Today’s article looks at the different disadvantages of using a bidet, and answers questions like, are bidets gross? Can bidets cause health problems? Etc. As with toilet paper, bidets do have their drawbacks. And like any good economist will tell you, there’s no such thing as solutions, only trade-offs.
For those who are new to the subject:
- Electric bidet seats: these replace the seat on your existing toilet, and house a lot of technology like water heaters, a warm air dryer, heated seats, etc.
- Bidet-toilet combos (also electric): A toilet-bidet combo is a high-tech commode that comes with a bidet. With these, you’re getting the toilet and the electric bidet technology, so they cost more.
- Non-electric bidet seats: non-electric seats replace the current toilet seat but don’t bring any fancy technology. Dual-temp models exist that provide warm but the right bathroom setup is required.
- Bidet attachments (non-electric): these attach to an existing toilet underneath the current seat. Hence, they don’t replace anything but the original mounting hardware (the plastic nuts/bolts that hold the existing seat down). Dual-temp models exist for these as well.
- Handheld bidets: these look like the handheld sprayers commonly found in kitchen sinks. They’re the easiest to install but have the fewest features.
- Standalone (European-style) bidets. Though not common in North America, the little washbasins located next to toilets are referred to as bidets. In fact, they’re the original bidets. They’re not electric but work with the home’s plumbing so they provide warm water the same as bathtubs and sinks.
Anyway, on to the disadvantages…
Bidets Can Be Gross
Bidets can be gross, especially if they’re not maintained well. Factors that influence bidet sanitation include how often the bidet is cleaned, whether it has self-sanitizing nozzles, how much the bidet is shared, and whether it’s made of antimicrobial materials.
A bidet can be sanitary for multiple users if it’s cleaned regularly, but they often go uncleaned like any other bathroom fixture. One study in Japan found contaminated spray wands on electric bidets that were used in hospitals (1). Of course, a bidet in a public restroom would see much more traffic compared to one shared by a family.
But the study at least shows that shared bidets can be unsanitary when they’re not maintained properly. For more on this subject, check out, “are bidets sanitary?” (article link).
Bidets, electric and non-electric, have retractable wands these days, so the nozzles are out of the way when you’re using the toilet.
The only kind that lacks retractable nozzles is the really primitive solid chrome bidet attachments. So, I’d stay away from those. The wand is on a swivel so it can be pushed out of the way, but it stays exposed to the contents of the bowl when you’re using the toilet.
Owners’ manuals for modern seats and attachments call for cleaning most components of the bidet once a month.
Specifically, the nozzle should be cleaned every month with a toothbrush and some vinegar water. For non-electric, bidets you’ll pull the wand out manually. Electric units should have a function that extends the wand for cleaning.
Again, most attachments and seats have self-cleaning nozzles. But, for the most protection, it’s best to get a bidet with self-sanitizing nozzles or wands that are made with antimicrobial materials.
Stainless steel is durable, but it’s not inherently antibacterial. Hence, the best nozzles are made of plastic or metal with antimicrobial additives or coatings.
Brands like Brondell and TOTO offer bidet seats that are self-sanitizing by dousing themselves in an antimicrobial solution.
Handheld bidets aren’t self-cleaning. Then again, they’re not stationed in the toilet. Since they will get contaminated with use, you may want to clean your handheld sprayer more often than you would a toilet seat bidet.
Keeping a standalone bidet clean is like cleaning the toilet, but much less often because you’re not pooping in it (at least I hope not!).
To keep a standalone bidet clean, just make sure you wipe between using the toilet and the bidet. That way you don’t transfer poop to the basin.
You Risk Cleaning with Dirty Water
Bidet advocates and “myth” busters like to point out that bidets do not use water from the toilet bowl or tank. And they’re right. They get water from the same source as other bathroom fixtures like the sink and shower. More on this subject can be found in, “is bidet water clean?” (article link).
But that doesn’t mean that the water is always clean. We’ve all seen what happens in cities with poor water treatment, and it’s not pretty. Folks getting sick from lead poison and Legionnaires’ disease (caused by ingestion of legionella bacteria).
It’s unlikely, but theoretically possible, so it’s worth considering.
If you live in a city with good water treatment, then you’re fine. After all, you’re showering in it.
If you live in an area where the tap water is thought to be unfit for bathing or drinking, then you have two options:
- Stick with toilet paper for now. One option would be to wait until you’re in a different location with better water treatment.
- Use an external filter. Another would be to use a water filter. Bidet filters look like regular water filters and attach to the inlet (between the bidet and hose) or upstream closer to the shutoff valve. This will probably mean getting an electric bidet. More on that in a bit.
Potential UTI Risk (in Some Cases)
On that note, some populations are at a higher risk of getting an infection.
Of course, you can find infections in any group, whether they use toilet paper or a bidet. According to Healthline, there’s no major association between bidet use and risk of infection for women (4).
But it makes sense that cleaning with water could cause issues, especially if the bidet is used incorrectly. For example, moisture is needed for microbial growth.
For the most part, bidets spray up, but there is a slight back-to-front spray direction because the wand is positioned out of the way (It’s not usually right under your butt).
I never get water in the frontal area unless I aim it there using the frontal spray mode. Then again, I have a lot of practice at this point.
Anyway, if extra high pressure was used, it’s easy to see how water could migrate from the butt to the frontal region potentially contaminating the urethra and vagina. Again, this hasn’t been confirmed, but it seems plausible.
So, there’s no established link between bidet use and infection, but it’s best to take some precautions if you plan to use one.
- Avoid excess pressure. Excessive pressure can cause water to make its way from the back to the front. There’s at least one study that seems to suggest this (5). If you want to clean the frontal region, use the feminine spray mode.
- Stay away from douche attachments. You can find douche kits online that are meant to be used in place of handheld bidets. Bidet or not, the practice is discouraged by major health organizations (6).
- Limit use of the frontal/feminine spray modes. According to the manual that came with my TOTO bidet, overusing the frontal spray mode seems to dry out the vaginal mucosa which might increase the risk of infection and irritation.
A Bidet Might Increase Your Water Bill
There’s a lot of talk about how bidets save water for the environment (by replacing toilet paper), but little is said about the potential for increased water cost at the consumer level.
Most bidets won’t meaningfully increase your water bill, but some are more or less efficient than others. Non-electric bidets, in general, use more water because they work with the home’s water pressure.
Some handheld bidets have outputs as high as 2.3 gallons per minute! Hence, you’re using over 2 gallons for a minute of cleansing.
Granted that’s at full bore, which I doubt many would do, especially for a minute straight. Still, the point is that some bidets are quite wasteful. Some users prefer a strong pressure or large flow and that’s all well and good. But the stronger the output, the more water that’s used.
Standalone bidets aren’t great either, because the faucet is like that of a sink. Handheld bidets can have a pretty large spray volume in my experience.
Water-efficient bidets do exist.
Seats and attachments have the advantage of aerated nozzles which cut down on water use. Electric bidets are the most efficient because the output pressure is lower. Because they heat the water (and often filter it), electric bidets have to use a motor to propel water through the nozzle.
The pump has to be small enough to fit in the bidet, so it’s not super powerful. The output pressure is plenty strong to provide a good quality clean, but it’s weaker compared to that of non-electric bidets.
My bidet has a spray volume of between 0.08-0.11 gal/min, so it uses about 0.1 gallons of water use per session. I use it about three times a day so it comes to about 1/3 gallon (1.2 L) daily.
I haven’t seen an increase in the water bill yet, probably because I’m flushing the toilet much less often since using the bidet. Which is another thing to consider: a single flush of the toilet uses 1.6 to 3.5+ gallons depending on how current the toilet is.
Also, according to the 2016 Residential End Uses of Water Study, on average, a person will flush the toilet five times a day (7). So, it’s easy to see how the gallons can add up. By flushing less often, you’ll probably break even.
If you use wet wipes, then you’re almost certain to break even because they require extra flushing to prevent clogging the system.
Bidets Don’t Always Replace Toilet Paper
Switching to a bidet doesn’t guarantee you’ll be eliminating toilet paper. This can be a problem for eco-conscious consumers and those who are attracted to bidets for the savings.
Sure, a lot of consumers switch to a bidet for what they feel is a superior clean. That’s why I started using one, so having to dab dry with a bit of TP doesn’t bother me.
Don’t get me wrong, some people do manage to eliminate TP use, but some are not so lucky.
One option is to get a bidet with a dryer, but that means getting an electric bidet and a lot of folks just want a simple attachment or handheld sprayer.
Plus, dryers don’t work for everyone. Either they don’t want to sit there long enough, or they find that the dryer doesn’t aim well or that the draft is too weak. For more on this subject, check out the article, can a bidet completely replace toilet paper?
The best solution is to focus on the benefit: you will be using a lot less toilet paper overall.
If savings are your main concern, using a bidet will cut down on toilet paper costs even when you continue to use a bit of TP for pre-wiping and drying. On average, you can expect to save a couple of rolls of toilet paper/week/person or more (8). That’s a pack of rolls a week for a four-person household.
This would net about $75 in savings a year once you account for electrical costs (if you get an electric bidet). Of course, a four-person household would save four times that much.
If the climate is your main concern, keep in mind that by switching to a bidet, you’ll save hundreds or thousands of rolls of TP over a lifetime. In fact, widespread bidet use would have the potential to save almost 40 billion rolls per year, and that’s just in America (9).
Other options include:
- Limit TP use as much as possible. The most practical option is to use as little toilet paper as you can. You can probably get by with a square or two for drying. Compare that to what you’re using now and you probably won’t be disappointed.
- Use a dedicated bidet towel. Another thing you can do is use a towel. Just keep a small towel handy within arm’s reach of the toilet. Just let people know that it’s not a face towel!
- Get a high-quality warm air dryer. Another option is to get a bidet with good feedback on the dryer. Look for complaints of low output and air that doesn’t blow in the right direction. If you get a bidet with a dryer, it’s up to you to sit long enough for it finish. I know I rarely have the patience to wait on the hand dryers in public restrooms to finish. With my bidet, I use a combination of the dryer and TP. That way it doesn’t take long to dry, and I can get by with a single square which makes a roll of toilet paper last forever.
Some Bidets Aren’t Rental Property-Friendly
One common question I get is whether renters can make modifications to their current bathroom. Putting a bidet on the current toilet is a modification, and some bidets are definitely off-limits for renters unless permission is granted by the property owner.
Bidets that are problematic for apartments and other rental properties include:
- Dual-temp non-electric bidets (sometimes a problem): Some attachments and non-electric seats can provide warm water by way of the hot water line under the bathroom sink. When there’s a cabinet around the sink (a vanity), the furniture has to be drilled into to allow the hot water hose to reach the lavatory warm water shutoff valve.
- Warm water handheld bidets (sometimes a problem): Like dual-temp non-electric bidets, handheld sprayers can be equipped to source warm water from the sink. They do this by using a mixing valve and an extra-long hose. Hence, they run into the same issues with cabinetry around the sink. Other handheld bidets, like the TRUSTMI model, are mounted on the wall to be installed directly into the home’s plumbing. So, the wall and plumbing are permanently altered.
- Standalone bidets (out of the question): Installing a standalone bidet is like putting in a new sink or toilet. In fact, it’s like installing a second sink or toilet because it doesn’t replace any fixtures and thus takes up floor space. These require permanent alterations to the bathroom because they have to be installed directly into the home’s plumbing (a drainpipe in the floor or wall and two extra shutoff valves).
- Bidet-toilet combos (out of the question): These entail installing an entirely new commode in the bathroom, so they’re obviously off-limits.
One option is to use wet wipes. It’s not your property, so if the plumbing gets clogged, you’re not the one who has to deal with it.
I feel so scandalous saying that.
Another option is to get a bidet that’s compatible with rental properties.
The most rental-friendly bidets include:
- Cold water handheld sprayers.
- Cold water bidet attachments and non-electric seats.
- Electric bidets.
For more info, I’ve written an article, can bidets be installed in apartments?
Higher Upfront Costs
The term “bidet” can be used to label products ranging from a$5 squeeze bottle to a $7K high-tech toilet that looks like something out of the NASA R&D department.
As discussed in previous articles, the average bidet price depends on the category.
- Electric bidet seats: $200-$1200. The price depends on the features. A good entry-level seat can be found for $200. A mid-level model with an air dryer can be had for about $350. If you want an instantaneous water heater (for unlimited warm water), you’re looking at paying $600 or more.
- Bidet-toilet combos: $1200 to $5K+. I’ve seen them as high as $7K, but a decent model can be had for $1500. With toilet-bidet combos, you’re getting the toilet and the bidet technology, so it costs more.
- Non-electric bidet seats: $100-$150. These usually cost more than attachments for some reason, but tend not to offer anything extra that you can’t get from an attachment.
- Bidet attachments: $40-$50. Some, like the ones made by Hello Tushy, reach $100-$120, but a quality attachment can be found for much less. The one’s I recommend are about $50.
- Handheld bidet sprayers: $30-$70. A good model can be had for $30, but I tend to err on the expensive side these days because the higher quality models (e.g., those by Brondell) are the most leak-resistant.
- Standalone bidets: $300-$1000. The bidet itself can usually be found for $300-$400 but you have to factor in the cost of installation if you plan to outsource the job. Plus, the faucet, drain pipes, p-trap, and popup assembly often have to be purchased separately.
Here, you have a couple of solutions:
- Avoid super-expensive models. Toilet paper can cost up to $5K over a lifetime (per person). If you want the bidet to pay for itself (even several times over), keeping the upfront cost to a few hundred dollars is probably ideal. If you pay several thousand for a high-tech toilet, you’ll be lucky to break even.
- Get a good warranty. Also, it’s important to ensure you get a good warranty so that you can minimize having to paying for a new one when the bidet finally craps out. If you get a non-electric bidet, maybe it’s not such a big deal because they’re inexpensive, and far fewer things can go wrong with less complicated units.
- Consider a handheld sprayer if you have a limited budget. Again, you can get a decent sprayer for about $30. Even the most primitive sprayer offers a much better clean than toilet paper.
For more, see: do bidets save money overall?
Bidets Can Freeze Your Butt Off
Most who write on this topic will insist that it’s just a myth that bidets spray cold water. I’m here to tell you: they certainly do. Especially for those using a non-electric bidet in a cold climate. Dual-temp non-electric bidets exist but they’re less common and can pose a ton of installation problems with some bathrooms.
So, the so-called “myth” of cold bidet water isn’t much of a myth after all. Just check out user feedback for non-electric bidets, and you’ll encounter some complaints of cold water.
With unheated bidets, the water temp matches that of other cold-water appliances in the house. And the average inlet temperature in the US is 40-70 F ̊(10). The high end isn’t so bad, but 40 F ̊ is pretty cold.
In fact, in the world of plumbing codes, cold water is anything between 40° F and 70° F (4° C to 21° C) (11). So, unheated bidet water is the definition of cold.
Obviously, it’s a matter of opinion. What’s cold or hot to one person can feel just right to another. And you may be just fine depending on where you live because the temperature will vary with location and time of year.
If you live in a warm area like the Southeast or Southwest US, you’ll probably be fine. I live in Atlanta where I use a handheld bidet from time to time and haven’t had any issues with freezing water.
My electric bidet is just right for me. It sprays water at 85-104 °F (about 30-40 °C). However, the warm water only lasts about a minute before it starts to run cool. It’s plenty long enough for me but I don’t share my bidet or use the frontal spray often (cleaning the front and back uses twice the water).
If you live way up north (especially Canada or Alaska), I’d go with an electric bidet. Another option is to use a dual-temp non-electric seat or attachment if your bathroom will allow for it. If you’re looking to try a handheld bidet, consider a mixing valve.
More info can be found in the article, is bidet water cold?
They Can Scorch Your Butt Off
Complaints of cold water are much more common, but once in a while, someone gets their keister scalded using an electric bidet, especially when first learning to use it. It shouldn’t happen at all, because an electric bidet shouldn’t heat water beyond 104 °F (40 °C) max. But, stuff happens.
I’m not aware of any instance that led to an injury, but getting hit with hot water when you’re expecting warm is uncomfortable at best and irritating at worst. The anal region is lined with sensitive tissues, so it doesn’t take much to feel the burn.
It wouldn’t surprise me if using a warm water non-electric bidet could lead to irritation when first learning to get the temperature dialed in. By working with the home’s water heater, the temp could easily reach 140 °F (60 °C) (12).
Complaints of bidet water being too warm do surface from time to time. But getting burned is really rare and I’ve yet to see any reports of injury. But it is a potential issue.
- Start on the lowest setting. If warm water is important, or you want some of the other features offed by electric bidets (warm air dryer, extra spray modes, deodorizer, etc.), just be careful in the beginning. Start with the lowest water temperature setting and go from there.
- Or just stick with unheated water. If you think you can get by without warm water, I’d go with a non-electric bidet. Warm water is one of the main benefits of electric bidets, so if you could take it or leave it, a bidet attachment is probably the way to go, as they are easier to install and way cheaper.
Cons of Bidet Use: Conclusion
Bidet’s aren’t bad overall, but they do have their drawbacks.
You’ll deal with much fewer problems if you make sure to get one that’s right for you and your situation. I tried to offer a solution for each problem, but it’s up to you to determine if the pros outweigh the cons. Toilet paper has its limitations. If not, there would be no such thing as a bidet in the first place.
Whichever you choose, you can make it work. When there is a problem, it’s often because someone is wiping incorrectly or using the bidet incorrectly.
For instance, wiping back-to-front is bad technique and not really the fault of the toilet paper. Likewise, never cleaning the bidet and complaining that it looks unsanitary doesn’t make too much sense either.
That’s it for now. Thanks for reading.