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Why Don’t Americans Use Bidets?

toilet with built in bidet

Why Don’t Americans Use Bidets?

toilet with built in bidet

Do you know what a fatberg is? They are the heart attacks of modern plumbing – a congealed slab of fat, oil, and grease that clog sewer lines and sometimes flood streets with bacteria-riddled water. Every municipality is terrified of them, scared of the day when too many citizens have flushed undissolvable wet wipes or poured bacon grease down their kitchen sinks. 

It’s clear that the main culprits of fatbergs are the things you should never flush down the toilet, but not one American sewage expert ever talks about toilet paper. We’re the country with the newest and most advanced plumbing system in the world, and we’re the only one that flushes 15 billion rolls of toilet paper into that system every year. (Side note: Technically, China uses more toilet paper than the US, but come on…they’re 4 times the population). In short, toilet paper definitely has something to do with fatbergs.  

What’s so frustrating about the prevalence of toilet paper in the US is that there is a better answer. Everywhere else in the world (literally everywhere) uses bidets or “smart toilets” – which are not only better for hygiene, but also better for plumbing systems. Americans’ aversion to bidets is complicated. On one hand, we seem to have adopted a notably worse product because of a Puritan fixation on avoiding any talk of bodily functions. (Think about it. Most of our swear words come from physiological activities.) On the other hand, it might just be Francophobia. (“You don’t pronounce the ‘t’ in ‘bidet?’ I’ll stick to my freedom fries, thank you very much.”)

Whatever the reason, toilet paper has stuck around like a fart in a closed room – getting worse, gaining complexity, and just before becoming unbearable (hopefully?) disappearing. In this blog, we’ll cover the history of toilet paper in America – what we did before it, who invented it, and why it’s clung to our collective shoe for so long.

What Did People Use Before Toilet Paper?

Throughout history, our ancestors found inventive ways to clean up after themselves. Early humans turned to the natural world, using leaves, sticks, moss, sand, and water. The advent of agriculture brought new materials into use, such as hay and corn husks, which were readily available and disposable.

Once civilization got up and running, the ancient Greeks used broken pieces of ceramic pottery that had been smoothed down at the edges. These ceramics were more than a method of cleaning yourself – sometimes they would be inscribed with the names of personal or political enemies. (“This is what I think of you, Themistocles!”) 

Later, the Romans developed the “tersorium” – a sea sponge mounted on a stick. These were stored in buckets of salt water, vinegar, or for the fortunate, rosewater. In communal latrines typical of poorer areas, one stick-sponge might be shared among many. (You didn’t want to be stuck in line after the dude who never ate fiber.) Wealthier Romans, however, could afford personal sponges that were soaked in fragrant solutions.

Who Invented Toilet Paper?

The origin of toilet paper as we know it today has a colorful history, marked by both innovation and necessity. Prior to the advent of toilet paper, Americans often turned to less refined but readily available options. The Sears Roebuck catalog, for example, became a popular choice in many households for its dual functionality – first as a source of consumer products and later as an improvised wipe once the catalog had been browsed through. This practice continued until the catalog’s pages became glossy, rendering them less effective for bathroom use and prompting a need for an alternative.

Enter Joseph Gayetty, an American entrepreneur who, in 1857, introduced the first commercially packaged bathroom tissue. Dubbed “Medicated Paper for the Water Closet,” Gayetty’s invention was marketed primarily for its purported medicinal benefits, containing aloe and advertised as a preventive measure against hemorrhoids. (Weirdly, Gayetty’s name was printed on each individual sheet in hopes that his last name would make its way into American vernacular. “Oh no! I have to go to the bathroom, but we’re out of Gayettys!” Unfortunately, that doesn’t roll off the tongue.)

Despite Gayetty’s pioneering efforts, toilet paper didn’t become widely popular until it was available on rolls. In 1890, the Scott Paper Company began marketing rolls of toilet paper to hotels and drugstores, and the innovation was a significant step forward in consumer convenience and hygiene. Scott’s toilet paper quickly became a staple in American restrooms.

But, there was still the problem of the paper itself. You have to remember paper back then was not the way it is now. Early paper was more akin to bark shavings than the refined product we find at Office Depot. Consider this: as recently as the 1930s, the Northern Tissue company claimed their toilet paper was “splinter-free.” (Ouch!!!)

With such low standards, it’s no wonder that toilet paper took hold in the US. Having been denied the comfort of a bidet, early Americans assumed paper that didn’t leave wood shards in their anuses was the pinnacle of luxury. Toilet paper might have a storied past in America, but man, did we all miss out. 

Conclusion

The story of how toilet paper took hold in America is a tale of convenience over better alternatives, like the bidet. Despite the superior hygiene and plumbing benefits of bidets, cultural and societal preferences have kept them from becoming popular in the United States. Meanwhile, toilet paper continues to contribute to the dreaded fatberg problem, posing challenges for sewage systems nationwide.

Fortunately, this is changing. With Swan Toilets leading the way, Americans have begun breaking free from the toilet paper stranglehold and embracing a life of actual luxury. The modern smart toilet gives consumers an experience that our ancestors would truly relish – no shells or leaves or pottery or sponge-sticks you have to share with whomever you’re sitting next to. America is finally catching up with the rest of the world. Down with fatbergs! Down with toilet paper! The time for the bidet has arrived! 

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