NEW YORK—Technophiles rejoice: High-tech gadgetry is aiming for your backside.
Several companies, including American Bidet, BioBidet, Brondell, Coco, Koehler and Toto, recently have begun aggressive marketing campaigns to promote a slew of toilet seats that double as bidets.
They range from $500 to $1,300 and bear futuristic names like BB-1000, C3-200 and Coco 600035. These remote-controlled wonders attach easily to most toilet bowls and feature self-cleaning and adjustable water spritzers that spray, oscillate or pulsate heated water. Many come with built-in heated fans and heated toilet seats. One includes a deodorizer for a whiff of freshness and a neon-blue light to illuminate the inside of the bowl for better nighttime aim.
It's all at the push of a button. Of course, a nearby electrical outlet is essential.
"They thought I was crazy when I told them to install an electrical outlet near my toilet," said Mariana Aebly, a 28-year-old account executive who recently installed a bidet from Coco in the master bathroom of the home she built with her husband in Green Bay, Wis.
She first discovered them in the bathroom of a Japanese restaurant near her home, and knew she had to try one.
"Bidets are not that wacky," she said. "It makes sense, it's hygienic and a big portion of the world uses them, so why not?"
For the uninitiated, traditional bidets resemble toilet bowls with a spigot that squirts fresh water. Down there. Popular in some parts of Europe and South America, the porcelain fixtures were introduced to America by World War II veterans who spotted them in French brothels. Because of their unfortunate association, the fixtures were misunderstood, and skittish Americans never really caught on.
Besides, a bidet eats up bathroom space and requires separate incoming and outgoing plumbing fixtures. And then there's that awkward business of shimmying naked from a toilet to a bidet. Unsurprisingly, traditional bidets only found their way into the homes of the rich and famous, anxious to showcase their worldliness and ability to potty like rock stars.
Then came Mr. Bidet, better known as Arnold Cohen. In 1964, from his Brooklyn apartment, Cohen came up with the first patented toilet seat that squirts water at your private bits. He called it "The American Bidet."
"Ninety-nine percent of Americans did not know what a bidet was, and I had a hard time marketing my product back then, because toilets and anything to do with anything 'down there' was considered taboo." Newspapers initially refused to run his ads, but eventually caved.
Cohen teamed up with a Japanese company, Toto, in the '70s and watched as their "washlets" crowned the thrones of "tens of thousands" of Japanese toilets over the next few decades. (Evidence of their popularity there: Nippon Airways announced last year that its new fleet of planes would be equipped with bidet-like toilet seats.)
"People who used to be scared of the bidet have opened their eyes and let down their guard," said Angela Zahn, a showroom manager for Kohler, adding that two out of every 10 questions her team fields are about traditional bidets and the company's C3-200 toilet seat.
And while company officials declined to discuss specific numbers, all agreed that business is brisk.
Die-hard fans say the new toilet seats clean better and cut down on toilet paper consumption. They also say a bidet kills more germs than traditional wiping alone.
But Dr. Jim Applegate, a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based physician and member of the American Academy of Family Physicians, pooh-poohed claims that bidets are more sanitary than toilet paper.
"Bidets are not medically necessary, but they're certainly helpful in a lot of conditions," including hemorrhoids or post-birth trauma, Applegate said. "Mostly, it's just about comfort."
Clueless in America
Because bidets are relatively foreign to Americans, many are clueless as to how it all works. Some said they wipe, rinse and wipe again after going to the bathroom. Others said they just rinse and run. A good rule of thumb: do what makes you comfortable.
John Kang discovered the high-tech seats while in Korea a few years ago, and soon left his job as a broker to become vice president at Coco, which offers the Coco 600035R.
"We as Americans are supposed to have the best technology and the best hygiene in the world," he said. "But the dirtiest part of our body is not getting cleaned properly."
He continued: "Think of this way: If you got mud on your arm, you're not going to clean it with just a paper towel. You're going to use water."