North

No toilet paper, no problem: Maybe it's time to try the bidet

While some people are mass-buying toilet paper amid COVID-19 panic, those who use bidets can save their fretting.

'Why have we been indoctrinated to believe that ... dry paper properly cleans the dirtiest part of our body?'

Toilet paper is often made from virgin pulp from Canada's boreal forest. Bidets are one way to cut back on toilet paper. (Ollyy / Shutterstock)

Bidet users can feel pretty smug these days.

While some shoppers are stockpiling toilet paper to prepare for COVID-19, those who prefer the post-toilet methodology of the French can breeze blissfully past the toilet paper aisle, unconcerned about the potentially bare shelves. 

Although a leading Canadian toilet paper manufacturer says any shortages of its products will be short-lived, some people say that wiping our nether-regions with paper is a bit passé anyway, for reasons related to hygiene and the environment. 

'Yuck' factor

Bidets and other bathroom fixtures for cleaning with water are common in Europe and Asia, but haven't cracked the mainstream market in Canada.

Despite the apparent practicality of bidets, many Canadians wrinkle their nose at the idea of giving up toilet paper in favour of a jet stream of water.

David Hardisty says bidets haven't caught on, in part, because people don't like to talk about their bathroom habits. (University of British Columbia)

"I think it is just that 'yuck' factor," said David Hardisty, assistant professor of marketing and behavioural science at UBC Sauder School of Business, about why Canadians haven't converted to the bidet. 

"People are generally grossed out about ... anything related to going to the bathroom."

Perhaps not surprisingly, people elsewhere in the world think trying to remove feces from one's body without water is equally disgusting.

"My Italian friend is grossed out that North Americans use paper," said Hardisty: "'Really?! You just smear paper around on your butt and then and then you just go walking around like that?'"

Hardisty said it's hard something like a bidet to catch on, because private bathrooms are not visible to many people. Nor are bidets appropriate conversation topics for cocktail parties. 

"With any kind of new innovation or change, one of the big factors is how observable it is," he said. 

Hardisty hopes Canadians do warm to the bidet, at least for the sake of the environment. 

Americans average 141 rolls per year

While single-use plastics have been more-or-less socially blacklisted, there's been comparatively little discussion about the impacts of toilet paper, which can contain up to 40 per cent virgin fiber pulp from Canada's boreal forest. 

"The production of pulp, the foundational ingredient of tissue products, is a substantial driver of logging in the Canadian boreal forest," said a 2019 report by the environmental non-profit Natural Resources Defence Council. "Virgin pulp accounts for 23 per cent of Canada's forest product exports."

According to the report, the average American uses 141 rolls of toilet paper annually. In France, believed to the the birthplace of the bidet, people use half as much. The report didn't have statistics for Canada. 

Bidet users generally use less or no toilet paper, depending on personal preference. 

European-style bidet.

$60 to $600

Bidet devices come in many forms. In Europe, the bidet might be a porcelain bowl installed next to a toilet. In Japan, the bidet-toilet combination might have multiple washing and drying settings and even the choice of music for added privacy.

Megan Manion says sometimes people ask about bidet products, but rarely purchase them. (2019 GBP Creative Media)

On the other end of the spectrum is the simple hand-held hose or the systems that attach to a toilet seat. All draw clean water from the same pipe as the faucet. 

Home Hardware sells three bidet products, ranging from $63 for a hose attachment, to more than $600 for a seat with various nozzle positions and other bells and whistles.

Megan Manion, who manages plumbing at the store's Whitehorse location, said there's so little interest in these products — they don't even stock them.

"We have ordered bidets in the past but it's nowhere near popular," she said, noting that Whitehorse is usually about five years behind the rest of the country in buying trends. 

While bidets may be slow to come to the North and the rest of Canada, they appear to be gaining traction in the United States, according to one company.

Miki Agrawal of Tushy, which makes toilet seat attachments, said her company has seen exponential growth year-over-year since she founded the company in 2015. Agrawal said less than 10 per cent of Tushy's sales come from Canada, but she is working to secure a warehouse on this side of the border and expand into the market. 

Agrawal's main argument for using the bidet is simple: "Why have we been indoctrinated to believe that ... dry paper properly cleans the dirtiest part of our body? The bidet is just an obvious 'duh' choice." 

Bidet attachments are connected under the toilet seat, and have a spray nozzle that shoots a vertical stream of water toward your privates. This model ranges from USD $99 to 120. (HelloTushy.com)

Those who use bidets tend to agree. 

"I couldn't live without it," said Josie St. Amour, who lives in Montreal. She bought a Tushy product two years ago, after being introduced to bidets on a trip to Europe.

"I'm surprised that nobody uses them on our side of the world."

Her advice for first time users? Go easy on the water pressure.

"Don't put it in full force otherwise you'd be surprised, just like my son did the first time," she laughed. 

Although St. Amour said she doesn't think she uses much less toilet paper before, Omar Zitoun said he uses none. He lives in London, Ont., but grew up in Egypt and the Middle East, and has always had a bidet in his home. 

He said people who use toilet paper are flushing money down the drain.

"People spend crazy amounts of money on toilet paper." 

That's a hard point to argue. 

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