The Green, Clean Art of Keeping Our "Rear Ends" Hygienic: What Are We Afraid Of?
So, do you ever feel ... not so fresh?
This question is traditionally asked by young women of their mom's on boats in douche ads, but this one is directed at everybody and the answer is probably "Yes."
Whether it's from being hermetically sealed in pantyhose all day, from sweating inside wooly winter wear or dripping with summer heat, feeling no-so-fresh is easier than the acres of body care products in the store would suggest.
And the fact is that most Americans aren't as clean as they imagine themselves to be. We pay catlike attention to grooming, and yet all that Purell-ing sort of fades at the thought that we're walking around with our nether regions shmeared with -- there's no nice way to say it -- poop.
So, how can this be if Americans use about 36.5 billion rolls of toilet paper a year?
Well, Newsweek's Smart List reported in August that "... a classic survey showed that half of TP users spend their days with 'fecal contamination' -- anything from 'wasp-colored' stains to 'frank massive feces' -- in their underpants."
AlI can say, with pride in my award-winning writing skills is "Eeeeeeeeeewwwwww!" We use enough deodorizers to ensure that we don't smell remotely organic, and yet we can't even keep our own heinies clean? What's a first-world country to do?
Well, we could get off our questionably groomed butts and try setting them on a bidet, a simple plumbing fixture the sprays the anal and genital areas with water, providing what some consider a far more thorough clean than dry toilet paper on its own. Bidets are common in other parts of the world, but they're far from de riguer in America.
"It's unthinkable for me ... that people go around with, basically, feces smeared all over their butts -- that's the best that toilet paper can do," said William Bruneau, author of The Bidet Book, possibly the only volume on the subject. "Using a bidet, our body is completely washed back there."
Bruneau wanted to put in a classic French bidet when building his house, but building codes wouldn't allow it. "I was crushed," he said. But then, when they were putting in a kitchen sink and a vegetable sprayer he got another idea. "I had them attach a thing to the toilet so I could put a sprayer in there -- and I thought 'This is a great idea!' " He thought of writing a book on the subject of the inexpensive bidet and "found out there are a zillion portable bidets" on the market.
He's right. Google "bidet" and you'll find a bewildering number of sales sites with bidets that come in many varieties, with all kinds of features. The classic French model (the French are credited with introducing them in the 1700s, according to ehow.com) is a stand-alone basin, like a low sink.
Today, there are models that attach easily to an existing toilet, some of which have temperature controls and blow dryers. The Infrastructurist says (in a story called "What Do Americans Have Against Awesome Toilets?") that "a typical Japanese loo" will do all kinds of tasks: spraying front-to-back, performing medical urine tests, providing a nightlight and playing the sounds of "a soothing waterfall or birdsong soundtrack to drown out embarrassing noises."
On a quick trip to Home Depot, I found two models, Blue Bidet and Go Bidet, prominently displayed on endcaps for $99 each and promising easy installation. Even cheaper portable and travel models can be found online for the germaphobe on-the-go or just anyone who wants to take the clean with them.
Bruneau's DIY model, by the way, is still spraying, nine years after installation.
Speaking of clean, let's talk about toilet paper. Of course it has its merits, but if dry paper always worked perfectly well, why would we need the adult wet wipes that are stocked right there in the toilet paper aisle? Because a little extra water can go a long way.
In researching bidets, one thing I found was a Suite 101 article on pruritius ani, a condition characterized by perennial anal itching, for which author Dr. Hanish Babu suggets avoidance of dry toilet paper and washing with a bidet, patting dry with soft TP.
Bruneau cites that for people with hemorrhoids, who are pregnant or have other conditions, bidets can be a great help. The elderly, he says, whot may not have the physical or mental ability to ensure their own cleanliness could be greatly helped by bidets, as could their caregivers. They're also good for rinsing off after sex, an excellent hygienic practice.
So, they're clean. But are they green?
In 2008, Chris Baskind wrote in Eco Tech Daily that the bidet is a greener way to go, but for smaller, more complex reasons than you might guess.
Interestingly, he says it's not about eliminating TP use, but saving water, which you would think a bidet would use more of.
"Yes," Baskind wrote, "a bidet uses treated water, an increasingly precious commodity. But it uses less than that utilized in the production of even recycled toilet paper -- and a fraction of the amount consumed by virgin pulp." (The whole story is worth a read).
"In 2001," Bruneau said, "we were producing 100 million rolls of toilet paper a day -- we spend $4 billion a year on purchasing toilet paper, and to produce that toilet paper we use 473 billion gallons of water, so using a bidet, you waste a little water, but if you didn't purchase this toilet paper," you would end up using less water.
Newsweek said, "Tossing all the TP in America would save 15 million trees, 17.3 terawatts of electricity and more than 473 billion gallons of water annually; the environmental impact of bidets is minimal in comparison."
But can you really eliminate the use of toilet paper, even with a state-of-the-art bidet? I'm about to literally put my ass on the line and find out.
You have to admit it takes stones the size of Granny Smith's to ask a total stranger if you can come wash your butt at their house, no matter how charming that butt may be.
Well, you have to do what you can for a story, and this story was my idea. I live in Florida, where relentless, drenching humidity means "fresh" is not an option, yeast infections are always lurking, and I thought how great a bidet would be for getting clean without having to jump into the shower/bathtub to do it, using a ton of water when a little would help.
But I haven't actually used a bidet since my first trip to Europe in 1992. My friends explained the foreign fixutre to me, and I tried it gingerly, suspecting them of lying just to see if I'd actually rinse my junk off in what might, for all I know, be a dog bowl (I have trust issues).
Lucky for me, an unbelievably good sport named Mark Hill who lives in Orlando, has a bidet, swears by it and was nice enough to allow me to try it. Hill assures me that it's a major attraction among friends and neighbors. "Any time during a party everybody ends up there," he said, meaning the upstairs bathroom where dancing waters await.
Hill hands me a instructional card for the state-of-the-art Nais bidet, which has more buttons than my printer, but every one of them is a joy to consider. In addition to the heated toilet seat and charcoal filter (so the bathroom always smells good), it has temperature and pressure controls for the water, buttons for washing front or back, with or without pulsing action and for a blow dry, which also has an adjustable speed. It does everything except mime "Call me!" when you leave.
"Enjoy!" Mark said, leaving me alone with the bidet. After just a few minutes it was all I could do to avoid getting emotionally attached.
There's a definite "Oooh!" as (in "Surprise!" but in a nice way) when the first gentle jet hits you in that special place, after which you just relax and enjoy the refreshing rinse (I actually lost track of time for a minute, it was so comfy). I had to wiggle around a bit to get the "front" spray to go as far up front as I'd have liked (I was thinking specifically of how clean it could help you get during menstruation), but a little maneuvering helped a lot. The water was totally refreshing and gave me that clean feeling I was (literally) jockeying for.
The blow dryer, on the other hand, was less effective. It compares to those hand dryers in public bathroom where you eventually end up drying your hands on your shirt -- not enough power to do the trick. If it had the same power as a hair blow-dryer (on a cool setting) it would have worked wonderfully, but TP was a must in this case.
If you are determined to go paperless, though, you could keep a supply of hand towels by your bidet.
OK, so that was just one test of one model, but the bottom line (oh, pun so intended) is that while I think it's more effective on the clean side than the green side, the clean side is lovely and fresh-feeling, and the green side could get there easily.
Americans haven't adapted to the bidet yet, something Bruneau equates to our reluctance to use brown, unbleached toilet paper when an attempt to market that was made in the '70s. In some areas we're just slow adpaters.
After my experiment, I know I could adapt to a bidet. Like most of the people surveyed on Apartment Therapy, if money were no object, I'd have one installed.
In fact, I'd probably rename my bathroom "The home office," and my new bidet would be my new BFF.