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The History of Bidets: Washing Bums for 400 Years

12 March 2024 · JOHN PHUNG · 7 min read
    Bidet Guide
early french 1800 bathroom

Table of Contents

    The Bidet's Birth and Evolution

    Our ancestors got by just fine using nature's bidet, yet here we are, relying on rolls of toilet paper. The very idea of wiping with toilet paper is a relatively new blip in human history, a 'modern' convenience that our ancestors would likely find amusing, if not downright wasteful.

    When Was the Bidet Invented?

    France Bidet Beginnings

    Despite the recent high-tech bidet seats, the traditional bidet has been around for quite a while. Let's rewind to 1710, where the bidet makes its first-ever written appearance. Born in France, this clever contraption emerged when people opted for a full-body bath just once a week. Its mission? To keep those 'private' areas squeaky clean between the weekly soaks. The first bidets were small, almost like mini bathtubs, filled with water, marking the beginning of a hygienic revolution.

    Italy’s Royal Bidet

    Fast-forward to 1750, this one went vintage high-tech with an upward bidet spray, thanks to a hand pump and a reservoir. Maria Carolina of Austria, Queen of Naples and Sicily, was also ahead of her time, requesting a bidet for her personal bathroom in the Royal Palace of Caserta in the latter half of the 18th century. However, the bidet didn't really catch on in Italy until after the Second World War.

    Italian regal toilet bidet

    Until the 1900s, the bidet was more of a bedroom buddy, hanging out with the chamber pot—that bucket doubling as a toilet. It was a cosy setup. Then, modern plumbing stepped in and brought the bidet into the bathroom, where it's now best buds with the toilet.

    Bidets in South America, Asia, and Beyond

    Bidets made their way to European colonies in South America in the 1700s, then to Japan and various parts of Asia throughout the 18th century. Like a friendly neighbour, bidet users transcended social classes, becoming a familiar presence in bathrooms, no matter where you fell on the economic spectrum. It's like bidets were on a mission to keep bottoms happy worldwide! 

    bidet collage in asia

    The History of the Bidet in the US: A Shaky Start

    Bidet toilets had a tough time finding a home in North America. The US and Canada weren't exactly rolling out the welcome mat for bidets, and this resistance lasted well into the 20th century. Americans got mixed up about bidets thanks to a false impression. American soldiers stationed in France during World War II stumbled upon bidets in brothels and linked them to, well, you know, intimate activities. If only they had explored a bit more, they'd have spotted bidets in regular French bathrooms, too.

    Bidet Toilet Seat History: Indoor Plumbing Changes Everything

    Once indoor plumbing stepped into the scene, bidet life was seriously upgraded. The ease of getting clean water and the bonus of extra water pressure turned bidet sessions into a hands-free delight. Thanks to indoor plumbing, having a separate basin for a bidet and the extra bathroom space it hogged started to seem unnecessary. 

    Fast forward to the 1980s, and the Japanese took bidets to a new level. Bidet toilets transformed into lavatory rocket ships. They came equipped with fancy features like toilet seat heaters, automatic open and close magic, and all the comfy extras we enjoy today.

    The Evolution of Toilet Seat Bidets

    About 80% of toilets in Japan have a bidet function. Now, here's the nifty part—loads of bidet lovers opt for toilet seat bidets or attachments. These little wonders let folks upgrade their regular toilets in a snap. How? They're like magic nozzles that shoot out a refreshing water spray, making toilet paper practically obsolete.

    Popularity of the Bidet: A Cultural Divide

    In continental Europe, bidets are highly valued and seen as an essential fixture in bathrooms, alongside toilets and tubs. They're a standard inclusion in a well-equipped home. However, the scenario shifts when you cross the Atlantic to the US—many Americans haven't encountered a bidet unless during a stay at an upscale hotel, domestically or abroad. Finding a bidet in an American household? That's a rarity.

    The contrast might seem intriguing, especially considering Americans' emphasis on cleanliness. Yet, most here start their day with a shower, preferring it over the traditional weekly bath. Consequently, bidets haven't quite secured a significant role in personal hygiene routines in the US.

    Interestingly, American plumbing manufacturers excel in bidet production, with a substantial portion exported to other countries. Despite its modest visibility on home turf, the bidet's global presence owes a nod to American craftsmanship.

    Innovations in Bidet Technology

    Around 1900, plumbing improvements brought the bidet (and its trusty companion, the chamber pot) out of the bedroom shadows and into the bathroom limelight. Suddenly, filling and draining became a breeze.

    In 1928 in the United States, where John Harvey Kellogg took bathroom innovations to a whole new level by patenting what we now call a bidet spray – a handy attachment for a toilet that cleans with a splash of water.

    By 1965, the American Bidet Company was trying to make bidets a mainstream fixture, featuring an adjustable spray nozzle and warm water option. However, this fancy fixture came at a cost, both in terms of money and floor space. Unfortunately, it was eventually discontinued without a replacement model.

    Cue the early 1980s, and the bidet toilet game got a serious upgrade from Japan. These nifty devices connect to existing toilet water supplies, making them a game-changer for bathrooms tight on space. Plus, they come with cool bidet attachments like instant-heating warm water, night lights, an auto-bidet sprayer, and even a toasty seat. 

    The Bidet's Resilience

    a bidet history over time

    The bidet has come a long way since its humble beginnings as a French invention in the 17th century. The bidet's history is a fascinating journey through time and cultural differences, from its association with chamber pots to the bidet tech advances of 80s Japan. While its popularity varies across the globe, the bidet's resilience in adapting to technological advancements showcases its enduring legacy in the world of hygiene. 

    So, the next time you sit down on a toilet equipped with a bidet, remember that you're not just experiencing a modern convenience – you're part of a 400-year-old tradition of washing bums in style.

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    Products mentioned in Blog

    Bumwash Lite Bidet Spray Set

    Bumwash Pro Bidet Spray Set - Black

    Bumwash Pro Bidet Spray Set - Chrome

    Bumwash Pro Bidet Spray Set - Gold

    Bumwash Pro Dual Mode Bidet Spray Set

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