A bidet is a ubiquitous piece of bathroom furniture in Italy, but almost nonexistent in America.
So why write an article about how to use a bidet with a video of a woman using 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 bidet. Not a day went by without that little text link being clicked! All those clicks made me think. Now that I live in Italy and have a home (with a bidet) 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 bidet 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.
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 a bidet while traveling. That and to say we all use bidets a little differently and that’s okay!
How to Use a Bidet
There are many subtle differences between American and Italian homes. Italian bathrooms are in general smaller, lack bathtubs, have floor to ceiling tile, and case in point, have a bidet. So what is a bidet and how do you use one? In short, a bidet is a piece of bathroom furniture used to clean your backside after using the toilet. 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 on the bidet. Which made me wonder, does everyone use a bidet differently?
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 the bidet 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 how to use a bidet tips.
Let me just say, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the way Katie uses a bidet. Still, immediately after watching this video I panicked wondering if I have been using a bidet wrong! Here are the three questions I immediately asked my Italian husband after watching this how to use bidet video.
Do You Wipe Before or After?
After the COVID-inspired toilet paper hoarding and subsequent shortages of 2019, the bidet started looking pretty good in America. Bidets however do not completely replace the use of toilet paper for many of us. It’s true using toilet paper after going to the bathroom with a bidet is optional, but that’s a personal choice. Since most bidets in Italy are standalone bidets that’s what this article focuses on.
One thing that is not flexible when it comes to toilet paper and bidets is that you never put toilet paper in a standalone bidet. You also never, ever (I swear this is as gross as it gets) poo or pee in a standalone bidet in Europe. Standalone bidets do not flush like toilets. Think of them as really short sinks used exclusively for cleaning your nether regions. The use of toilet paper after going to the bathroom, especially number two is perfectly acceptable. The advantage of a bidet is you don’t need to use as much toilet paper because what comes next is washing your derriere.
Wondering if you should stick to water or use soap with a bidet? This is another personal choice when it comes to using a bidet. In our house, the answer is yes because using a bidet without soap is as effective as washing your hands without soap. Let’s just put it this way. In Italy, you can find PH balanced liquid soap specifically formulated for hindquarters. The bidet soap 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 with the bidet.
Are bidet towels for your hands or your butt? So here is the part of the video above that had me rolling in laughter. When I finally started using a bidet in Italy, I assumed the towel by the bidet was for my bum. In a flash, I panicked! If I use the bidet towel for my tush and hang it back to dry, but it’s supposed to be used to dry your hands like Katie says in the video above… the whole reason for having a bidet 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 bidet 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 if there is a towel you should use for the bidet. Too shy to ask? Opt for toilet paper to be safe just make sure not to leave it in the bidet.
Wash Your Hands in the Sink!
Washing your hands is a must after using the bidet. The point in question is where? Again not everyone uses a bidet the same. I would recommend washing your hands in the sink with soap and water. Then dry your hands with a hand towel. 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.
So are there any disadvantages of 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.
That’s not the only disadvantage of a stand-alone bidet. There is that bunny hop between fixtures that’s a bit awkward. Still for me, the worst part is bidets are yet another thing to clean in the bathroom. Thankfully new modern wall-mounted bidets like ours make it much easier to clean around.
Tips for Using a Bidet
Here are a few things to keep in mind when using a bidet for the first time. The standard toilet and bidet height in Europe 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 on the bidet. Sitting on the bidet facing the room is the easiest for anyone who has mobility or flexibility issues for a few reasons.
With a freestanding bidet, the faucet is close to the wall just like the toilet flusher is. This means, if you choose to sit on the bidet facing the room instead of the wall, the controls are behind your back at seat level. 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.
Sitting on the bidet facing the room is easier also 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 the bidet. 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.
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 a bidet 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 bidet toilet combinations 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 of bidet they have, 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.
For more information about living in Italy as an American subscribe to ALOR Italy. I promise the keep the next post clean ;).
How to Properly Use a Bidet Resources
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 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 resource for this article, I turned to the Cleveland Clinic for answers.
- If you want an illustrated step by step instructions, this wikihow article on how to use a bidet with illlustrated pictures is hard to beat online.
- Wondering if bidets are a good choice for the environment. This article from Scientic America provides some insight into wether wiping or washing is better for the environment.