Bidets past and present

antique porcelain bidet in wooden chair frame
Porcelain bidet from c1800 in wooden chair-shape frame, probably French export to UK, placed alongside newer bathroom fittings. Photo by HomeThingsPast.

Do you have a bidet in your bathroom? It’s always been a difference between English-speaking countries and France. Bidets have never quite caught on in the USA or the UK, except for an occasional “trend” that never really went very far. Some upper class ladies in 19th century England had French-made bidets, and in the 1980s British sanitaryware retailers started stocking bidets.

But in France there’s a bidet in every bathroom, isn’t there? Not any more. In recent years the bidet has been disappearing from new French bathrooms. Only 40% had bidets included in the mid-1990s, as compared with 95% in the 1970s, according to the authors of a French book on the history of the bidet.† In 1995 Italy produced 15 times as many bidets as France.

Bidet-style arrrangements for personal hygiene are not limited to Europe. Arabic-speaking countries use them, and Japan is a leading producer of high-tech bidet/toilet combinations (also called washlets), with jets of water washing after you flush, and warm air following on. This type is used in nursing homes.

Bidet history

Bidet pan in stool with lid
This kind of bidet looks like a stool when the lid is on. As used in a 19th century bedroom or dressing room. Photo by Moresheth.

In France beautful bowls set into elegant seats were fashionable with the upper classes in the 18th and 19th centuries. Napoleon’s will left his silver-gilt bidet to his son. A 1751 rosewood-veneered bidet of Madame de Pompadour’s is preserved at Versailles near Paris. The basin in hers is decorative like this slightly later floral earthenware one.

That last link and the first picture on this page show the curving shape of the antique bowls.  This shape explains why the bidet once had nicknames like violin-case or little guitar. Originally the word bidet itself referred to the wooden furniture originally used for holding the bowl, and meant pony.

Debates about who invented the bidet are not likely to be settled any time soon. The French or the Italians? After all, who can say when someone first set a basin of water on a stand at a convenient height for washing the more private parts of the body?

antique bidet austrian
Bidet from the era of indoor plumbing - note the row of little holes - in an Austrian museum. Photo by Alfred Diem.

The earliest written information we have about bidets comes fom a Paris cabinet-maker whose business literature in 1739 offered bidets designed with backs and hinged lids. Rémy Peverie also suggested the possibility of making two-person bidets for his aristocratic clients. Now there’s an idea that didn’t catch on – as far as I know.


Photographers credited in captions.
Links to originals here:
bidet with lid, Austrian bidet, Japanese controls.
More picture info here


†F. Beaupré, R-H. Guerrand, Le Confident des dames: Le bidet du XVIIIe au XXe siècle
Katherine Ashenburg, Clean: An Unsanitised History of Washing

bidet foot bath
Bidet and footbath combination patented 1879 in USA. Remove soapdish and sit (awkwardly?) on mini-shelf C to use it as a bidet. Invented by Merwin Church of Chicago, owner of large hardware store.
american bidet
Bidet in USA, about 1910.
bidet control panel
Controls for a bidet-toilet aka washlet in a Tokyo hotel. Photo by William Kumberger.


15 thoughts on “Bidets past and present

  1. Yeah, that’s why the use it in Europe! It is much more hygienic than the toilet paper we use in america! Once you use it, you never want to get off it! I gives an imaginable scene of freshness!


  2. Arnold Cohen in 1964 was the first to use the bidet in the US. It’s funny how it’s so popular in other countries but North America is behind.


  3. My History With The Bidet:

    During WW2 while fighting in France we experienced our first Bidet. Most of us were just 18 years old and this was a new sight. At first we kept looking for the seat but quickly learned what it was and how to use it. The War is now over and we are back in the States… What no Bidets??? How could that be, oh well guess I’ll just have to put one in our first home. That was back in 1946 and we have not been without one since. Three homes and three Bidets later we still love them. Just go to Google and type in the “History of the Bidet”… you will get an eye full and maybe even try one out yourself. I bet if you do that you will wonder why all American Homes don’t have one. Enjoy!


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  6. I am a bidet user and love it most. But really I didn’t know the history of bidet toilet seats. Someone share me this post as I am bidet lover and I thanked him few minutes ago. Really great informative post!!


  7. Bought on on a whim, will never be without one again. I don’t understand why this hasn’t,t caught on here. I’d feel icky without one now. So much more sanitary. Thank u France and Japan!


  8. Therefore I’m a bidet user along with loving it almost all. But genuinely I did not know the record of bidet toilet seating. Someone talk about me this kind of post website am bidet lover u thanked him or her few minutes in the past. Thanks for this post!!


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