NEW YORK (AP) — Every so often a revolution transforms something truly basic, rendering the status quo somewhat, well, primitive.
First came covered sewers, then indoor plumbing and flush toilets. Now, one bathroom at a time, another major shift in toilet hygiene is quietly underway. A new generation of toilets may one day make toilet paper — and the need to put one's hands anywhere near the unspeakable — seem like chamber pots and outhouses: outdated and somewhat messy throwbacks reserved for camping trips.
Unlike traditional toilets, the high-tech version washes from behind and — if desired — in front with water. Better models allow for temperature, direction and pressure control, and have retractable spritzing wands and automatic driers as well. The best feature warm seats, automatic motion sensors to raise the lid, buttons to raise the seat, nightlights, self-cleaning mechanisms, music to mask unpleasant sounds, deodorizer spritzers and other conveniences.
"Paper just distributes the problem," said Lenora Campos, a spokeswoman for Georgia-based Toto USA. Toto, the Japanese company that pioneered the modern electronic toilet seat, has sold 34 million of them globally. "We wash most things with water and wouldn't dream of wiping a dish or anything else with a piece of paper and calling it clean. So why should personal hygiene be any different?"
Toto began marketing the Washlet in Japan in 1980. Now 74 percent of Japanese households have toilets of the high-tech persuasion, making them more common there than home computers.
The concept of electronic toilets that cleanse with water — widely known as bidet toilets or Washlets — has spread internationally over time, and dozens of companies around the world, including Inax, Brondell and Kohler, are producing them.
Although most popular in Asia, basic versions are becoming standard in much of the Middle East and South America, where cleansing with water has long been preferred to paper. They are finally becoming more popular in Europe, where "boudoir paper" was introduced in the 19th century, and in equally paper-centric North America.