A bidet is a standard bathroom fixture across Italy with the intended purpose of cleaning your intimate areas after using the bathroom. Since there are many subtle differences between American and Italian bathrooms, a lot of tourists have no idea what a bidet is when they get to Italy. Let alone how to use a bidet. So what is a bidet and how do you use one?
So why write an article about how to use a bidet? A while back I wrote an article about Italian bathrooms for Americans visiting Italy. In it, I included a link to an article about how to use a one because bidets are ubiquitous in Italy, but almost nonexistent in America. Not a day went by without that little text link being clicked!
All those clicks made me think. Now that I live in Italy if my friends visit, will they know how to use a bidet? The first time I came to Italy I didn’t know how to use a one and resisted using one for a while out of habit and embarrassment. Which way do you face, the wall or the room? I’m way too shy to ask those questions in person.
How to Use a Bidet
Let’s be honest questions are natural when we encounter something new like using a bidet. As is the embarrassment of not knowing. This article is for people who have never used a bidet so they can skip the embarrassment of asking how to use it while traveling. That and to say we all use bidets a little differently and that’s okay!
When it comes to using a bidet in Italy, the steps are thankfully simple and for the most part intuitive.
What is a Bidet Used For?
In short, a bidet is a piece of bathroom furniture common across Italy used to clean your backside after using the toilet. While historically the intended use of a bidet is personal hygiene for intimate parts, many Italians and tourists have come up with creative uses for bidets.
How to Use a Bidet Properly Step-by-Step Instructions
That said, the purpose of this article is to help tourists in Italy understand how to use a bidet properly. So let’s get into it, shall we? Quick note, the common questions that come up about using a bidet are listed below.
Step 1: Locate the Bidet
While there are many different kinds of bidets, in Italy the most common is a standalone bidet. In this case, the toilet is a separate bathroom fixture as seen below. The bidet is the fixture with a water tap located at the back of the bowl at the front of the photo. Jump to Top
Step 2: Use the Toilet First
Use the toilet as you would in the United States. Do your business, wipe with toilet paper, then flush the toilet. A toilet is for leaving things behind, and a bidet is for cleaning your behind.
Step 3: Disrobe To Your Level of Comfort
If you are in a hurry or steady on your feet, you might prefer pulling up or down clothing. However, if you’re not, I recommend disrobing from the waist down. Why?
While it’s not that common in the United States to disrobe from the waist down to go to the bathroom, it’s more common when using a bidet for one reason.
Bunny hopping from the toilet with your pants halfway down is awkward and unsafe. Disrobing from the waist down first ensures being steady on your feet.
Step 4: Test the Water
After flushing the toilet, move to the bidet and check the water temperature. You do not want surprises from extra hot or cold water down under.
Italians sometimes skip this step at home because they know what to expect. However, if you’re in a new bathroom, it’s highly advisable to figure out how to shift from hot to cold water before taking a seat.
It’s advisable also at this point to make sure the soap and towel are within reach.
Step 5: Sit On the Bidet
The most common question about using a bidet is which way to sit down. The middle of the room or the wall. The truth is, it’s a personal preference.
Here are a few things to consider when trying a bidet for the first time.
The quick answer.
If you sit on a bidet facing the wall, the faucet, soap, and towels are easy to reach. However, it necessitates disrobing from the waist down to do it.
Facing the center of the room is quicker. Unfortunately, that requires working the faucet behind your back.
Step 6: Clean Yourself
With a standalone bidet, cleaning yourself is a manual process. Turn the water on, use soap and lather, rinse, and repeat until you feel clean.
Step 7: Dry Off With the Bidet Towel
At this point, you’ll be glad the bidet towel is within reach. While some resources suggest using toilet paper to dry yourself, here’s why it’s not a great idea. Toilet paper in Italy is often thin and breaks down too quickly when it comes in contact with water. It gets messy.
This is why Italians have those cute little towels! Use them to thoroughly dry everything you just washed, stand up, and get dressed. Jump to Top
Step 8: Wash & Dry Your Hands
The last step is to wash your hands at the sink with soap and water just like you would after using the bathroom anywhere else in the world. Speaking of anywhere else in the world, if you’re facing a different type of bidet, here’s a little more help!
Common Questions About How to Use a Bidet in Italy
After reading the step-by-step instructions for how to use a bidet, you might need to clarify a few things like, do you need to use soap? Can you wash your hands in the bidet? We’ve got you covered with a list of the most common questions about how to use a bidet, specifically in Italy.
What Does Using a Bidet Feel Like?
Before you use the bidet for the first time, you might wonder what it feels like. You’re in control, so there is nothing to fear.
Different types of bidets naturally feel different.
Since we’re talking about using them in Italy, let’s discuss the most popular type here. The standalone.
Most have adjustable water nozzles, just like sink faucets. That means water pressure and stream direction are up to you.
Older models without adjustable stream direction have an even older trick, you.
By sitting further back or forward, you can determine where and how firmly the water hits.
While using one for the first time might feel strange, remember. You’re alone in the bathroom. There is nothing to be embarrassed about!
In the end, using a bidet feels much fresher and far cleaner than using toilet paper alone.
Plus, an added perk. If you go to the bathroom frequently, it’s a lot less irritating than using toilet paper.
Do You Wipe Before or After Using a Bidet?
One thing that is not flexible with toilet paper and bidets is that you never put toilet paper in a standalone bidet. Also never, ever (I swear this is as gross as it gets) poo or pee in a standalone bidet.
Standalone bidets do not flush like toilets. Think of them as short sinks used exclusively for cleaning your nether regions. Using toilet paper after going, especially number two, is perfectly normal.
There really is no downside to using a bidet. The advantages outweigh the weirdness of using a bidet for the first time. Plus, you don’t need to use as much toilet paper because what comes next is washing your derriere.
Do Bidets Waste Water?
Thankfully no, bidets do not waste water or use more than just using a toilet. Here’s why. Because a standard roll of toilet paper takes approximately six gallons of water to make! On the other hand, Bidets use about a sixth of a gallon of water.
So which is better environmentally?
The Possibly podcast did the legwork to break it down, and here’s what they had to say.
If you break water use down by each trip to the bathroom, bidets use about the same amount of water or less and they don’t waste trees. So, from an environmental and hygiene perspective, a bidet is the better choice. And if you’re low on toilet paper anyway, it might be worth it!The Publics Radio, Possibly Podcast
How Do You Sit on the Bidet?
The full answer!
Here are a few more things to keep in mind when using a bidet for the first time. The standard Italian bathroom fixture height is 14″ to 15″. Whereas in America it’s 17″ – 19″ high. Fixture height matters when it comes to deciding how you want to sit.
Sitting on the bidet facing the room is the easiest for anyone who has mobility or flexibility issues for a few reasons.
First with a freestanding or standalone unit, the faucet is close to the wall just like the toilet flusher is. This means, if you choose to sit facing the room instead of the wall, the controls are behind low your back.
While you can adjust the water temperature before sitting down, water temperatures can change rapidly in older Italian homes. No one wants that surprise in the end. So make sure you can reach the faucet behind you easily enough before turning the water on.
Plus, facing the room is easier when it comes to disrobing as well.
If you sit on the bidet facing the wall you’ll have easier access to the faucet, soap, and towels. The disadvantage is you have to disrobe from the waist down in order to straddle it. If you’re not in the mood to disrobe, or in a hurry it’s advisable to set the water temperature and move the soap and towels so they are within reach before you sit down. Jump to Top
Do You Use Soap With a Bidet?
Wondering if you should use soap with a bidet? Don’t feel bad wondering. It’s actually something a lot of first-time users question because it’s another personal choice. In our house, the answer is yes because you’d never skip using soap when washing your hands.
Let’s just put it this way. In Italy, you can find PH-balanced liquid soap specifically formulated for hindquarters. One brand of soap called Chilly (seen in the photo below) is famous for that fresh, cool feeling. If there is a specialty soap, there is a market. So I believe it’s safe to say plenty of Italians use soap. Jump to Top
What Bidet Towels Are For?
Are bidet towels for your hands or your butt? So here is the part of the video below that had me rolling in laughter. I assumed the tiny towels were for my bum.
After watching the video below, I panicked! If I use it for my tush and hang it back to dry. Then my husband not knowing dries his hands. Let’s just say, the whole reason for having a one goes right out the window!
Don’t make assumptions like I did. You know what they say about assumptions. Aren’t I the butt of the joke now!
Much to my relief my husband and I have always used our towels the same way. This does bring up a good point though with the video above.
Not everyone uses the bidet the same. So if you’re a house guest in Italy, do ask about towels. Jump to Top
Do You Wash Your Hands After Using a Bidet?
Every trip to the bathroom should end with a proper hand washing. The point in question is where? I would recommend washing your hands in the sink with soap and water. Then dry your hands with a hand towel. Wondering why?
The smell of bidet soap is not what you want on your hands when you meet someone for the first time. Plus even though a bidet is technically a short sink, it is for caboose use. Jump to Top
Video on How to Use Different Types of Bidets
The following video gives a quick tutorial about the right way to use a bidet including toilet seat bidets and standalone bidets.
The above video suggested turning the water on “once you’re positioned over the jet.” Honestly, I would suggest setting the water temperature before you’re sitting down. Jump to Top
Americans on Bidets in Italy
After asking a group of American expats in Italy I got some pretty hilarious answers and alternative uses for bidets. I’m a little too shy to invite you into my bathroom with a camera to explain how to use an Italian bidet.
Thankfully there are plenty of YouTubers with no such inhibitions. One caveat. The video below is from a young woman named Katie who uses hers differently than we do in our house. I’ll wait until after the video to explain the three differences, why they are so funny, and how they inspired me to write my own tips article.
Let me just say, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the way Katie uses hers. It’s just not the way Italians typically do.
How to Use a Bidet Video
What Are the Pros & Cons of a Bidet?
So are there any disadvantages to having a bidet at home? There are. Standalone bidets take up a lot of space. When we explored the bidet toilet combo to save space in our own Italian home renovation our architect pointed out that culturally Italians are rarely comfortable having combined units in their home. Not having one in our home could impact resale value in the long run. I still find this surprising given the plethora of new bidet options available and how small Italian homes are compared to American bathrooms.
Homes With Bidets Use Less Toilet Paper
After the COVID-inspired toilet paper hoarding and subsequent shortages of 2019, bidets started looking pretty good in America. However, they do not replace the use of toilet paper for many of us.
It’s true using toilet paper is optional, but that’s a personal choice. Plus, with a standalone unit imagine what could happen if you stand up from the toilet without using toilet paper. Not a great idea if you ask an Italian. Jump to Top
Why So Many Countries Use Bidets But the US Does Not
There is an opinion, and then there are facts.
Opinion. Bidets are weird! Bidets take up too much space. We don’t need bidets because we have showers. Fact. If the US switched to bidets, it could save 15 million trees annually.
So why don’t Americans use bidets when their European counterparts do? Could it boil down to Americans being shy about personal hygiene? We turned to the Weird History channel for the answer in the following video.
Final Thoughts on How to Use a Bidet
At the end of the day, even in Italy using a bidet is not mandatory. It’s cultural. Changing cultural habits is hard. Which is a big part of the reason bidets are not as common in America. American homes are not built with plumbing to support standalone bidets by default. Plus, there is little evidence that bidets are better for you than toilet paper. So I don’t anticipate bidets showing up in American homes anytime soon.
That said after moving to Italy, I get it. I’m a convert. Bidets leave you feeling cleaner and fresher than toilet paper does. If you are interested in putting one in your home in America there are bidets that don’t require major renovation for plumbing. There are fancy electric bidets, toilet seat bidets, and toilets with built-in bidets. The rules above about toilet paper and soap change in these instances. Plus all combination units take up less space than standalone bidets.
Here’s the truth when it comes to bidets no matter what kind you’re using. Everyone uses bidets a little bit differently depending on how they were taught, what kind they grew up using, who they live with, and what needs cleaning.
This is the last reason for this article. I was frustrated that most of the articles out there don’t address this simple fact.
Yes, everyone poops but not everyone uses bidets the same and there is no shame in asking. It’s just easier to google it.
Subscribe to ALOR Italy
For more information about living in Italy as an American subscribe to ALOR Italy. I promise the keep the next post clean ;).
How to Use a Bidet References
Here are a few other links you can check out to see tips on how to use a bidet.
- I was shocked to find out there is actually a Bidet organization that takes a portion of every sale and donates it to the International Rhino Foundation and WaterAid America. For that reason alone I’m including their How to Use a Bidet article.
- Curious if Using a Bidet is Healthy? For health information resources for this article, I turned to the Cleveland Clinic for answers.
- If you want illustrated step-by-step instructions, this wikiHow article on how to use a bidet with illustrated pictures is hard to beat online.
- Wondering if bidets are a good choice for the environment. This article from Scientific America provides some insight into whether wiping or washing is better for the environment.