If PFAS in Toilet Paper Give Us Cancer, Bidets Offer a Solution
New research suggests that our polluted farmlands and waterways can trace the presence of PFAS to toilet paper. Bidets offer an affordable, instantaneous course correction.
For many years, I’ve been extolling the virtues of toilet bidets, but unfortunately, Americans are squeamish about their derrieres, and the adoption of bidet technology has been much slower than it should have been.
Perhaps the latest research about cancer-causing chemicals called PFAS will finally give homeowners the push they need to get out of the toilet paper business and into the chemical-free, water saving (and frankly, more sanitary) method of cleansing their bottoms after purging their intestines.
In case you’re out of the loop on PFAS, they include 14,000 chemicals that are often called “forever chemicals,” because they stick around in our water and soils indefinitely. These chemicals, according to The Guardian, “are linked to cancer, fetal complications, liver disease, kidney disease, autoimmune disorders and other serious health issues.” Yeah, these are bad actors.
A Toilet Paper Fetish
I use the word fetish intentionally here, because feelings about the use of toilet paper often seem more emotional than practical. Remember during the pandemic, when shelves quickly cleared of toilet paper? Buying TP became a symbol of panic and anxiety. Stock up, and you’re safe. Run out, and you’re trapped in a post apocalyptic nightmare.
But as I pointed out back then, toilet paper will not save us when things go bad. In fact, now we know, it’s actually making the world a worse place.
My gripe with toilet paper, however, runs deeper than the PFAS it’s dumping in our waterways. It’s also water intensive in its production. Every single sheet, by some estimates, requires about 2 gallons of fresh water to produce.
Comparing per capita use of toilet paper on the surface looks like Americans just wipe more aggressively. But Europeans and Asians are far more bidet-fluent. The data probably says more about the lack of bidets in the US than their love of toilet paper.
What’s unclear at this point is HOW the PFAS enter the toilet paper production process. Manufacturers claim they do not directly introduce PFA chemicals to the paper slurry. Those chemicals are generally used in things like heat proofing, non-stick pans, water-repellant for clothes, furniture and carpets. But the fact is that the amount of PFAS in sewage water correlated with TP usage in the research conducted so far.
Switching to Bidet Use
The moment to evolve out of toilet paper lifestyles into bidet use occurs differently for all of us. Maybe this PFA contamination is the one that will stick for recalcitrant Americans. We don’t know yet if the PFAS are being absorbed directly into our skin, but why wait to find out?
For me, the “aha” point happened a few years ago, while having dinner with a female friend. I noticed she had a bidet attachment on her apartment toilet, and asked her about it.
“Well,” she said, “I grew up in England, so I can’t imagine NOT having one. And besides, why would anyone want to get romantically involved with someone who doesn’t use a bidet. Gross!”
That was enough for me to make an instant switch to bidet use.
Easing the Bidet Transition
One thing I learned right away is that bidets come in many forms, from the higher end comfort models, to simple, cold-water only toilet retrofits, priced at under $50.
For my first foray, I opted to spend more on a model that would heat the water, with a self-cleaning function, night light, and other fancy features. Units like this can be found for about $350, such as this Kohler model (shown above), the C³®-430.
The only caveat I would add is that that family members tend to spend more time in the bathroom with a bidet seat like this, because the heated seat and warm water bath turn the evacuation experience into a weirdly pleasant meditation.
Of course, if you’re intrepid, or on a budget, you can also jump right into bidet use, with a more basic model that attaches under the toilet seat. These retrofit items typically supply water that is whatever temperature the cold water comes out of your pipes. If you’re on an artesian well, you might find this bracing, but for municipal water supplies, it’s probably less likely to cause your muscles to tense on a cold morning.
The point is to get off the toilet paper supply chain as quickly as possible. Even if paper makers respond to the PFAS problem quickly (by no means a certainty), continued use of toilet paper is environmentally irresponsible. It wastes water, and frankly costs you more than a bidet over time.
For example, some estimates say Americans use about 141 rolls of toilet paper each per year. Inflation keeps driving prices up, but let’s say you get a good deal and pay just $1 dollar per roll. You’ve paid for a comfort-ready bidet in three years, a budget bidet add-on in just a few months (in toilet paper savings).
Why not become part of the PFAS solution, at the same time improving your hygiene?