Since the start of the pandemic 22 years ago [ed note: it’s actually just two], I became a bit obsessed with bidets. Then, it was out of necessity, toilet paper disappeared from the shelves seemingly overnight as factories slowed down and hoarders took away pallets of Charmin. Even though things have returned to “normal”, we have still seen weeks or months where the number of infections climbs and toilet paper disappears from the shelves again.
The lesson, then, is that while we consider toilet paper a ubiquitous staple, it’s just as prone to shortages as anything else when faced with a large enough disruption. Like, say, a multi-year pandemic. So what’s a human who uses the bathroom to do?
Well, if you’re like other humans over the past couple of years (mostly Americans), you’re discovering bidets.
You might have started with a fairly standard model, something unpowered from Kohler, Tushy, or Bio Bidet that had lots of features, maybe even a few battery-powered options like a night light. But over time, you discovered that there was a whole new world of seat replacement bidet options if your toilet was within reach of a power outlet (or if you could use an extension cord).
I first experienced the luxury of a plug-in bidet with the Tushy Ace. At the time, I thought paying the extra $1,000 or more that other brands charge for a similar product was not justified. The Toto Washlet S550e changed my mind.
What is that?
Priced at $1,680, the Washlet S550e is a plug-in bidet made by Toto, a longtime maker of some of the most premium bathroom products on the planet. Absolutely huge in Japan, they’ve grown in recent years to bring their wares to us lucky Americans.
The S550e is fully automated, with a heated seat, water temperature control, cleaning settings for bowl and wand, built-in dryer and deodorizer, plus a remote control that lets you record several profile settings.
Installation is simple and the bidet comes with everything you need in the box. From start to finish it takes maybe 15 minutes if you double check every fitting before moving on (which is smart, you want to catch leaks before they become a problem). The installation uses rubber gaskets for seat mounting, which I really appreciate (little to no movement of the seat with them installed). Once you’ve mounted the magnetic remote keying remote holder and inserted a few batteries into the remote, you’re ready to go.
What does it do?
Besides the obvious, the Washlet S550e starts working before you even sit down. Enter the bathroom, in front of the toilet, and the toilet lid lifts, the interior and nightlight LEDs light up, and the device sprays the bowl with “EWATER+”.
What is EWATER+? Toto’s website is surprisingly vague, providing only a brief overview of when it’s in use and a marketing video that does nothing to actually explain what’s going on. From what I can tell, it’s a fine mist that’s sprayed inside the bowl to keep things from sticking. It also uses EWATER+ to clean the wand and spray the bowl when you’re done. While I have Toto to thank for making it a lot more involved than it actually is, I can’t deny that it works. A month of using the S550e and my toilets have been noticeably cleaner day to day with less intervention on my part.
Once you sit down, you have options. Lots of options. But again, one of the S550e’s premium keys doesn’t need more action from you than putting your butt in the seat. The built-in deodorizing fan starts working immediately and will continue to run until the cleaning cycle is complete.
Take the rather oversized remote and flip it over and you’ll find settings for seat temperature, water temperature and drying air temperature (plus access to a myriad of settings for automatic functions) . Flip the remote over and you can adjust the pressure and position. The best part is that once you get everything exactly the way you like it, you can save the settings to one of two presets.
The S550e’s water pressure is excellent (even with an inline heater and water filter). It heats water efficiently and maintains a consistent temperature throughout the cleaning experience (no quick freezes before things heat up). You can also modulate the flow to be more diffuse (or switch between hard and soft pressure). There is also an option to oscillate the wand, providing a more thorough cleaning experience. Simply put, it will make you cleaner than toilet paper ever could.
Once you’re done, you can start the dryer, which honestly isn’t really effective unless you’re willing to sit for five minutes or more (luckily that air freshener works, doesn’t it?). If you have that kind of time, the S550e does a great job of drying out, though you’ll probably still want something like the Tushy Stand and Squares handy for a quick pat at the end.
Once you’re done, stand up. If you have an S550e model with automatic flushing (a $171 upgrade), you can just walk away and your bidet will take care of the rest. Even without the auto flush, the Washlet still sprays the bowl, cleans the wand, and keeps the air freshener running for a few more minutes, ensuring that anyone who walks into the bathroom next isn’t upset. .
Oh, and if you’re not there to sit down, just press the button on top of the remote control, and the seat will also lift, allowing you to go about your business without having to touch the toilet seat.
Is it worth it?
As I said up top, I wasn’t immediately convinced that Toto’s Washlet S550e could offer more than $1,000 in added value to the plug-in bidet experience (compared to the $599 Tushy Ace). And, basically, this expectation was justified. In the end, they both work as advertised, effectively cleaning a very specific area and helping to reduce the need for toilet paper even further with a built-in dryer.
The Toto model works constantly to keep the bowl clean, before and after use. Its performance is refreshing and consistent – the water temperature is always exactly what you expect. If you want, the S550e will keep the toilet seat at a constant temperature at all times so it’s never cold (you can also adjust this to be more energy efficient).
The deodorizing feature, which you’d think is, well, a crap load, actually works as advertised, keeping odors managed in the worst of situations. And presets are something I never thought I needed and now I can’t imagine going without them. It’s also worth noting that the S550e’s remote is much less power-hungry, which I really appreciate.
the only thing I can find to say against the S550e is that their standard model seat has a rather restricted opening. That’s one thing Tushy does better: even their standard seats have an elongated opening that’s much more accommodating.
That said, Toto delivers a consistently superior experience that’s unmatched by any other bidet I’ve tried. If you have access to an outlet and are willing to spend the money, the Washlet S550e is an instant bathroom upgrade that will more than prove itself. The only way to get more bounty would be to replace the entire toilet itself.
Learn more about the Washlet S550e on Toto’s website.