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Who could forget the stress of the great bathroom tissue shortage of the COVID-19 pandemic
The good news is you can buffer yourself from future supply chain breakdowns by adding a little modern technology to your toilet. A bidet seat can reduce your reliance on paper products and improve your hygiene routine at the same time.
A bidet toilet seat is a drop-in replacement for your existing toilet seat that ties into the water supply for your toilet. The basic concept uses a directed stream of water to clean the desired area of your body without the use of bathroom tissue. In my personal experience using these devices for the past five years, I do not require more than a few sheets total when drying off or even the use of bathroom tissue at all. Once I started using one, I found toilets not equipped with these devices to be comparatively primitive -- it's hard to go back to the old way of doing things once you start.
If an electronic bidet defines the category, it is by far Toto's Washlet S500 series. Not only does the model number sound like a cushy Mercedes-Benz deluxe sedan, but let's face it, at a retail price point of over $1600 (street $1300) each, it is the absolute top of the line for an electronic toilet seat.
So what makes it worth the money? Overall, it comes down to lots of little design features and, well, the finesse in which it does things.
There's a new remote that the S500 line has which is smaller, less clunky, and more responsive than previous units, such as the one that came with the S300 series that preceded it and was the previous category leader.
There's the auto-lifting seat in the S550 that senses your motion when you enter the bathroom -- this is one of the big features that a lot of people overlook when buying a bidet seat, as well as the finesse the spray head has in terms of levels of pressure (as well as the choice of soft spray versus cleanse). And of course, the variability of oscillation and pulsating of the water, and also the level of control of the positioning of the stream.
All of these things sound a bit funny and perhaps over-the-top in terms of the basic functionality until you experience using one of these seats -- this includes stuff like the pre-misting of water which wets the bowl before use, the dryer function, the heated seats, the warm water spray, the deodorizer, and the self-cleaning functions.
Can you get by with less in a bidet seat? Sure. But do you want to go back to using a basic model after using an S550e? That's a much harder question to answer, considering how much time we spend on the toilet.
Without any doubt, Toto remains the 800-pound gorilla in the drop-in bidet washlet space. Its toilets can be found throughout Asia and Europe in hospitality businesses such as hotels and fine restaurants. As with Apple, which has multiple ranges of products to fit different price points and feature sets, Toto has also created various levels of price points. Currently, at the mid-range level for the industry, the recently introduced C5 (includes remote) is the lower-level option that will meet most household requirements at the $400 to $500 price point. The C5 replaces the older C200 with a greatly improved design and an eWater+ nozzle cleaning system. The Toto C5 is much slimmer in appearance than its bulky predecessor and features an updated remote control as well.
Toto offers its bidet seats in two colors: A standard Cotton White and a Sedona Beige -- the second of which is less common and is typically more expensive. Seats come in both standard and elongated versions.
While it is possible to find competitive, below-retail prices for some of Toto's products using online retailers such as Amazon and large hardware chains such as Lowe's, keep in mind that the company is usually pretty strict about product servicing and proof of purchase, and only wants to repair products sold by authorized distributors. Fortunately, Toto now has its own authorized store on Amazon.
TUSHY has been in the manual/mechanical bidet market for some time, but in late 2021, they introduced the Ace, which is their first electric bidet and an exclusive to their website. At the $600 price point, it competes with TOTO's low-end C2 and C5 and Brondell and Biobidet's mid-range offerings.
I had a chance to test out an Ace, and I was surprised at the build quality and overall work that went into its industrial design. I liked the strength and sturdiness of the mounting hardware and the haptic feedback remote control with color LEDs.
It may not be a TOTO, with its long-time warranty to justify the cost, but it sure shares a lot of the features of that high-end product. It has a self-cleaning nozzle, five levels of water temperature control, five levels of pressure control on the nozzle, five levels of water heating control, and five air-drying temperature levels. It's also got a heated seat. It doesn't have as much positioning finesse and oscillation control as some of its more expensive competitors, but it more than does the job at this price point.
Brondell is a company that produces a wide range of high-quality electric bidet products at about half the price of a comparable Toto model. If Toto is Apple, then Brondell is Android. That's not a bad space for the company to occupy. As with Toto, typical features include variable pressure, variable water temperature, variable position nozzles, and heated and automatic seats. The base-level Swash 300 starts at around $269 and goes all the way up to $649 for the most advanced model, the Swash 1400.
Bio Bidet, like Brondell, is also a premium manufacturer of bidet products. The extremely popular and higher-end BB-2000 ($699) has garnered excellent reviews and is considered an even better value than the much more expensive Toto S550E.
Due to the heavy demand for electric bidet products, the prices have all skyrocketed, and what used to be the bargain brands such as Brondell and Biobidet have gotten more expensive and harder to find in stock. Companies like Alpha Bidet, which came on the market in 2016, have been aggressively marketing highly competitive products like the Alpha JX, which is in the sub-$400 price point, and the Alpha iX, which is under $300, are excellent values.
Most non-electric bidet models use a single, non-adjustable stream of water, while others can direct the flow with an adjustable nozzle and have adjustable pressure. In electrical models, features might include heated seats, air drying, variable water temperature, variable stream positioning, and oscillating movement. You'll also see features for lighting, automatic bowl cleaning, and automatic seat lifting using occupancy sensors.
The undisputed leader in this space has been Japanese bathroom giant Toto, with its Washlet series of products. Traditionally, the company's bidet toilet seat products have had a base price of over $1,000 retail. However, due to heavy competition from other vendors, such as Brondell and other companies in the bathroom and plumbing supply industry, the prices on these devices have fallen considerably, down to about $300 for Toto's most basic model (and at the $250 price point and under for competing models). Some very inexpensive models, which do not require an electrical outlet and only use water pressure and mechanical valves to adjust the water stream, have sold for less than $100 -- but caveat emptor when it comes to build quality.
As you can see in the feature chart provided by Toto below, there are many different features that are listed, and pricing can vary widely depending on which features you need.
The electrical bidet seat industry has been dominated largely by one company over the last 20 years -- Toto. Therefore, everything else in the space is effectively copying that company's products and feature sets. Toto is by far the safest option in terms of its reputation, reliability, and customer service, but it is also the most expensive player in that industry. Brondell is a solid #2 choice, and Biobidet is not far behind, whereas Alpha is a relative newcomer in the industry. We chose the models based on recommendations at different price points by internet retailers and local bathroom supply companies.
The best bidet toilet seat is the Toto Washlet S550e. With the top features of any bidet toilet seat on the market, this is the Mercedes-Benz S-Class of bidet toilet seats.
In the $150 and under space, most products are purely mechanical, which do not require an electrical outlet, such as the Tushy, the Clearrear, Luxe Bidet, and the incredibly fast-selling Tibbers on Amazon. All of these use the same basic design, some of which can adjust the nozzle positioning, while some have fixed nozzle capabilities. Tushy has some differentiation with its Spa model, which can tap into the hot water supply of your sink to mix with cold water to provide a warm spray. Some of these companies, Clearrear, especially, offer discounts of up to 15% when several devices are purchased at once.
The installation of these products is relatively straightforward, as shown in the included video with this article. For electric devices, such as the Toto model I demonstrated, you will need a GFCI-rated outlet close to the toilet to plug it in. If you need to connect it to another outlet in your bathroom near the sink, replace the outlet with a GFCI socket (if it doesn't have one) and use an outdoor-rated extension cord until you can hire an electrician to install an additional outlet.
Most -- if not all of these bidet seats -- come with a water supply splitter that provides water to the cleaning nozzle. They require only a small wrench to do the installation and connection to existing plumbing. A typical installation should only take about 15 minutes, including removing the original toilet seat, cleaning the toilet surface, installing the water splitter, mounting bracket, and the seat itself.