The first time we saw each other, it was across a darkened room. My bathroom at night, to be specific. As if we had known each other all our lives, the Toto Washlet s550e knew why I was there, and opened up its lid, turning on an integrated night light to illuminate my way. If this is how the other half lives, then I’m all in. And when I say the other half, I mean the other half of the world. For some reason, while the residents of many countries have updated their personal hygiene routines in the last century and a half, most Americans are still stuck in 1857, which is when Joseph C. Gayetty created the first commercially packaged toilet paper. (Coincidentally, he first sold it right around the corner from my current apartment.)
But I digress. In matters of personal hygiene, we have lagged behind the rest of the world for quite a while. The bidet, after all, was invented in France in the 1600s, yet somehow the U.S. is one of the last remaining countries in the world that still thinks smearing oneself with dry paper is an effective cleaning method. We don’t wash our hands or faces by using dry paper to rub the dirt around. We don’t clean our clothes by scrubbing them with dry paper towels. And surgeons certainly don’t sterilize their instruments or scrub in before surgery with squares of dry paper. But for the things we dare not talk about, this method has inexplicably been assumed to suffice. Enter Toto. Founded 102 years ago in Japan, Toto is now the top name in the modern bidet world. And the Washlet, as their bidet seat is called, was introduced in Japan in the 1980s, quickly spreading throughout Asia. Of course, it has evolved quite a bit in its technology since then, and there are now about 40 million of them in the marketplace worldwide. And that’s just Toto’s alone. Their success has also led to the emergence of new bidet seat competitors, as well as copycat products from many of the old guard plumbing appliance manufacturers.
The idea of the modern bidet makes total sense. Not only is it obviously more hygienic, but it also can be ecologically beneficial. It cuts down on paper usage and waste, and helps curb the formation of the disgusting bergs that are accumulating as we speak from “flushable” wipe use. (Just because something is called flushable doesn’t mean that it actually breaks down once it disappears down your toilet.) But what’s a bidet seat like to use? Well, in the case of the Toto Washlet s550e, it’s both comforting and effective. In addition to the basic and very adjustable functions that it shares with other bidet seats, the s550e also has some really unique bells and whistles that make it feel like the toilet of the future. Not the sorts of things that are mandatory, but the kind that are really nice to have, and once you get used to them, it’s tough to give them up. The most obvious is the motion sensing lid, that not only opens when someone approaches it, but can be programmed to lift either just the lid, or both the lid and seat (for male users). As it does so, it sprays “ewater+” in the bowl to prep it and disinfect. A proprietary technology, ewater+ is electrolyzed water that the appliance makes via its connection to your regular tap water. The electrolyzed water acts like a mild bleach, both disinfecting and keeping things clean wherever it goes, without the use of any chemical additives.
The s550e also heats up the seat automatically, so you don’t have that gasp-inducing shock moment when you first sit down. And it lets you program personal preferences for two users that include settings for the position, force, and water temperature of the cleaning jets. Let me tell you, those jets can go from a babbling trickle to a force that might make you feel like the water is going to spout out of your mouth at the other end. When you’re all done, it even dries you if you want with a built in heated blow dryer. If there’s a tiny quibble with the s550e, it’s that the dryer could be more powerful and work faster. In this age of the Xlerator hand dryer, we expect some serious juice from our drying mechanisms. But that’s a minor first world problem. Some further features are a built-in air deodorizing system (nice for when you have guests), settings for both front and back cleaning, and a touch remote that controls all of these functions. The thing even cleans the parts that clean you between uses!
If all this sounds complicated to install, it turns out it really isn’t. The s550e comes in two basic shapes, one of which should work with your current toilet, regardless of brand. (There are also two colors available, and two lid styles: one classic and one contemporary.) You just attach the Washlet to the existing cold water supply to your toilet tank, and plug it in. In fact, someone with only slightly more than an “assembling-IKEA-furniture” level of handiness can probably self-install. But if you do decide to call in outside assistance, a plumber could have you up and running in less than 30 minutes. You just unscrew the old seat and replace it with the screw-in bracket supplied, and then snap the seat onto the new bracket. Then you turn off the water supply to your toilet using the knob between the tank and the wall, and flush the toilet once to purge the tank. You can then unscrew the threaded hose under your toilet to screw in the T-shaped splitter provided with your Washlet, and reattach the water source to your toilet. The remaining nozzle on the splitter is for the hose of your Washlet. Finally, you plug it in to a three prong outlet and you’re ready to go. Your robot toilet overlord is now ready to start the machine uprising. And you’ll probably be a willing slave to its charms. The warm water jets not only clean much better than paper ever could, but the device keeps your toilet cleaner and your bathroom smelling better.
After installing it, using the Toto Washlet s550e definitely made me look forward to bathroom trips a little more than is normal for an adult. And I found myself bragging about it to my friends (who, to their credit, responded with appropriate jealousy). I didn’t miss my old bathroom routine at all, as this new way of doing things made total sense. How could I have waited so long to catch up with the rest of the world? But the real test came when I had to go away for a week on some work travel. Almost immediately, I felt like I missed my robotic friend who took such good care of my nether regions. I was spoiled for cleanliness. And it makes total sense. Once you’ve done things the way you should have all along, it’s pretty tough to give up. Yep, I’m in a relationship now, and I’m not afraid to say it (even if it requires a few euphemisms to describe just how the relationship works in polite company). As I returned from my 10 day trip to the west coast and opened my apartment door, I called out, “Toto, I’m not in Kansas anymore!”. And I could have sworn I heard the toilet seat giggle a little at my dad joke as the soothing night light came on and the lid opened to welcome me home. Toto s550e, you really do get me.