Open Water

Illustrations by Kagan McLeod. Photographs: Courtesy of Washlet (Toilet and Wall Panel) and Cole & Son (Wallpaper)

Twenty million Washlets have been sold worldwide since they came out in 1980, according to its manufacturer, the high-end bathroom supplier Toto. The Washlet is a paper-free toilet—or warm-water personal-cleansing system, to use the corporate term—and 2.7 million are purchased each year in Japan, where they are as common as microwave ovens. They’ve been available in the U.S. (in various incarnations) since 1989 but haven’t caught on nearly as well here—though Washlets have been installed in ten suites at the Ritz-Carlton in Battery Park.

I recently tested a Washlet—specifically, the S300, Toto’s second most expensive of four models available. (The top-line S400 has features such as a lid that raises automatically when you go near it, but not enough substantive differences from the S300 to merit testing it instead.) Mine showed up in a big box, looking like a slightly beefier version of a regular toilet seat, with connections for my existing plumbing.

Illustrations by Kagan McLeod

The Washlet replaces a regular toilet seat. Putting mine on was simple, as was setting up the wall-mountable remote that controls all the cleansing functions and other features. The connections that integrate the Washlet into the user’s water-supply system were more complicated, but my building handyman had no problem connecting the hoses. He plugged it into the electrical socket next to my toilet; after he left, I stared sadly at all the visible exterior tubing.

I stood in front of the toilet and hit REAR CLEANSING on the remote. A cleansing wand, about the size of a fat pencil, emerged from beneath the seat and spouted warm water. That’s it. I hit stop on the remote, and the wand went back in. Water flushed around the sides of the bowl (the wand cleans itself before and after each use).

Then I sat on it and hit REAR CLEANSING again. I heard the wand quietly come out. The water felt warm and gently pulsating. You know that pleasant, slightly tingly feeling of being in a really nice hot tub at a high-end spa? That’s exactly what it feels like—except it’s confined to your butt.

About three days into the testing, I started to look forward to hitting the REAR CLEANSING button and letting it do its thing (there’s also FRONT CLEANSING for women that has similar pressure). I also loved the dryer function, a gentle rush of warm air that dries the area in question. One of my favorite functions: The toilet seat heats up, which is nice at 7 a.m. in February.

There are other features, like variations to the pulsation rate, but the important thing is that the water flow is seamless and effective. Prices range from $727 to $2,174, depending on style and color; my S300 was $1,248. If that’s a blink, consider a Neorest, which is one single, coherent Toto toilet with Washlet functions built in. It starts at $5,200.

Although I love the Washlet, I do have two quibbles. While warm water is very pleasant, it doesn’t always completely work. And its bulk and wire clutter mean the Washlet isn’t the most attractive addition to your bathroom. Yet even with its awkward aspects, the Washlet will make you forget toilet paper forever.

Open Water