You've decided to take the plunge and embrace a more international way of life by incorporating a bidet into your bathroom, and you're not sure if you need a separate fixture or a seat you can affix to your existing toilet. Both bidets and cleansing seats (often referred to as a washlet) are generally more sanitary than the use of toilet paper in the bathroom because you're using water and air for cleaning and drying instead of tissue paper, greatly reducing the potential of spreading germs.
There are distinct advantages to each application and certain factors you need to take into consideration. Let's review the differences so you feel more comfortable making a decision about which application is best for you.
What's the difference?
The most obvious difference between a bidet and a cleansing seat is that a bidet is a stand-alone fixture roughly the size of a traditional toilet, and a cleansing seat is a seat with bidet-like functions you can use with your existing toilet. Planning for a bidet includes making sure you have the space to accommodate it while adding a cleansing seat only requires you get the right shape to match your toilet bowl.
The Need for Water
If you choose a bidet, you'll need separate lines for both cold and hot water because bidets use faucets. Fixtures are available with either single- or two-handle faucet configurations for directing water to the sprayer at the temperature you choose. A bidet does not requires any special traps or drain pipes. Instead, you'll need to have a plumber run a drain line similar to that in your sink that matches the rough-in for your bidet.
A cleansing seat can tap into the water line used to supply the toilet, and higher end models include in-line heaters for a warm spray every time you use it.
Most bidets do not need electricity because they're providing an ambient clean but don't typically include a drying component. An entry-level cleansing seat is manually operated with a handle on the left side of the seat that gives you the clean you want but it might not be all that warm, nor is there a drying component.
A higher-end cleansing seat, on the other hand, will require a GFCI electric outlet. Not only do they feature push-button controls, including some remote-control models, but many of the more expensive seats tout added luxury benefits like a heated seat, dual-zone cleansing and warm-air dryers.
Installing a bidet can be a pricey undertaking. Not only will you need to have the appropriate water and drain lines run, the cost of the unit and the faucet could well exceed $3,000. A cleansing seat by comparison is a deal; the manual models start at $150 while a unit with all the bells and whistles can run upwards of $2,200 and mid-line seats cost between $400 and $700.
Installing a bidet - given the plumbing work required - is probably best suited to a newly built house or a bathroom renovation where you're taking the room down to the studs and starting over. A cleansing seat can be a nice compromise. You still get all the benefits of a bidet without the added cost of construction.