MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm pretty sure I speak for most people when I say a particular source of anxiety for many Americans right now is toilet paper. As I'm sure you've noticed, many stores across the country have been running out of toilet paper as people stock up in preparation for self-isolation or even lockdowns.
There's no actual shortage - or so we're told. More on that in a minute. But the concern over the availability of toilet tissue has led to an interesting side effect. Some Americans are turning to another option for bathroom hygiene that's long been common in Europe and Asia.
KATE KNIBBS: I've been interested in bidets for a long time because they've always seemed to me like a pretty rational way to clean yourself in the bathroom, but they've been pretty aggressively unpopular in North America for at least my whole life.
MARTIN: That's Kate Knibbs, a senior writer at Wired, who recently wrote about the bidet and its increasing popularity here in the U.S. But she says the pandemic-induced run on toilet paper was just one reason the people she spoke with decided to give bidets a try.
KNIBBS: The quote people have been bringing up again and again is, "if a bird pooped on you, you wouldn't wipe it off with a dry towel. You would wipe it off with water."
MARTIN: Can't argue with that logic. Knibbs says some bidet sellers have seen as much as a tenfold increase in sales over the last few weeks. Besides coming in handy when you're in a toilet paper pinch, bidets may also be a good option for folks looking to make their bathroom routine more sustainable, although there are no studies that show exactly how much paper you can save by using a bidet.
KNIBBS: Toilet paper takes a lot of water to manufacture. So when you are choosing to use a bidet, even though it's water-based, you're actually going to be saving water in the long run and not having to consume paper products that require in addition to water cutting down trees.
MARTIN: There also don't appear to be any peer-reviewed studies on what the health benefits of using bidets might be. But Knibbs says several medical professionals she spoke with recommend using them.
KNIBBS: One of the doctors that I talked to told me that most people don't know how to wipe properly. And if you wipe properly, you can get most of the - fecal residue I believe was the phrase he used. But because most people don't, you know, they're not being as hygienic as they should be. And a bidet is a more foolproof way of making sure you're completely clean.
MARTIN: And if you're really ready to make the switch, there are already a lot of options for you out there.
KNIBBS: Toto, I believe, is a bidet-maker that is really popular. They make the luxury kinds with the nice warm air. There's also a lot of startups that offer what are called wash lids. And that's a bidet attachment, so you don't need a whole new toilet. Those tend to be less fancy but more affordable. And I think they're a good option for people who just want to experiment right now and don't necessarily want to commit to buying a product that's several hundred dollars.
MARTIN: Whatever the cost, bidets aren't likely to suddenly become massively popular in America, crisis or no crisis. That's in part because toilet paper isn't really going to run out anytime soon. Knibbs says the product's U.S.-based supply chain is robust enough to keep us supplied through this pandemic. But she does hope all this toilet paper talk helps us to be more open to talking about how we go.
KNIBBS: I think there's nothing but benefits that can come from us having a sense of humor and opening up and talking about our butts more. So I would say embrace the horror and embarrassment of admitting that you poop, and let's get better at it.
MARTIN: That was Kate Knibbs, a senior writer with Wired. She recently wrote an article about the increasing popularity of bidets in the United States.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLUSHED FROM THE BATHROOM OF YOUR HEART")
JOHNNY CASH: (Singing) And now you say you've got me of your conscience. I've been flushed from the bathroom of your heart.
CASH: (Singing) In the garbage disposal of your dreams, I've been ground up, dear. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.