Bathroom conversions not a total wash in the Corridor
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The first time I saw a bidet, it was filled with tub toys.
That was the deemed the facility’s best use for an American family living in Frankfurt in 1979.
The porcelain unit that looks like a mini-toilet has remained a mystery in the seven times I’ve traveled in Europe since then. I realize it’s an important agent of hygiene in many parts of the world, but I’ve never been able to figure out exactly how to use it. On a choir tour this summer, my roommate and I decided our hotel bathroom in Rome was so tiny that we could simultaneously sit on the toilet, brush our teeth over the sink and cool our weary feet in the bidet.
Turns out the latter idea wasn’t so far-fetched. Foot-soaking is one of the uses noted in an internet search on how to use these low-to-the-floor units, commonly found in parts of Europe, the Middle East, India, Asia and South America.
Then, two days in a row last week, my Groupon “deals” email was touting discounts on bidets. Which begged the question, are they catching on in Eastern Iowa?
Not really. That’s the answer from specialty bathroom supply stores and home project stores alike. But, some do carry units that attach to toilets, or bidet-style toilet seats, either of which will convert your standard toilet into a cushy tushy spa.
Type “bidet” into a web browser, and all manner of units will pop up, including those that look like hand-held shower attachments.
The Sept. 12 Groupon blast offered “easy-to-install attachments (that would) convert standard toilets into bidets to efficiently cleanse posteriors with a hygienic jet of water,” marked down from $73.99 to $35.99. The ad suggested you could call your new hybrid unit “a ‘toidet,’ if you wanted to confuse people.” If featured a retractable nozzle with three positions, allowing for a “cleaner experience” with “less irritation and toilet-paper waste.”
A pricier unit at $259.99, down from $899.99, featured a “heated bidet seat with dual nozzles (providing) posterior and feminine warm-water cleansing followed by a warm-air dry.” Among its attributes, this “luxury” seat provides front and rear warm-water cleansing, side panel buttons, adjustable water temperature, aerated bubble infusion water stream, adjustable water temperature, massage feature and a warm air dry. And it’s touted as being easy enough for DIY installation.
IN THE CORRIDOR
“We don’t see a lot of demand — it’s very, very rare,” said Michelle Ellerhoff, showroom manager at Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Galleries in Cedar Rapids (formerly the Ar-Jay Center).
She has seen various models at the Kohler Headquarters in Kohler, Wis. Prices ranged from $150 for toilet seat attachments to $7,000 for “one with all the bells and whistles — it reads your mind,” she said. “It knows you’re in the room, so it starts warming the seat and water.”
However, in the Iowa City market, Jodi Daywitt, showroom consultant for Water Concepts, is seeing “a little bit of a push” for retrofit models for toilets, rather than stand-alone units. She attributes this to the University of Iowa’s pull from the international community.
“As technology moves and grows, it’s slowly but surely coming this direction,” Daywitt said. “We have a lot of people moving to Iowa City from different countries where (bidets) are very, very popular, and almost a necessity in some of those countries. With more people coming into the United States and wanting those, or requiring those, that’s where the little push is coming from. It’s not a high demand, but it definitely seems to be more of a conversation now than it used to be in the past 10 years.”
Best Plumbing/Best Bath in Marion has a bidet on-site, but customer inquiries lean toward seat conversion models.
That’s what Jason Alberty of Cedar Rapids received for his 47th birthday in February. Well known in Corridor performing arts circles as an actor, director and teacher, he shared his glee on Valentine’s Day via Facebook: “My wife gave me and installed a bidet for my birthday! I didn’t think I could love her with more gusto and verve until tonight. Seriously: potty humor AND utility all in the same gift! Best birthday present ever! And I am not joking.”
He isn’t joking. The attachment has a practical use for his household.
The couple’s eldest son, now 7, had struggled with encopresis. “Which means that during his potty training, he held everything in and it ended up deadening the nerves in the colon, so he couldn’t hold anything in,” Alberty said. “Part of the problem that he was having was cleaning himself, which meant he didn’t want to go at all.”
Through research, the couple discovered that using a bidet could help with that. It was an easy sell for Alberty.
“I’ve always liked bidets,” he said, “which is a phrase I never thought I would ever say. ... A clean booty cannot be overrated.” Hence the birthday gift.
The unit hooks into the toilet’s water line and is installed under the toilet seat. It comes with push-button controls and knobs to control waterspout pressure and angle of the spray. His model doesn’t control water temperature. “You have to be brave,” he said.
The novelty has worn off in his household.
“For a while, it was a terrifying monster for my children (sons ages 7 and 5), and then it became an immovable water gun, so my wife and I would turn it off at the base. The kids couldn’t figure that one out,” he said.
“When my eldest kid realized that it could become a positive in his mind, he stopped playing with it.” While he has outgrown the encopresis, he uses the bidet for its intended purpose. His little brother, not so much. “I think my youngest accidentally sprayed himself in the eye and will no longer touch it,” Alberty said.
Other practical applications are for people with mobility issues; for aging populations to assist with proper cleansing to ward off infections; for comfort and cleansing after childbirth or for people with hemorrhoids.
According to the World Toilet Organization, archaeological excavations have dated toilets at 2800 to 2000 B.C. in present-day Pakistan. Bidets, however, seem to have originated in France around 1710, created by furniture maker Christopher Des Rosiers. According to the Oxford Dictionary, “bidet” is derived from the French for “pony,” from “bider,” meaning “to trot.” Prevailing thought is that it refers to the act of straddling a stand-alone unit.
Using bidet-converter seats is a matter of mastering the controls, and sitting on the toilet as usual. For travelers or others encountering stand-alone units in a bathroom or hotel room, Bidet.org offers an illustrated tutorial for sitting or straddling facing the wall; filling the basins like a sink to cleanse yourself as you would in a bathtub or shower; and drying with either a small towel or toilet paper.
Ellerhoff, showroom manager at Ferguson in Cedar Rapids, lived in Europe for four years, gave the bidet in her home a try, and wasn’t sold. So her mom used it as a planter — since watering was a snap.