put into the local sewer system and how bad all that single-use paper is for the environment. I thought about how much money I spend on paper. I even started thinking about my personal hygiene. Maybe James was on to something. Maybe I needed to take a closer look at bidets.
A bit of research turned up all kinds of interesting TP trivia! For example, the average American uses about 10 sheets of paper per use, 60 sheets per day, and 100 rolls of paper every year. It takes approximately 400 trees to make all the TP a person uses in their lifetime. At roughly 50 cents per roll over 70 years, that’s $3,500 on paper that literally gets flushed down the toilet.
The bidet was beginning to sound less crazy by the minute. But I still couldn’t justify the cost of replacing a toilet in my house, especially when they all worked just fine. It didn’t take long for me to discover that I didn’t have to buy the whole toilet — bidets are sold as add-on fixtures that can be installed on an existing toilet and they aren’t expensive at all. And there are a lot of options: electric or mechanical; cold water only or cold and warm water; and single or dual setting to accommodate feminine cleansing.
The electric option was overkill — too many bells and whistles, and pricey, too. The warm water option sounded nice but probably wasn’t necessary, and installation was tricky because I’d have to run a line from the hot water pipe under the bathroom sink to the toilet. The mechanical cold-water-only style attached directly to the flexible pipe between the floor and the toilet tank. The feminine setting allowed for variable directional flow, which sounded appealing and maybe optimal for both sexes.
While I was at it, I decided to get a new toilet seat, too. The removable kind makes it easier to clean the top of the bowl because the whole seat lifts off with the release of a couple of clamps screwed onto the bolts. That would make it easier to clean under the seat and the bidet. I opted for a mechanical cold-water feminine option bidet and a soft, padded removable seat (yes, padded — not so much for the comfort than the fact that padded seats aren’t as cold in the winter), all for less than $100 (or about what I paid for a tank of gas, two nights in the Moraine Park Campground, and entrance into RMNP).
Putting it all together took a flat head screwdriver, a wrench, and about half an hour. The directions were super easy: flush the toilet holding the handle down to drain all water from the tank, remove the old toilet seat, put in the new bolts, and attach the bidet with the new seat clamps. Then hook the three-way pipe into the existing pipe and attach it to the bidet. Clamp on the new seat. And try to wait patiently, because the whole thing just looks so pretty, you will want to use it right away.
I couldn’t wait. I just had to know if it worked. So I leaned over, adjusted the spray, pressed the lever, and soaked the front of my pants. That’s not how you use it, by the way, and it’s probably why I never tried to use a bidet during any of my overseas travels. So much could go wrong.
I am very pleased with my purchase. It was worth every penny and is going to save me a ton in toilet paper, not to mention all the trees. And as much as I look forward to my next off-again days on the trail, my on-again personal hygiene days at home have gotten a whole lot … cleaner.
Susan Joy Paul is an author, editor, and freelance writer. She has lived in Colorado’s northwest for more than 20 years. Contact Susan at firstname.lastname@example.org.