Of all the plumbing fixtures ever designed, the bidet has to be the most misunderstood fixture. It is probably the most avoided fixture as well. I cannot recall hearing a plumbing contractor encourage a homeowner, home builder, developer or customer to install a bidet. I have, however, heard plumbing contractors talk customers out of installing a bidet.

Why is that? If you travel to Europe, or even Canada, bidets are installed all over the place. Europeans love their bidets. They think Americans are crude because we don’t have them. We, in turn, think the Europeans are kinky for having so many. Perhaps it is the cultural differences, or perhaps it is a complete misunderstanding. Heck, most Americans can’t even pronounce the word bidet, no less tell you how to use it. (For the record, it’s pronounced be-day.)

As a kid, it was clearly explained to me that bidets are plumbing fixtures used by French whores. I apologize for being so blunt, but that was the language used when I was so informed. Of course, I was curious as to why it was believed that the fixture was designed specifically for women in France having a particular occupation.

It appears that certain parts of history are not written down, they are merely passed on verbally from generation to generation. As the story goes, during World War I American doughboys were known to visit ladies of the evening while in France. Afterward, the doughboys observed the prostitutes using a bidet. Hence, bidets were for prostitutes. Keep in mind, that many American soldiers had never even seen indoor plumbing before going to war.

Another misunderstanding in this country is the optional fixture you can install with a bidet. It’s called a douche, which happens to be another French word meaning “shower.” As you know, there also happens to be a product on the shelves with the same name. But they are totally different. I’m still amazed at how many people, even in our profession, think the two items do the same thing.

Wonderful Fixtures: The fact of the matter is bidets are wonderful fixtures for both men and women. The best description I ever heard for a bidet is that it is a lavatory installed at a lower height.

The bidet has often been closely associated with the water closet since it is often installed adjacent to it. The close association has both a positive and negative impact. On the plus side, cleaning occurs after using the water closet. Using the bidet far surpasses using toilet paper from a hygiene standpoint.

But there are three main drawbacks. First, everyone is familiar with a water closet, so they try to use the bidet in the same way. I cannot begin to tell you how many people have told me that they have a hard time reaching the controls of the bidet when they sit down. Of course, I start laughing and tell them to turn around.

Second, most people think the bidet is only used for cleaning the perineal area, and can’t imagine using it for any other purpose. A Canadian friend of mine was explaining how his bidet is great for washing his feet. Everyone around us was laughing, thinking that it was good joke. But he was very serious. Bidets are great for cleaning your feet, or any other part of your body.

Finally, the water closet mentality has many people thinking that the bidet is a gross and dirty fixture. However, we clean the same area of our body in the bathtub. How many people refer to the bathtub as gross and dirty?

Great Market Potential: What was recently brought to my attention was the tremendous benefits of the bidet for the elderly and physically handicapped. I hadn’t thought of this segment of our population when considering a bidet. But it makes a whole lot of sense. The elderly have a difficult time getting in and out of a bathtub. Additionally, many elderly stop using the shower because of the fear of slipping. With a bathtub or shower, you bring yourself to the water. But with a bidet, the water comes to you.

The fixture is very easy to use for elderly and physically handicapped people to maintain their hygiene. By having a chair nearby to sit in while using the bidet and by sitting on the bidet for cleaning other parts of the body, there is complete comfort and stability. It is much better than a bathtub or a shower.

So consider offering bidets to your customers. Sell the concept of a wonderful bathing fixture that improves hygiene and provides comfort. There is still a chance to remove the stigma of bidets.