Another Look at the Question: Bidet or Toilet Paper, or Yes, Adult Wipes?


No, we are not going to discuss whether you should put your toilet in the living room of your Case Study House; I just love that Kohler ad. I also love bidet toilets and have one, and wrote about it in Why I spent $1200 on a toilet seat and why you should too.

But now Umbra at Grist looks at the problem and adds new information to the mix, including the surprising fact that more and more adults are using an adult form of baby-wipes on their bottoms. She points to a Bloomberg article that describes what a problem this is:

Only in the past decade have grownups seized upon moist “flushable” wipes similar to those that clean baby bottoms, a product that has become a prized asset in a flat market. Accelerating sales are demonstrated inside the world’s sewers, where tons clog equipment. From New York to London, the hygiene fad costs governments millions of dollars a year...
“A growing number of adults think that if it’s good for baby, it’s good for them,” said Vincent Sapienza, deputy commissioner of the [New York] city Department of Environmental Protection. “Many brands may say they’re flushable, but they wind up in our sewer plants fully intact.”

In fact, when you go to the website of the Association of the Non-Woven Fabrics Industry (because there is an association for everything!) that these are "broadly defined as sheet or web structures bonded together by entangling fiber or filaments (and by perforating films) mechanically, thermally, or chemically. They are flat, porous sheets that are made directly from separate fibers or from molten plastic or plastic film." Cotton is also used for a more absorbent wipe.

A wet laid process is typically used for softer cloths, like diaper wipes, that use cotton blends. In this wet process, the fibers are made into liquid slurries with water and other chemicals. The resultant paste is pressed into flat sheets by rollers and then dried to form long rolls of fabric. These rolls are then further processed and slit into narrow widths and then perforated or cut into individual sheets. The finished cloths are classified by their dry weight that is at least 1.4 oz/in2 (40 g/m2). Absorbency of the wipes is also an important requirement (quality wipes can absorb between 200% and 600% of their weight in solution).

Over at Gawker, John Cook was as appalled to learn about this trend as I was, and also at how common the practice was.

Under ordinary circumstances, I wouldn't feel the need to take to this web site to make the case that grown-ups should use toilet paper to wipe their grown-up butts. But an informal survey with the staff of Gawker—a staff that is largely populated by "Millennials"—has revealed an alarming level of receptivity to the unnatural application of butt wipes to adult butts among the future leaders of our nation. If this confusion about what is, and what isn't, an appropriate way to clean one's butt holds across the entire emerging generation, we are in trouble, folks.

Alas, the study of The Future of Flushable Wipes to 2020 is behind a $ 6,500 paywall but appears to be a $ 2.5 billion dollar market that is growing every year.

Going forward, convenience, consumer acceptance and innovation will remain driving forces in the consumer market, with personal hygiene and general purpose household cleaning wipes projected to register the fastest gains. Personal hygiene wipes will enjoy increased market penetration; the concept of wet bathroom tissue as part of a standard bathroom routine is gaining acceptance.
dude products

© Dude Products

There is even a brand specifically for men, "used as an adjunct to toilet paper in the bathroom or as a wipe for faces, armpits, or any other area of the body" These are 44 square inches or 2.75 times the area of a standard toilet paper square and far thicker, and they come individually wrapped so there is also all that packaging waste too. In their marketing they suggest that it be used as well as toilet paper, and say that they "break apart when flushed".

CC BY 2.0. Lloyd Alter/ toto toilet with washlet

Lloyd Alter/ toto toilet with washlet/CC BY 2.0

Which brings us back to the question of bidets. If it is no longer a choice between toilet paper and a bidet but we also seeing a trend toward expensive (30 cents each!) barely flushable plastic and cotton individually wrapped adult wipes, then seriously people, get the damn bidet toilet seat. It uses less water than is used making toilet paper, and who knows how much it saves compared to the stupid dude wipes.

Seriously, if you can afford 30 cents per wipe you will pay off a $1200 Toto Washlet or a $ 6,000 Numi pretty quickly and your bottom will be even cleaner and softer. And I am really curious what percentage of our readers actually do use adult wipes.